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Meet Jennifer Levine and Jeff Aeder of Wolcott School

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Levine and Jeff Aeder.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
A number of years ago, my husband Jeff and I went to talk to an expert on schools to understand why our eldest daughter was struggling so much in school and where she could get the support she needed to match her learning differences. When the expert replied matter-of-factly that Chicago doesn’t have an appropriate high school for college-bound kids with learning differences and told us that we either needed to move out of town or send her to boarding school, we decided we did not like either of those options. Instead, we pulled together a team of educational experts and passionate parents and founded Wolcott School, Chicago’s independent college-prep high school for students with learning differences.

Jeff and I are not educators. Nor do we have any background in education other than attending school many, many years ago. However, as parents of four teenagers, we watched as our own kids and so many of their friends struggled in school – often, we felt, unnecessarily. It was clear to us that these kids were intelligent and perfectly capable, but the way they learn wasn’t matching up with how they were being taught.

The students at Wolcott are teenagers who were either being overlooked or making too many sacrifices in school often because of dyslexia, attention, or organizational struggles that impacted their success in the classroom. By creating Wolcott, we created a school that provides the same opportunities as any other school – sports, clubs, internships, languages, etc. The big difference is that our teachers are experts in teaching and learning and are committed to collaboration so that every student is taught consistently with how they learn best.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
In many ways, it has been a surprisingly and exceptionally smooth road. We have been lucky to have extraordinary leadership, faculty, and committed families to help launch the school. We started with 33 students in 2013 and currently enroll 124 on our way to full capacity at 154. Our families consistently report that Wolcott has changed their lives and restored a healthy school-life balance back into their home.

Some areas that are of paramount importance to us remain a struggle — Wolcott is determined to support every student who is admitted and interested in attending regardless of their financial means. We are proud of our accomplishments to this date as fifty percent of our students currently receive some level tuition assistance. We are constantly working to raise money to support our tuition assistance program and to provide a facility to support the gifts of our students. In fact, we are nearly completed with our campus expansion and our new Arts and Athletics Center, slated to open this fall.

Probably the greatest struggle is having the general public understand who we are and discard of the stigma around learning differences. Our students are future scientists, teachers, pilots, doctors, writers — professionals in every area of expertise. Their learning difference is ultimately what will give them the drive and resilience to succeed and innovate. Wolcott’s goal is to use the precious high school years to give our students the tools to understand their learning style and learn to self-advocate. Students learn to deeply connect with the materials being taught and grow from the leadership opportunities available to them.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
In addition to Wolcott School, we have other endeavors driven by our passion for giving back and building community. In 2013, Jeff opened Milt’s BBQ for the Perplexed at 3411 N. Broadway. Milt’s Barbecue is more than just a restaurant — it a kosher BBQ as well as a neighborhood meeting place. We try to make sure there is something for everyone there. Best yet, 100% of profits go to a different charity every month. In October 2017, Milt’s Extra Innings will be opening. A casual deli for eat in or take-away, Milt’s Extra Innings will be staffed by young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Again, all profits will be donated to charity. Milt’s Extra-Innings will feature memorabilia from an earlier endeavor of Jeff’s, The Jewish Baseball Museum, an on-line museum that can be explored at http://jewishbaseballmuseum.com.

What we believe sets us apart is not only the thrill and pleasure we get from each new endeavor, but how each business connects to the community and has a public purpose.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
We don’t look at the world through a good luck/bad luck paradigm. Instead, we look for opportunities to improve our city and make a difference. Our endeavors not only bring us great pleasure, but also engages our kids and hopefully inspires others to take on challenges.

It has been an amazing five years and we are grateful that Chicago has embraced Wolcott and our students. Through our career week, service initiatives, internships, and cross-collaborative approach to learning, we have benefited from our robust partnerships with cultural, business, philanthropic, and community leaders.

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Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Joseph N

    November 16, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    Good people making a difference in the world

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