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Embarc Brings Experiential Learning to the Chicago Loop

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Posted  38 days ago  in  Arts and Culture  by  Ammanuel M. Ayalew

Embarc challenges students to exercise "collaboration, trust and persistence."


True education transcends the classroom. It demands real world interaction and cultural exposure to awaken students to the possibilities of their potential. Embarc is dissolving school and neighborhood boundaries and using the Chicago Loop as an experiential learning place through its Urban Orienteering program.

On October 24, Embarc brought students from Westinghouse College Preparatory High School to the Loop and challenged them to arrive at different world-famous landmarks including The Art Institute of Chicago, Monument of the Standing Beast, The Picasso and Cloud Gate. They do this using only paper maps, a loaded transit card and the people around them. To up the stakes, one member of their team always has to be blindfolded.

"Not only is this a lesson in navigation, it also provides an excellent opportunity to develop personally as individuals exercise collaboration, trust and persistence,” says Katie Peterson, senior program manager of Embarc. “The students really shine during the Urban Orienteering journey as creative problem solvers, dedicated team players and masters of their city."

Students from Michele Clark at Millennium Park / Photo Courtesy of Ellen Lau
Students from Michele Clark using a Map / Photo Courtest of Ellen Lau

“Masters of their city,” indeed. After years with smartphones, the notion of getting around without digital directions can be terrifying to adults, let alone teenagers. These students, without virtual navigation, found the fastest route to each checkpoint, where they were given extra challenges. Some had to build a human pyramid on site and body-spell “Embarc,” while others had to display a hidden talent and perform a headstand in front of Cloud Gate.

"I love having a new experience," said a Westinghouse junior, who participated in Urban Orienteering. "Two hours is not long enough to explore all the Loop has to offer. I wish we had more time. I liked walking around Chicago and finding the different locations.”

Chicago Loop Alliance is pleased that Embarc is taking advantage of the city’s business district as a real-world classroom. Ranking 7th in the world for its attractiveness, the Loop is the hotbed for arts, generating $2.25 billion in revenue every year. Coupled with the Alliance’s projects and programs, it’s a clean and safe cultural hub not only for students, but also visitors, workers and residents.

Embarc inspires and prepares low-income high school students for collegiate and career success. Its three-year program that combines community-driven and experience-based learning opportunities is a testament to its notable achievements—97% graduation rate, 90% attendance rate and 94% post-secondary success. Visit EmarcChicago.org to learn more.