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United Way, Exelon Afterschool Program Keeps 98 Percent of High School Seniors From At-Risk Communities on Track to Graduate

While the new documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’” has focused national attention on the public education crisis, there are innovative programs that offer a glimmer of hope.


CHICAGO - While the new documentary "Waiting for ‘Superman'" has focused national attention on the public education crisis, there are innovative programs that offer a glimmer of hope. Chicago public high school seniors who participated in one such afterschool program last year had a 98 percent graduation rate, well above the 54 percent average, program cosponsors United Way of Metropolitan Chicago and Exelon announced at the kickoff of the Stay in School Initiative's fifth year. 

At the Oct. 9 event, program partners United Way, Exelon and community-based nonprofits B.U.I.L.D., Youth Guidance, and Centers for New Horizons unveiled their annual "report card," which captures the program's impact on improving course grades, stemming truancy, building leadership skills, and keeping students on track for high school graduation and college careers. 

The afterschool program, which has served 9,000 grammar and high school students to date, has achieved significant results in three Chicago communities with some of the highest dropout and truancy rates in the city.  According to Chicago Public School (CPS) statistics, dropout rates in the Austin, Bronzeville/Grand Boulevard and Humboldt Park/West Town communities that Stay in School serves are well above the CPS average of 42 percent. 

This year's report card reinforces that at-risk students can achieve academic success with the right mix of afterschool programs and attention.  The report card captures data from the 330 students who participated most intensively in Stay in School programs and services during the 2009-2010 school year.

     • 98 percent of Stay in School seniors graduated from high school, compared to the CPS graduation rate of 54.5 percent in 2009.** 
     • 78 percent of Stay in School students had at least a 90 percent school attendance rate.  Attendance is a major challenge for schools in these communities, which have average daily attendance rates as low as 68 percent.**
     • 70 percent of Stay in School students improved at least one grade in core courses, such as math, science and English.  Almost all students with a B-average or better at the end of their freshman year graduate, compared to only a quarter of those with a D-average. (source: What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public Schools 2007)
     • 79 percent of Stay in School students are working toward postsecondary education, such as by taking part in college prep activities.
     • 83 percent of Stay in School students participated in leadership-based activities (defined as non-violent conflict resolution and participation in out-of-school leadership programs).

United Way and Exelon created the Stay in School Initiative in 2004 in response to statistics showing the citywide dropout rate had reached critical levels, especially for young males belonging to minority groups: 61 percent for African-American males and 49 percent for Latino males.  The Stay in School Initiative has now served more than 9,000 students, ages 13-20, and during this school year, will serve another 2,000 students. 

The partnership features a holistic menu of programming that includes tutoring, college readiness, life skills and violence-prevention workshops, parent and family activities, and a reward-and-recognition program for achieving students.  Exelon also created a companion job skills development workshop series that provides up to 10 paid internships each year.

"I became involved with Stay in School at the end of my junior year and the program made me more focused and excited about my academics and extracurricular activities," said Porcha Stewart, 18, a former Stay in School student from Frederick Douglass Academy High School who now attends Mary Baldwin College in Virginia.  "This program gave me a support network I didn't have before, with people available beyond the normal school day to build my skills and focus on my achievement."

To date, Exelon has contributed $2 million to fund the program.  Improving education in the communities Exelon serves is a key focus of its corporate citizenship program.  The company and its 2,000 employee volunteers believe that educational achievement is the dividing line between economic isolation and opportunity.  Education is also a key focus of United Way, which provides the leadership and resources students need to grow into independent adults.

"Our record of achievement is a direct result of the collaboration between these agencies, schools, students and their parents, and Exelon employee volunteers," said Steve Solomon, director of corporate relations at Exelon. "The Stay in School Initiative shows how afterschool services can extend the learning opportunities beyond the traditional school day. We are all committed to seeing these students reach their full potential."

"The commitment from the agency partners and volunteers at Exelon ensure the Stay in School students have positive role models preparing them for future challenges," said Bill Mrowczynski, United Way's director of new business development. "This partnership is a prime example of corporate leadership reaching out to community experts to effect meaningful change."

For the full Stay in School Initiative report card, visit