While kids all over the U.S. are celebrating graduations this time of year, there is an elementary school on the West Side choosing to celebrate something else.
For the 10th year in a row, these kids are dreaming about more than crime on the streets, poverty in their neighborhoods and gun violence out their doors.
The kids range in age from 4-14. And they are celebrating college. Yes, college. The idea so novel, an industrious Chicago filmmaker decided to make a documentary about it that premiered on television tonight.
They can see the beautiful skyscrapers of downtown from their classroom windows. For most kids on the city's West Side the idea of visiting there an impossible dream.
At Spencer Elementary, the community battles gang violence, crime and poverty every day. Plenty of people want to change that. They want kids here to think big. And use their heads to change an otherwise bleak course. They want them to go to college.
For one week every year, the entire school is transformed. Each classroom becomes a university with daily competitions about who can learn the most about that university.
From Alabama to Arizona State and Concordia to Colombia in New York, students of all ages at Spencer learn about their college and represent it. They even get a taste of it from alumni speakers, posted banners, visiting mascots and a parade to boast their school pride that takes over the streets.
By week's end, many of them determined to wear those school colors officially someday.
"They get a chance to explore the possibilities of what they can be," said 8th grade teacher Linda Bond.
Chicago native Derek Grace was so impressed by the whole thing, he shot a documentary about it in 2013. And called it, what else: "College Week".
"My father never got past the 10th grade, but he made sure his children went to college. All 4 of us,” Grace said.
His father's dream is closer to a reality on the elementary level at Spencer. Just ask the former principal with a PhD who started College Week a decade ago. Yes, born and raised in Austin.
"We shouldn't wait to do interesting programs in high school, it's too late. We need to start the lightbulb here," said Dr. Shawn Jackson.
The 60-minute film features kids getting excited about their future in one of Chicago's toughest and most violent neighborhoods. Witness the realization that higher education is tangible and can provide a way up and for some, a way out. Sure, kids learn about school colors and fight songs, but they also research tuition, room and board and scholarships.
"College and higher education become cool,” Jackson said.
The possibilities are right outside their window, and education is the way to get them there.
"The ones who really tell the story are the little ones. They can hardly pronounce the name, but they are so excited about going to a university. So they'll tell you: ‘I'm going to college. I'm going!’" Bell said.
To watch the documentary College Week, there are additional airings June 7th at 11:00 pm, June 8th at 7:00 am and 1:00 pm, June 11th at 9:00 pm, June 12th at 8:00 am and 4:00 pm all central time.
Or check the World Channel Schedule for additional airtimes