Tragedy struck North Lawndale College Preparatory High School on Chicago’s West Side last Friday November 14th as the school lost three of its most promising students. The young men were attending a school-sponsored eight-day retreat at suburban Camp Algonquin in Algonquin, IL. According to reports, the teens launched several paddleboats into the nearby Fox River in the middle of the night. The boats had been winterized and therefore each was missing a cork-sized bottom plug necessary for proper flotation. One of the boats was quick to take on water and capsize. Reports indicate that two boys on the shore attempted rescue and went missing soon thereafter. Ultimately, three boys drowned in the river.
According to the director of the camp, the thirty-one students on the retreat were accompanied by four adult chaperones from the school. The chaperones were asleep when a group of the boys launched six boats into the river. In his investigation of the incident, Sgt. Brett Scroggins of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources reports that the paddleboats had not been securely stored away, but rather left on the ground near the cabins. Fire Department Officials found all six boats along the banks of the river and are still investigating the total number of students that were involved in the tragedy.
The drowning victims, 18 year-old Jimmie Avant, 17 year-old Melvin Choice III, and 16 year-old Adrian Jones, have been described as successful students who planned to attend college. The teens were active in a high school group called Minority Men consisting of about thirty scholastically inclined students who help each other with academic work, travel to visit colleges together, and attend leadership events such as the Algonquin retreat. The successes of these young men is, in part, a reflection of North Lawndale Prep High – a small west side charter school boasting a nearly 100 percent graduation rate. The school has been described as a model of success for charter schools in the City of Chicago. The retreat was run by Vision quest, a national organization devoted to working with teens.