High School Bridge


  • Chicago Jesuit Academy, Illinois

Focus Area

  • Education

“We believe our college persistence work is the most scalable of the many things we do and the most transferable to under-resourced schools serving students similar to those served at Chicago Jesuit Academy. Our partnership with LEO will allow us to better defend that belief.”

Matthew Lynch, President, Chicago Jesuit Academy

The Issue

Our neighborhoods are microcosms of the larger world. As children, they're where we make our first friends and start our learning. As adults, they're where we build our families and plan our futures. But for people living in communities impacted by generations of disinvestment due to systemic racism--those that lack access to quality housing, educational opportunities, social services, meaningful employment, and health care services--the impact can be life-altering. In particular, students in these neighborhoods may not have the same access to information and educational programs as their peers, and this can hinder their academic opportunities and outlook. For example, in 2018 only 5% of students who started ninth grade at a public high school on the west side of Chicago were projected to earn a bachelor’s degree—a marker of future career and income stability—within 10 years.

In the 1980s, Chicago introduced the practice of school choice to address the city’s educational inequity. Research on school choice shows that certain schools give a big boost to students' academic and social/emotional progress. But with over 500 high schools to choose from in Chicago, the challenge of transitioning from elementary to high school can be overwhelming for even the most well-resourced families. The quality of each school varies greatly, and the barriers to enrolling in the most well-resourced schools are steep. Families with financial means are able to attend better-resourced schools and facilitate private test-prep for their children as they prepare for entrance exams. For families in historically disinvested communities, just walking to a neighborhood school may be unsafe, and identifying affordable, high-quality school options amidst several separate systems with different application processes can be overwhelming. 

Many students throughout Chicago who hope to be first in their family to attend college or who live in historically disinvested communities do not have the same support as their peers from more well-resourced communities to navigate the school choice process. Students and families need trusted advocates to help them evaluate high school options and then apply, enroll, and persist in better-match high schools that will enable students to chart a way forward towards their goals for the future. 

Chicago Jesuit Academy (CJA) has provided this support to students for over a decade, offering comprehensive services to help students and families navigate Chicago’s school choice landscape to find and apply for the school that fits them best. Research shows that these types of wrap-around programs have helped students achieve higher academic outcomes at both the high school and college level.

It’s important for us to understand how comprehensive supportive services like those offered by CJA can help families from disinvested neighborhoods find the school that best fits their students' needs and future goals. Learning what works to set students on a solid educational and economic path is the key to unlocking potential—of our young people and our communities—for generations.

The Intervention

CJA’s High School Bridge program is designed to help students navigate the high school enrollment process and match to their best-fit school. The program supports teachers at partner schools through the implementation of a weekly in-class curriculum, and offers counselors who walk with each student and family through a deliberate process so they can match to affordable, better-resourced high schools that will prepare them for a successful post-secondary journey. Students begin working with the High School Bridge program in seventh grade through weekly classes at their elementary school. In eighth grade, High School Bridge counselors work with students and families to identify potential match high schools, evaluate school quality, complete scholarship applications, sit for up to three different required exams, submit applications, and ultimately select a best-fit high school. 

Research Question

Does robust support in the school choice process help low-income middle school students find “better matched” high schools, and does this lead to improved educational and economic outcomes for students?

Intended Outcomes

  • Students who participate in the High School Bridge program will demonstrate improved outcomes related to high school match, academic performance, post-secondary enrollment and completion, employment, and earnings.

Research Study Design

The High School Bridge study is a randomized controlled trial. Over the course of the five years following the study’s launch, CJA will expand the program to 15 partner schools—three new partner schools each school year.

Beginning in the academic year 2021–22, new expansion schools will be randomly selected prior to the start of the academic year. All eighth-grade students in the new expansion schools will become part of the treatment group. They will have access to High School Bridge services to help them navigate the high school enrollment process and match to their best-fit school.

In any given year, the eighth-grade students in partner schools that have not yet been selected for program expansion will serve as the control group. Outside of limited resources that CJA will provide these schools prior to a full expansion of the High School Bridge program, these students will proceed with “business as usual” schooling and will have access to their school’s typical resources.

Following the conclusion of the study, LEO researchers will compare student outcomes across both the treatment and control groups.

(Photo credit: Steve Donisch, Chicago Jesuit Academy)

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