Shaping Uplift High School to Serve its Community
18 November 2022
Principal Graham has worked tirelessly to support his students by expanding academic programs and partnerships.
When Principal Tyrese Graham took over as the leader of Uplift Community High School about five years ago, he immediately noticed a disconnect. From his perspective, Uplift was “situated in Uptown,” but it wasn’t “a part of Uptown.” Many members of the surrounding community didn’t even realize that Uplift was a school. They assumed it was an apartment building or part of the neighboring hospital.
Uplift is a unique school. While it is not a selective enrollment school, it has no attendance boundaries. Thus, Principal Graham knew it was crucial to transform the school’s offerings and its identity.
“Before I came to Uplift, I worked at several other CPS high schools where I learned systems and structures very well,” said Principal Graham. “When I came to Uplift, it challenged me to build upon that knowledge to galvanize people around a shared vision for the school.”
One of the first steps Principal Graham took to mold Uplift’s future was to garner input from community members on what they wanted to see the school become. This engagement ultimately led to getting the community behind Uplift receiving an Early College STEAM program in 2020 as part of the District’s multi-year investment to expand high-quality academic programs across the city.
Not only does this program offer students more challenging and robust academic offerings, but it also fits within the creation of a larger educational continuum within the Uptown neighborhood. For example, McCutcheon Elementary School, just a few blocks north of Uplift, also received an investment in STEAM programming in 2020.
“We do a lot of work to cultivate relationships with local elementary schools and partner organizations within the greater community,” said Principal Graham. “One way we do this is by inviting elementary school students to visit our school through a high school STEAM exploration day.”
The educational continuum that Uplift is a part of is not just K-12. It expands beyond that thanks to the school’s strong partnership with City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), specifically Truman College, which is right down the block. Uplift’s early college model gives students access to post-secondary coursework, and many Uplift students have graduated having earned 15 or more credit hours from CCC.
Uplift’s strong academic foundation is supplemented by its facilities. Regardless of what a student’s interests are both inside and outside of the classroom, Principal Graham and his team have worked hard to ensure there is a space for them. From the innovation lab with 3D printers and laser cutters to the athletics building with a pool and multiple workout rooms to a makerspace where students can explore sculpting and woodworking, each room reflects the school’s mission to provide students with a well-rounded academic experience.
The school also has a full-service health center to provide students with immunizations, physical exams, and other services. And no space ties back to the school’s community-centered focus better than the Kiva, a large, comfortable gathering area that is often used to host community events.
“A lot of our kids come from communities where there’s not a lot of economic investment or opportunity,” said Principal Graham. “Our school feels like a game changer in terms of equity, and the work we are doing on a daily basis is social justice work.”
Not only will the work to elevate Uplift to be a high-quality high school option impact its future students, but it is already paying dividends for its current students and recent graduates, who are receiving access to both a top-notch high school education and also access to college coursework.
“We want our students to be critical of the world around them and identify solutions for change,” said Principal Graham. “This can mean a lot of different things, but it all ties back to curiosity and finding logical solutions to the problems they identify. Our school was founded on the principle of social justice, and I think that is complemented by these qualities.”
Interested in learning more about Uplift Community High School? Visit the school’s website at uplifths.cps.edu.