Chicago teacher fights for inner city success


Courtesy of Trenton Sapp

Trenton Sapp (middle) poses with two of his students, (left) Jivontae Price and (right) Courtney William. Sapp teaches that success can come from any part of the city.

A South Side teacher fights for the future of inner city kids within his classroom.

Trenton Sapp, a Roseland resident, is a teacher at Corliss High School serving as a voice for his students since he started teaching in 2015.

“We need more people to step up and fight for our inner city youth,” Sapp said. “I’m fighting for them.”

Sapp inspires his students to rise above the circumstances and struggles found within their neighborhoods.

“I feel some type of way when I see how inner city youth are treated just because they are inner city youth,” Sapp said. “I’m tired of hearing excuses. I tell my students, ‘Just because you’re from the inner city doesn’t mean you have to act like it.”

Branetta Ferguson, 21, a former student of Sapp at George Westinghouse College Prep, said students at her school always had excuses.

“He made us recite the definition and even put it in a test for us in class,” Ferguson said. “Since then I will never forget the definition of excuses. I no longer come up with excuses because of Trent.”

Ferguson said Sapp helped her receive academic opportunities throughout her high school career.

Sapp utilizes his passion for broadcast technology to equip students at Corliss with transferable skills they can continue using beyond their high school education.

He treats his classroom as a job to begin implementing a sense of work ethic with the youth.

“Several students don’t want to go to college, although it’s something we often preach about,” Sapp said. “Chicago Public School is bringing skillful classes like broadcast to help students either attend college or pursue the trade.”

Chicago Public School has seen a 21 percent increase in its high school graduation rate since 2011, reaching a record-breaking high in 2018 with 78.2 percent of CPS students graduating high school.

CPS investments in programs like the International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math has caused an increase in high school graduation.

Sapp strives to provide his students with opportunities that were not provided to him when he was young.

Shikenda Washington, a teacher at Corliss High School, said students at Corliss view Sapp as a mentor.

“He helps them understand the importance of getting an education and that they can achieve anything they set their minds to,” Washington said. “It’s time they recognize his hard work and efforts toward so much time put into serving the students at Corliss. He has truly changed the culture of learning technology here.”

Washington referred to Sapp’s 2019 nomination as Chicago’s Teacher of the Year.

Sapp’s nomination came from his students at Corliss, who placed an ad. He later received news of making the Chicago Sky Teacher of the Year nomination list.

“For me to be considered as Teacher of the Year so early within my career is an honor,” Sapp said. “I don’t get into the field for the recognition. It means a lot that they nominated me.”

He began his teaching career as a mentor at George Westinghouse College Prep by creating academic curriculums as he wanted to see students succeed.

“Teaching is just who I am,” Sapp said. “It’s not only teaching them skills, but teaching them life skills. You are becoming a second parent. I try to let them know that I do care about them and that is the reason why I am on them.”

Sapp instills a feeling of hope toward his high school students as his parents once did to him as a youth.

“They just believed in me more than I believed in myself,” Sapp said. “I guess they saw something in me that I had not yet seen in myself.”

Ferguson said Sapp still encourages her to “conquer the world,” to strive for excellence and nothing else.

“His still a mentor, a figure, an educator and a father figure to me,” Ferguson said. “I’m so happy to know him.”

Sapp hopes to continue using his talent in broadcast technology to work with future generations.

“I want to start my own production company with the youth and I want to use them as employees,” Sapp said. “I want to provide more chances for them.”

He said most of his aspiration and motivation for the youth and his community come from Malcolm X.

“Malcom taught me that we have to come together first if we want to take on the world,” Sapp said. “I install that in my classroom. I tell them that they are a crew and a family. They need to come together first if they want to have an impact.”