Ryan Banks Academy is an independent and coeducational college-preparatory, residential, tuition-free middle and high school that will prepare motivated students from Chicago neighborhoods to graduate from college, enter into meaningful careers, and be the catalyst to bring positive change into their communities.
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The Story Behind Ryan Banks Academy

From the first RBA "Board" meeting, September 2014

Today is the first day of September, which (in my eyes) kicks off the beginning of my favorite season...autumn in Chicago.  Reflecting back, the last twelve months have flown by at lightning speed and it’s been an incredible year for Ryan Banks Academy.

But let’s back up a bit.  First, let me tell you a bit about who I am, and how Ryan Banks Academy came to be.

I spent several years working in Chicago Public Schools as a social worker, primarily on the far south side of the city.  I absolutely loved my job, and felt incredibly lucky to get to work with so many great kids and their families.  I provided individual and group counseling, and much of my time was spent doing crisis work:  helping provide psychiatric placement for a child who was experiencing suicidal ideation, or grief counseling when there was a death of a student or death in the family of one of our students.  

My time was split between two schools, and though there were less than 100 students in total on my official “caseload” (students that I was required to service on a regular basis), if you combined the schools together there were almost 1,000 students in total and just one social worker to service the social/emotional needs of all of the students.  While I was officially required to work with the students on my caseload, the need for counseling and support was immensely greater than that of my caseload.  It was a regular occurrence for me to be working with one student who needed counseling on a serious topic, only to hear my name paged that I needed to attend to another crisis, and then walking down the hall with one crying student on my arm, I would have dozens of students see me in the hallway and beg to come with me because they, too, needed someone to talk to and to support them.  It was a gut wrenching process, and I soon realized that I would never be able to come close to providing enough social/emotional support for all of the students that needed it.

The Lightbulb Moment

That’s where the idea to build a boarding school first came into my mind.  I knew that there were thousands of children and teens in Chicago who needed far more support than could be provided to them within the confines of the traditional school day.

It wasn’t until July 2014 that I officially decided to do something about it.  After mulling over my action plan in my head for a few weeks, the first week of September I wrote up a statement about my ultimate vision for the school, and sent it out to all of my friends and family as well as posted within some groups on Facebook.

I was shocked at the rate that I was flooded with immediate responses!  I had close to 100 responses that included “I love this, and I want to help!!” to “I know someone that you need to meet, let me introduce you”.    

With such a great reception to my vision, I felt confident that I was doing the right thing.  One of the first responses I got was from Ryan Lazarus, who expressed that the school was exactly the project he had been looking to get involved in.  Ryan is an entrepreneur, writer, and comedian, and he is passionate about alternative education.  Within a few days, we met up at Howell and Hood’s in downtown Chicago to discuss the school, and be become our first official Board member!  I took the photo above to document the moment.

It’s a full year later, and today I’m sitting just a few blocks from there at a cafe putting together posts about what we have been up to over the past year.  While Ryan was the first Board member to join Ryan Banks Academy, he was soon joined by almost a dozen other brilliant and talented individuals who we are incredibly lucky to have on our team.

There’s a lot to talk about, so stay tuned for our upcoming blog posts where we’ll be filling you in on:

  • More about Ryan Banks, his story, and why our school is named after him

  • What we’ve been up to over the past year (we’ve been busy!!)

  • We’ll tell you about our exciting plans for the future

  • You’ll get a sneak peek into the lives of myself and other RBA team members - we want to take you along this journey with us :)

  • … and much more!

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Thank you so much for your support of Ryan Banks Academy, and we’ll see you soon!