In 2019, the students and teachers of Neal Math and Science Academy, the only middle school in North Chicago, were posed a challenge: describe what you would want in your dream school.
While teachers dreamed of a new HVAC systems and functioning bathrooms, some students imagined bouncy houses and roller coasters.
In response, leaders at AbbVie said: dream bigger.
Now, three years later, Neal students and teachers are leaving the halls of their old school to enter a new, modern learning space that gives them what they wished for – and so much more.
With a $40 million donation from AbbVie and the public-private partnership between AbbVie, the North Chicago Community School District 187, local government and construction partners, North Chicago has a brand new Neal Math and Science Academy, built from the ground up.
“No words can explain how awesome this opportunity is, and the lives this school will change,” said Jaelah Edwards Turner, an 8th grade student at Neal. “This is the beginning of a bright future.”
Compared to the old school, the new Neal is almost unrecognizable. Gone are the water leaks, uneven heating and cooling, and ongoing electrical issues. In their place are large, open spaces, modern science labs and a host of other new features to enhance STEM learning and inspire Neal students to reach higher in their academic careers.
“Our new space is exactly what we need to push expectations around not just culture, but also academics,” said Michael Grenda, principal, Neal Math and Science Academy. “Before, we avoided focusing on the space — now, it’s a source of inspiration.”
Built on the grounds of the former school, the new Neal provides a flexible and reimagined learning space for students to help improve graduation rates, reduce dropout rates and increase college and career readiness. The new design also supports educators by giving them new spaces to expand academic curricula and collaborate more effectively.
“My new classroom will allow me to engage students in more versatile art projects and empower me to focus more on instructional time vs. project planning and logistics, which is amazing,” said Rubina Datta, a teacher at Neal.
Before students and staff begin classes in the new building on November 28, leaders from the North Chicago School District and AbbVie hosted a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the grand opening. Elected officials, AbbVie representatives, local community leaders, students and teachers were in attendance.
Consisting of five stories, the new Neal is now the tallest building in all of North Chicago. The 98,000-square-foot space has enough room to accommodate 625 students, which enables the district to reach its goal of increasing enrollment.
The top three floors of the new Neal are each home to a different grade level, with the oldest grade, eighth, occupying the top floor. Alongside classroom spaces, every floor has a shared common area known as a family room, where students within the same grade can collaborate.
“The need for connection and relationships came up repeatedly when we were talking about what we needed in a new school,” said Dr. John Price, superintendent of the North Chicago School District. “That’s how we came up with these family rooms – they're a place where the entire grade level can be together.”
Other key features of the school include:
“The new Neal Math and Science Academy provides a modernized learning environment that reflects the potential of North Chicago students and AbbVie’s culture of giving back to our communities,” said Laura Schumacher, vice chairman, external affairs and chief legal officer, AbbVie.
AbbVie and the North Chicago School District selected IFF, a mission-driven lender, real estate consultant and developer, to facilitate this project. The school was also built with input from the district; staff; and two North Chicago community advisory groups, comprised of students, teachers, parents, school and district staff members, representatives from the Naval Station Great Lakes (where many parents of students are stationed), and advisors from the City of North Chicago.
One objective partners shared was a desire to make the construction of the school an economic catalyst for North Chicago, a city that’s home to approximately 30,000 residents, 20% of whom live below the poverty line, according to the 2020 census. To achieve this goal, IFF prioritized hiring local minority, women and veteran tradesman and subcontractors. By integrating community voices and expertise, this project demonstrated the potential public-private partnerships have in driving equitable community development.
“By integrating community and student voices at each stage of the process and setting ambitious goals to hire locally and keep dollars in the community, we’ve ensured that AbbVie’s $40 million investment will lead to the greatest possible impact for North Chicago,” says Jenny Boyts, director of school services, IFF.
AbbVie’s support for the project builds on its long-running relationship with the city of North Chicago, which is home to the company’s headquarters. Since 2013, AbbVie has maintained a partnership with the North Chicago School District to improve student success across the district. Throughout those years employees have committed upwards of 100,000 volunteer hours in the community.
As volunteers, employees have renovated libraries and built learning resource centers, maker spaces and new career pathways facilities, which has resulted in significant increases in student engagement in literacy and STEM subjects. As part of AbbVie’s annual global volunteer event, known as Week of Possibilities, employees also took part in clearing out desks and furniture from the old Neal. Additionally, the AbbVie Foundation has made significant investments in Teach for America, North Chicago Community Partners and Innovations for Learning, which support students in North Chicago through a variety of programs.
“We at AbbVie could not be prouder to support the creation of this new school which will help the young people in our community grow, learn and reach their full potential,” Schumacher concludes.
Name: Frank Benenati
Email: [email protected]