They call themselves the Class of 2031 Redbirds.

Katie Hanrahan ’14 and her 20 first-graders at Galapagos Charter School in Rockford spend every school day in a classroom decked out in Redbird gear. They do the “I-S-U Go!” cheer. When Hanrahan needs to get their attention, she calls out “I-S-U” and they respond with “Redbirds!”

“If they hear anything about Illinois State University or Reggie Redbird, they love it,” Hanrahan said.

The Class of 2031 Redbirds aren’t just ISU fans because their instructor is an alumna. It’s because of their charter school, which wants every student to not just attend college, but graduate too.

Illinois State alumna Katie Hanrahan.

Illinois State alumna Katie Hanrahan.

It’s an ambitious goal, especially because nearly all of the school’s students (or “scholars,” as they’re called) come from low-income households, many from broken families.

“A lot of the scholars assume they can’t go to college or will be stuck in some sort of poverty-stricken cycle they don’t want to be in,” said Hanrahan. “But they’re really great kids, and I love working with them. You can tell they really want to succeed and they want to go to college.”

The school’s rigorous academic plan calls for homework in every subject every night. There’s no recess. Teachers are called “instructors,” and students wear uniforms. Scholars begin college visits in fourth grade.

The entire school is filled with college gear to help encourage the scholars. Each instructor’s classroom is decorated with his or her alma mater’s gear, and every classroom, including the Class of 2031 Redbirds, has its own college chant.

Class of 2031 Redbirds

Another look at Hanrahan’s classroom in Rockford.

Hanrahan grew up in Woodstock and attended private Catholic schools before coming to Illinois State, where she was a resident advisor and student leader with University Program Board.

Hanrahan graduated from the College of Education’s elementary education program. She was able to observe inside real classrooms as early as her freshman year, thanks to Illinois State’s on-campus Laboratory Schools. Later Hanrahan was part of Illinois State’s Professional Development Schools (PDS) program, which placed her in a school in Pekin for an entire year, including student-teaching.

All that extra classroom time made her much more comfortable when she got her first job.

“I think ISU just provides so many different opportunities for students to actually get inside a classroom,” Hanrahan said. “Getting in there and getting hands-on is a really big part of it.”

STATE Your Passion classroom pack

As part of its mission, Illinois State University is happy to provide informational and promotional materials to K–12 schools to assist with efforts to raise awareness of the importance of higher education.

University Marketing and Communications will provide a “STATE Your Passion” classroom pack for educators at Illinois-based K–8 institutions, depending on availability.

Request a classroom pack today!

Ryan Denham can be reached at