High-achieving teens challenged by Rosemont’s new LEAD Academy
Rigorous program is modeled after HISP at McClatchy

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In Rebecca Siegert’s English class, the clock is running. Students have two minutes to write down their thoughts about the symbols and themes in artist Grant Wood’s famous painting “American Gothic,” which is projected on a screen. Heads are down. Pens are moving.

When time is up, Siegert asks for volunteers to discuss their analysis. Hands shoot up. A lively discussion ensues. “They are really invested in what they’re doing,” says Siegert of her students.

Welcome to Rosemont High School’s new LEAD (Leadership and Enrichment through Academic Development) Academy, a rigorous new program for advanced learners. LEAD was created in response to the Rosemont community’s demand for a highly engaging humanities program for high-achieving teens, says Principal Leise Martinez.

“Our families want a program like this,” she says, “and we’re pleased to be able to provide it.”

This past summer, Martinez and Assistant Principal Nathan McGill worked with a team from C.K. McClatchy’s 26-year-old Humanities and International Studies Program (HISP) to develop a framework for LEAD. (McGill is a 2001 HISP graduate.)

“They were really helpful and we’re really grateful to them for working with us,” says Martinez. “They lent us some of their sparkle.”

Like HISP, the LEAD program centers on honors-level English and Social Studies classes geared to readying students for top-tier colleges and universities. Because of the logistics of high school schedules, the 72 LEAD students are also together for most – if not all – of their other classes.

In Chris Gosney’s LEAD geography class, Nick Johnson, 14, works to identify the layers of the Earth. He says his LEAD classes “are definitely more challenging” than others he’s taken. He’s not complaining, though. “We need more challenge,” he says.

Classmate Bogdana Kuchik agrees. “We go so much more in-depth in our LEAD classes,” she says. “And we get to listen more to what other people have to say. There’s more discussion.”

Discussion, critical thinking and “lots of writing, lots of reading” are some of the hallmarks that have made HISP successful, says HISP Coordinator Ellen Wong. The other important piece is teacher buy-in, she says. “The fact that teachers are enthusiastic about it makes an enormous difference,” she says. “If the teachers make the program, it can be successful. I’m happy that LEAD is home-grown and I hope they demand a lot from the kids.”

Another component of LEAD borrowed from HISP is a student community service requirement. Volunteer service to the community, says McGill, “is a grounding experience that helps students understand the world better.”

Much of LEAD’s volunteerism is focused on helping students in schools that feed into Rosemont. “We expect this high school to be an asset to the entire community,” says Martinez. “That’s what being in leadership means.”