The cornerstone of Greater West Town Project Youth Program is West Town Academy. An alternative high school for students between the ages of 17 and 21 who are not enrolled in a traditional high school or GED program and wish to return to school and obtain their high school diploma.

West Town Academy: Creating Educational and Economic Opportunity in the
Face of the High School Dropout Crisis

On June 21, 2013, the Greater West Town’s West Town Academy (WTA) alternative high school celebrated its 15th commencement ceremony at the Alpha and Omega Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park. Ninety-three former high school dropouts received their diplomas, the largest graduating class in the school’s history. 

Lisa Hampton, the Resource Administrator for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ), served as the commencement speaker.  Over the past year, the WTA and IDJJ have worked closely together to implement GWTP’s GREAT (Gaining Re-integration through Education, Advocacy and Training) Opportunities program, which provides education, training and support services to youth and young adults involved with the juvenile justice system.  GWTP was one of only 21 agencies in the country, and the only one in Illinois, to receive a $1.5 million dollar grant to implement the program, which engages at-risk youth in academics, service learning, and career preparation for successful re-integration and involvement with their communities.

The Class of 2013 exemplifies the success of our community-based and community-driven strategy to expand educational and economic opportunity for at-risk youth and the communities in which they live.

For decades, Chicago’s public schools have struggled to retain, educate and graduate young people of color, particularly African American and Latino males. The high school dropout crisis is complex, chronic and ongoing, and the consequences for individuals, families and communities are enormous. In GWTP’s focus service areas of the Near West Side, Humboldt Park, Garfield Park and Austin, less than half of our young people complete high school in 4 years. Less than half of our young people have the educational preparation needed to succeed in life. Chicago Public Schools’ high schools in these neighborhoods all suffer from four-year dropout rates of 50%-60%.


WTA enrolls former Chicago Public Schools drop-outs ages 17-21 and helps our at-risk young people get a fresh start in life by providing them with a second chance to earn a high school diploma. Since Greater West Town moved into its state-of-the-art Community Career Training & Economic Development Center at 500 N. Sacramento Blvd in the Fall of 2010, our capacity to serve high school dropouts in these disadvantaged communities has greatly expanded. The West Town Academy Class of 2011 was 67; in 2012, the graduating class grew by leaps and bounds to a then-historic high of 92. This year we topped that, with projections of up to 100 students graduating by years' end.  WTA will eventually enroll 200 former high school dropouts per year.

View a slideshow from this year’s graduation

U.S. Department of Labor awards Greater West Town Project $1.5 Million for Young Adult Ex-Offender Services

June 25, 2012, Chicago - GWTP has received one of 21 federal grants awarded to community based organizations across the country to fund the GREAT (Gaining Re-integration through Education, Advocacy and Training) Opportunities program, which provides education, training and support services to youth and young adults returning from the juvenile justice system.

Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, noted that the awards will “help vulnerable youth receive the training and support they need to gain valuable job skills and improve their long-term employment prospects.” Program participants will earn high school diplomas and industry-recognized credentials.

“We appreciate the Department of Labor’s program support, which will allow us to expand and strengthen education and employment services for ex-offender youth of our community”, noted GWTP’s Executive Director, Bill Leavy.

Community service learning and work experience, integrated with GWTP’s West Town Academy’s comprehensive alternative high school curriculum, are integral aspects of the GREAT Opportunities program. Key community partners Blocks TogetherHumboldt Park Social Services (Center for Changing Lives), Growing PowerNorth Lawndale Employment Network, and Global Network Development Center help provide service learning and internship opportunities. These agencies, along with over 40 other supporting community service partners and the office of Cook County Juvenile Probation and Court Services, will provide coordinated recruitment and referrals and wrap-around support services for program participants.

“We are grateful for the broad support of our community agency partners and local employers for this grant application, and for their help in our agency’s work to meet the needs of our community’s many struggling, at-risk and underserved young people,” said Keisha Davis-Johnson, West Town Academy Principal.

Learn more about the GREAT Opportunities program