May 23, 2017

Umoja at Phillips High School: A Focus on Freshmen

Over the past 19 years working with Chicago public high school students, Umoja has established itself as a premier provider of College & Career Readiness programming with an emphasis on Social Emotional Learning. We take pride in our work supporting students as they transition to post-secondary success. We set ourselves apart by serving all students in a school. Many college readiness programs target upperclassmen, but the Umoja Seminar Program begins preparing students for postsecondary success from their first day in 9th grade.

“Our students are becoming aware, focused and goal-oriented in their approaches to high school, relationships and life in general.” 


Umoja currently supports six Seminar partner schools, with four Freshman Seminar partnerships. At Umoja, we understand the importance of meeting students where they are and giving them the tools to show them how they can grow, where they can be, and what they can achieve. We believe this starts with the adults in our buildings. Rachel Hunt (pictured below), an Umoja staff member and Social Emotional Learning Specialist at partner Wendell Phillips Academy High School, describes Umoja’s impact on freshmen: “The Umoja model has given all of our freshmen a framework for success. We have provided a space and place for our students to explore their current and future selves. Our students are becoming aware, focused and goal oriented in their approaches to high school, relationships and life in general.”

When asked why it is important to do this work with freshmen, Phillips’ Principal Matthew Sullivan (pictured above) had this to say: “There are only two months that separate an 8th grader from a freshman, yet we treat them completely differently and expect that they know how to do high school. That is unacceptable. Over the past two years, having Umoja has helped our 9th graders learn how to be responsible with all this new independence. From beginning a postsecondary plan to weekly grade checks to dealing with all the new challenges high school presents, I credit the Umoja curriculum, their staff, and our teachers with making the transition for our 9th graders much smoother than years past. This will only assist our young people in believing in themselves and the fact that they can and will be successful in their postsecondary years!” Rachel.jpg

The Umoja Freshman Seminar model works. Across our Freshman Seminar partner schools, freshmen “on-track” rates have increased year over year. At Phillips, freshmen on-track rates have increased by 30% over the past two years of the Umoja partnership. Being “on track” means a student has the credits and grades to enter 10th grade – it also means that student is FOUR TIMES more likely to graduate high school than “off-track” freshmen.