West Side Learning Center Brings Connections, Community, and In-Demand Opportunities to Chicago’s Austin Neighborhood

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Barbara Meschino, the dean of Malcolm X College’s satellite location in Austin, the West Side Learning Center (WSLC), grew up in Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood. She credits her deep roots in the community as the source of her commitment to providing West Siders with education and career growth opportunities.

In fact, Meschino’s own story is woven into the fabric of the West Side. She recalls walking into the WSLC building she now heads at 4624 W. Madison with her parents when it was a former Jewel-Osco grocery store.

Dean Barbara Meschino of Malcolm X College’s satellite, the West Side Learning Center

“I remember coming here as a kid to shop. It was a meeting place in the community back then, and I’m so glad it continues to be an important meeting place in the community today,” she said.

During college, she spent two summers between her classes at Clark Atlanta University serving as an intern in the Community Relations Department at Loretto Hospital, less than two miles from WSLC. After she graduated, she worked in youth services before earning a master’s degree in social work and beginning her career in human services.

She joined City Colleges of Chicago in 2005, teaching high school equivalency preparation classes and, later, sociology. When an administrative position opened in the Adult Education Department at WSLC in 2016, Dean Meschino was thrilled.

“I welcomed the opportunity to give back to the community that had given so much to me in the way of my own education and career pathway,” she said.

Today, Meschino oversees the West Side Learning Center, which offers credit courses alongside high school diploma and career preparation programs. In the last few years, WSLC has undergone renovations to update its biology labs and technology, and bring a new conference room that can be utilized by the community to the facility.

As students settle into a new post-pandemic normal, the Center is working hard to ensure that the community is aware of all that WSLC has to offer. In the upcoming Spring semester, WSLC will continue to offer free prep classes to adults working toward their high school diploma. The Center will also offer credit classes in areas like biology, math, and Africana studies.

In addition, the recent renovations have created space for hands-on credit courses and career certificate programs that prepare students for healthcare roles like Basic Nursing Assistant (BNA), Patient Care Technician, Community Health Worker, and Medical Assisting. Many of the programs are available at no cost to eligible Chicagoans thanks to City Colleges of Chicago’s Future Ready initiative.

“Our programs are crucial to building a healthier, more informed community,” said Meschino. “This is a space for people to feel welcome and to connect with our programs and our community,” she said.

That connection is everything to Meschino, who feels proud to partner with existing pillars of the West Side community in her quest to continue strengthening her neighborhood.

“Austin is full of organizations and groups of people who do great work—groups providing resources like housing, career readiness, education, violence prevention—who are mission-driven and working hard every day to create positives to replace negative stereotypes,” Meschino said.

Partnerships with these organizations are crucial to the success of West Side Learning Center, and they help connect community members to WSLC programs and to career opportunities for students who complete programs. Meschino works hard to develop and maintain links with local churches, community organizations, and local public and private high schools to continuously improve the Center’s ability to uplift the community around it.

“I like to say that connection is the ‘secret sauce’ and the heart of this community. We are impacting lives and changing families together,” Meschino said. “It’s everything to me.”

If you’re looking to find a community and kickstart your own education or career growth, connect with the West Side Learning Center today by visiting www.ccc.edu/wslc.