If you ask Jakayla Kitt about the Excel Academy of Roseland, part of the Chicago Public Schools’ Options Network, she’ll tell you it was the best high school she ever attended. Kitt, who graduated in 2015, said she lacked the motivation to go to school when she was younger, which lead to her dropping out multiple times. However, that changed once she enrolled at the Excel Academy. 

“I had an apartment and a job,” she said. “I thought I didn’t need a diploma. But at Excel, I felt like someone cared. That made me want to come to school. I felt all the love and that made me want to go. Their wanting me to succeed made me want to succeed.” 

Kitt still feels bonded to the school. Now a preschool teacher, she is also an entrepreneur and returns to Roseland weekly with special lunch options for students. Kitt has always loved to cook and today she’s channeled that passion into a side hustle. Armed with a food management license, Kitt started a private dining experience business, where she cooks a restaurant-quality meal in people’s homes. Photos of her meals posted on Instagram at @kaylas_kitchen_chicago caught the eye of Tyree Booker, executive director of the Excel Academy of Roseland and he asked if Kitt would consider making meals for students.  

“I offer the kids a discounted price on the lunches,” Kitt said. “I want them to enjoy a good meal without having to share with siblings or other members of their family, like they might at home. I cook steak, salmon, alfredo dishes – high end meals so that they can expand their taste buds and eat things maybe they haven’t had before.”  

The special meals are offered once a week in addition to the standard school lunch menu.  

“To be honest Jakayla was a godsend,” said Booker. “The students and staff love her food and it’s an honor to empower the endeavors of our current as well as former students. This is a clear definition of what we mean when we say we are a life-long family at Excel Academy.” 

With a successful six years since high school behind her, Kitt’s advice for others is to ignore the naysayers.  

“Don’t listen to people who tell you that you will fail. Your journey may be rough but follow your dreams. School is important – it goes beyond teaching you academics to help you be a productive member of society. And, if you don’t want to take orders – become an entrepreneur like me.”