I always imagined myself working in urban education with students who shared a similar upbringing as myself. I received my master’s and specialist degree in order to pursue becoming a School Psychologist in the public-school sector, motivated to help reduce ethnic (specifically African American) disproportionality in special education. However, as I began to navigate my career by interning at a large public-school system, I realized that I had made, what I thought at the time, was a terrible misjudgment in what the job actually entailed. The endless amount of paper work that consumed my day-to-day job instead of working directly with students contributed to my misery that year. Fortunately, my first job in 2010 was in an independent boarding school, Culver Academies, which set into motion a different career trajectory than the one I had envisioned.

I have had the privilege of working in two day schools and two boarding schools across the country. These educational settings afforded me the opportunity of understanding that independent schools are able to meet their students where they are, devote time outside of the classroom to connect with students on a personal level, and provide exceptional learning opportunities beyond the academic curriculum. While I was now fully invested in my new-found career path, I was unfulfilled because of the deviation from my life’s passion of connecting and supporting students who were similar to myself…until I found Ryan Banks Academy.

Ryan Banks Academy’s mission is to become Chicago’s first tuition-free urban boarding school. Since we opened as a day school in the Fall of 2018, I have served as Head of School. While I am now working with the students that I have always envisioned assisting, I significantly underestimated the trauma that they have experienced. This is turn has negatively impacted their learning aptitude. Many of my students are raised in single-parent households, and most have experienced homelessness, parent job and income instability, loss of family members to gun violence, and many more life experiences that make it challenging for them to just focus on being adolescents.

I could write about the personalized learning opportunities we have designed that has substantially increased my students’ reading and mathematical skills compared to the national average. However, I believe our greatest accomplishments have been in developing their social-emotional skills. Building our student’s self-esteem, teaching them how to appropriately interact and have discourse with their peers, and ultimately being a positive community member are all things we strive to achieve. We can actively see the difference we are making on daily basis and it is evident from some of our families’ observations as noted below:

“I am so pleased that my grandson is attending Ryan Banks Academy. He was a child that used to be introverted, but since he has been attending RBA he can now express himself so much better. His social skills have improved tremendously.”

“What I value most about RBA is the apparent care for the whole individual. I love that they care about students being able to center themselves and focus leaving the worries of home life/the
world outside and being present in not only their physical self but in their mind and emotions.”

While we have made significant gains over the first year and half, our mission and the critical component of becoming a boarding school is still our number one priority. I personally witnessed how boarding schools give students from various backgrounds the opportunity to focus on themselves and flourish academically. I wholeheartedly believe in our mission to create a supportive, stable, and safe community for our students, but we cannot achieve this without the support of people like you. Please join us in our mission to be Chicago’s first urban boarding school for at risk youth.

Audrey Bland Hampton
Head of School