A Response to Pritzker and DiBella by Kevin Lee

What’s a Good Educational Model?

What is a good educational model exactly? At a presentation made at The Cooper Union on September 10, 2012, I learned about the makeup of one particular model of education that was effectively instituted at two schools located in separate hemispheres of the world, Jay Pritzker Academy (JPA) and Providence St. Mel School (PSM). The guest speakers at the talk included Karen Pritzker, founder of and donor to JPA, and Jeanette DiBella, Chief Educational Officer of JPA and Principal of PSM. What stood out in the work of both Pritzker and DiBella was their willingness and audacity to reach out to the poor and underrepresented youth of the world. Their contributions have had widespread implications on the way that existing educational systems can be structured and implemented.

PSM was founded in 1969 in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the west side of Chicago and has been offering a rewarding education for the city’s African American youth. JPA was founded in 2008 in the poor rural countryside of Cambodia and has been offering a modern education to the country’s malnourished youth. Both institutions have dedicated faculty who do more than prepare students from kindergarten through 12th grade for standardized exams and college admissions. They also aim to provide a safe, competitive, and motivational learning environment to help students develop their own aspirations for future careers.

As someone interested in teaching who has worked the past two summers as a math instructor at Legal Outreach, Inc., a non-profit institution dedicated to helping the underrepresented teenagers of New York City get into good colleges, I have seen the large impact that a good educational model can have on students. In the four year program that Legal Outreach offers, students receive mentorship, internship opportunities, standardized examination preparation, and college guidance, among many other student services. The program has allowed its students to go from a position below the national academic standard to a position that warrants acceptance into some of the top colleges in the nation.

In light of the similar model employed at Legal Outreach, I understood first-hand exactly why the educational model used in JPA and PSM was so effective. The ability of both Pritzker and DiBella to recognize the poorer populations of the world and implement new academic practices in those regions of the world is very admirable. They saw the great potential in the youth of Chicago and Cambodia and gave them the necessary gateway opportunity to build upon that potential.

With the exemplary educational model developed by both Pritzker and DiBella that is centered on the pillars of “Curriculum, Instruction, Accountability, and Mission,” it is reasonable to wonder why more institutions are not being developed to help the less fortunate youth of the world. One of the main reasons that was presented for the lack of widespread adoption of this educational model was the difficulty that arises in implementing new instructional approaches. Both PSM and JPA have effected much student progress over the years, but traditional teaching practices are simply too entrenched to accommodate much change. Therefore, there is a necessity to try to do more to implement educational models that will reward the youth who are eager to learn but who never had the stimulus and guidance that were necessary to get them going on the right track.


Pressley, Michael, Lisa Raphael, J. David Gallagher, and Jeanette DiBella. “Providence St. Mel School: How a School That Works for African American Students Works.” Journal of Educational Psychology 96.2 (2004): 216-35. Print.

Pritzker, Karen and Jeanette DiBella. “Jay Pritzker Academy: A Globally Competitive Education.” The Cooper Union, 41 Cooper Square, New York, NY. 10 September 2012. Guest Presentation for the course S318: The Cooper Union World Forum.