Tuesday, August 18, 2009

LINK Unlimited

Today, I visited a program in the South Loop called LINK Unlimited. LINK Unlimited is a unique program in that they only serve high school students who go to private schools in Chicago. Students in the program are matched up with "sponsors," adults who not only act as mentors, but who also pledge to pay for the student's high school education.

Every fall, Link Unlimited goes around to elementary schools throughout Chicago and informs students and parents about its program. They also speak to the teachers and administrators of the school to find out which students have the potential, both academically and socially, to go to a selective high school and succeed. Students must not have below-average grades and test scores and their families must demonstrate a financial need to the extent that these students wouldn't be able to go to private school without the financial support from a LINK Unlimited sponsor. Ultimately the cost for private school is split three ways, between the sponsor, whatever financial aid the student gets from the school, and whatever is determined the student's family can pay.

Once students are accepted into the program, they are matched up with a sponsor who has similar interests. Since sponsors are required to demonstrate the capacity to support a student's private school tuition for four years, sponsors tend to be a bit older than volunteer tutor/mentors in other programs. 100% of the students in LINK Unlimited are African-American, but sponsors are of all races, exposing students to new people and experiences.

Once the student is admitted in the program after an application process that includes an interview with both the student and the parent (parents and guardians are considered an important part of the LINK Unlimited program, which is how it should be for all programs), students are required to meet with their sponsor twice a month and also to send notes of appreciate at least twice a year. Students whose grades are below average are required to meet with at tutor an hour and a half, twice a week and the LINK Unlimited Center off of State and Cermak. There are also activities where all of the students and their sponsors go on, sponsored by LINK Unlimited such as attending Bulls games and going on the Chicago Architectural Boat Tour.

LINK Unlimited does an especially good job of keeping in touch with their alumni. LINK Unlimited has an alumni association, very similar to a university's alumni association, where alumni are encouraged to keep in touch and continue to give back to the organization. A wonderful statistic is the fact that 10% of the sponsors at LINK Unlimited are alumni of the program. This is a great testament of the powerful impact that LINK Unlimited has on its students' lives.

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