Get parents on board, one retired philanthropist believes, and Proviso students will stay on track to graduate from school and become better workers as adults.
Former Westlake and West Suburban Medical Center Hospital CEO Patricia Shehorn has, for more than a decade, been helping students get training that will make them more employable. Since 1999, she helped Westlake partner with Triton College to coordinate Proviso high school internships at the hospital.
Today Shehorn and 13 other local hospital administrators, educators and religious leaders have been working together to give Proviso students the support they need to see the value of high school by looking beyond into the world of work.
The group calls itself Strengthening Proviso Students Career and College Readiness Committee. Their first activity this year was “Parent University,” held early in the morning on Saturday, Aug. 10. More than 100 parents of students in Proviso Township High School District 209 attended the sessions, which were presented in both Spanish and English.
Shehorn believes that when parents are more informed about the transition between high school and college, they can help guide students right from the beginning of high school. With the help of Triton College President Patricia Granados, the group hopes to get Proviso students on track to finish high school and possibly attend Triton or a four-year university.
“We had to get parental engagement,” Shehorn said. “We need parents at home reinforcing that everything’s possible. Even if you don’t have the money for college, it’s possible.”
“We recognize that not everyone’s ready for [a four-year] college,” Shehorn said. “But we want to help kids get jobs they can sustain a family on.”
“The Future Starts NOW: Preparing our student for the world” proclaim materials handed out at Parent University. Parents heard from experienced parents from Proviso East, West and the Math and Science Academy. Then they attended breakout sessions in both Spanish and English about navigating high school and college and career readiness.
Rolando Martinez, of Triton College, and Mireya Vera, of Presence Healthcare, spoke to parents about career readiness. Navigating high school was discussed by a panel consisting of Luisa Hernandez, of Casa Esperanza in Melrose Park, along with D209 administrators Kim Echols, Ed Moyer, Kisha Lang and Proviso West counselors Charles Jalove and Sherman Blade.
A week after the event, Shehorn appeared at the D209 board meeting and thanked the school board members for attending the event and allowing her group to host it.
“I want to thank you for your trust in us,” Shehorn told the board.
Shehorn’s committee was inspired by her own experiences with Westlake’s internship program and a nudge from the clergy at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Melrose Park. The church with a long Italian heritage has been a community center for Hispanic immigrants in Melrose Park. The Community Alliance, Casa Esperanza and the Nuevos Horzontes program at Triton all have ties to the shrine. Matthew Brophy, a pastoral associate at the shrine is one of the committee members.
Shehorn said her early experience with the Triton intern program at Westlake got her excited about training students for health-field jobs.
“We received a grant to give Proviso students experience with health careers in 1999 through when I left in 2011.”
Students were paid $8 per hour for a summer internship that then gave them experience in health-related fields and the world of work. Shehorn said the experience was an eye-opener for students, who realized that “we had rules.”
“Some students dropped out or got kicked out of the program,” she said. “But the ones who stuck around learned what it’s like to be responsible at work and how to behave in a work environment.”
Shehorn said she was impressed by the challenges students overcame to stick with the program. One student’s family became homeless, she recalled, but the girl continued the internship, even though her family was living in a car.
“She ended up becoming a nurse,” Shehorn said.
Triton administrators volunteer on the committee and Shehorn said Triton hopes to strengthen its relationship with Proviso. Triton is a great option for Proviso students, she added.
“In the 12 years I’ve spent in Melrose Park, it was always with a sense of pride that I hear people talking about Triton. There’s a realization that you can get a darn good first two years, and then get an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s somewhere else.”
Also on the committee are Jacques Conway of River Forest, a retired Oak Park police officer and pastor at Neighborhood United Methodist Church; Dr. Nahlah Daddino of Loyola University Medical Center; Luisa Hernandez, Lindsey Westley and Patricia Granados from Triton; Dr. Rhonda Sherrod, president of the Need to Know Group in Maywood; and Mireya Vera, system director of community health strategy and language access at Presence Healthcare. D209 Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart is also a member.
Former D209 board President Emanuel “Chris” Welch, now 7th District representative, has connections to Westlake Hospital as a board member. Shehorn said while Welch supported the committee, he was not personally involved. She also has political ties to Melrose Park. Between 2006 and 2010, while she was Westlake CEO, she gave $1,000 in campaign contributions to Citizens to Elect Ronald M. Serpico Sr. Inc., the mayor of Melrose Park’s campaign committee.
The motivation for the committee is not political, Shehorn said, but is a way to get students ready to support themselves as productive members of society.
Shehorn retired from Westlake two years ago and has worked since then as a hospital consultant.
“I volunteer a lot,” she said. “My volunteer work is career coaching and counseling.”
The committee hopes to continue Parent University several more times through the year and will meet to create more programming and evaluate the success of their first event later this month.
Regardless of whether Proviso students end up at Triton, or on another career track, Shehorn said her focus, and the focus of the committee is students having meaningful work as adults.
“We’re interested in the outcome that these kids have a career,” she said. “Be it through college, or trade school, or whatever, the goal is they can sustain a family in the community.”