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Photo courtesy of Ryan Banks Academy

This story appeared in the Spring 2022 Dominican Magazine.

As a full-time social worker in the Chicago Public Schools system, Valerie Groth MSW ’08 worked with a heavy caseload of students affected by poverty, homelessness or violence. “I could see that a lot of kids were falling through the cracks,” she says. “Not because they didn’t have innate potential, but because we weren’t able to provide the kind of wrap-around support they needed.”

Valerie dreamed of building a school that could provide the trauma-informed services her students needed, but she did not know where to begin. Then one of her students, 12-year-old Ryan Banks, was shot and killed, providing the catalyst she needed to take action. In 2018, Ryan Banks Academy, the first 100% scholarship-granting, independent and coed school in Chicago, opened its doors. The school, which focuses on mental health and social-emotional learning, has received national attention, including a recent feature on The Ellen Show.

“When you believe in your vision, when you’re willing to do whatever it takes and you have a great team around you, anything is possible,” Valerie says.