Ford Motor Co. announces initiative to increase graduation rates at Chicago high schools

By Julie Woon

Students at Marie Curie High School pose with giant checks representing scholarships from Ford Motor Co.'s Driving Dreams Tour.
Students pose with checks given by the Ford Motor Co. Driving Dreams Tour

Ford Motor Co. unveiled a $105,000 initiative Tuesday to increase graduation rates at seven Chicago high schools with large Hispanic populations.

The nation’s second largest car maker will provide career and college-preparedness grants and scholarships for high schools including the Roberto Clemente Community Academy in West Town and East Chicago Central High in East Chicago. “Our dream is for students to realize their dreams, to realize their full potential and to get on that path,” said Pamela Alexander, Ford’s director of community development.

The most any student is eligible for is $5,000, which can be used at any accredited community college or four-year institution. To qualify, students must graduate from one of the seven target schools and be involved in public service activities. Preference will be given to students intending to pursue careers in math, engineering, technology or science, Ford said.

The Ford Driving Dreams Tour kicked off with a pep rally at Marie Curie High School where students danced and cheered while the marching band played. Attendees were treated to a motivational speech by Roy Juarez Jr., whose story is featured in “Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul: Extraordinary Teens.”

The grants and scholarships will be available to students of all races at the schools. Other schools receiving money from Ford include the Antonia Pantoja Community Charter School, which was founded in 1985 to serve high school dropouts on the West Side,; Early College High School in Avondale; the Mirta Ramirez Computer Science High School in Logan Square; and George Washington High School in the East Side neighborhood.

Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third largest school district, has been plagued with high dropout rates for decades. The majority of students in the district are black and Hispanic.

It’s not just a local problem. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the dropout rate for Hispanic students between the ages of 16 and 24 was around 13 percent in 2012, higher than any other racial demographic group.

Boosting graduation rates also is a goal of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He reiterated that sentiment last week after announcing a record 69.4 percent of CPS students graduated last year, the highest the school district has ever seen.

While the initiative is part of Ford’s philanthropic and community-related outreach, the company also has a financial stake in the Hispanic community, which has become an increasingly important consumer group. According to a recent study the 48 million Latinos in the U.S. now wield buying power in excess of $1 trillion. “While overall spending by non-Hispanic consumers declined during the recession, Latino consumers as a whole spent more,” said Packaged Facts, the Maryland market research firm that conducted the study.