Chicago Excel Students First in City to Complete Special Training – Will lead to jobs with Pepsi

A group of students from Camelot’s Excel Academy of the South Shore have become the first in Chicago to complete a dual enrollment junior college career training program that will lead to jobs at Chicago’s Pepsi factory after graduation from high school.

At a special event on March 12, Excel Academy’s first ten graduates of the program celebrated with city officials, executives from Pepsi and even met PepsiCo’s North America CEO Al Carey who visited the factory to tout the first group of grads from the partnership.

The students attended four full intensive days – 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. – of training, earning licenses as certified forklift operators. Each of the students had to complete all of the same written and practical exams as the regular college students.

“We did everything as a team,” said Anthony Haley Jr., Excel Academy Executive Director, who worked with students and parents to apply and navigate through the process. “The students reported to school at 6:45 each day. We had a special breakfast together (paid for by CPS’s Office of Secondary Education) and then began the course work.”

Camelot’s partnership is with Olive-Harvey College, which in turn has a partnership with Pepsi.

Of the ten students who took the course, three graduated from Camelot in February and will be first in line for jobs. The remaining seven will go through that process after they graduate.

“They could be placed in one of several jobs,” noted Haley. “The career and services liaison at the college evaluates the students’ interests and skill set and coordinates with HR at PepsiCo on the best suited position. The certificate and license is what has gotten them in the door but the positions that will be available include more than forklift operators.”

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is becoming heavily involved in career training education. District leaders believe that students will be more engaged in school if they know they have meaningful employment awaiting them. There has been an especially strong focus on alternative schools such as Excel Academy, which is geared to students who have fallen years behind or dropped out and returned.

“A lot of our young men and women may not want to go to college right away and if they do they often attend junior college,” Haley said.  “The city has a network of seven junior colleges called City Colleges of Chicago. Each offers a variety of certificate and associate degree programs that prepare students for further education and careers. We want to take full advantage of this program for our kids.”

Camelot, consistently a top performer among alternative education providers in Chicago, operates three other Excel Academies in the Englewood, Roseland and Southwest neighborhoods. Having seen this success at the South Shore, all are looking at the dual-enrollment program as well.  But Anthony Haley plans to stay ahead of the pack.

“We’re going to try to do one group every semester. From the spirit and energy we are getting from students who will be 18 soon we can see that we have sparked a big interest among our young men and women.”

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