FINDING THE RIGHT PRESCHOOL PROGRAM
Selecting a perfect preschool for your child can be simple, if you know the right questions to ask and if you enter the process prepared. Catherine Griffin, owner of Little Hands Learning Center Preschool, says parents have a lot to consider when choosing the best program for their little one.
Addressing your family needs is important. Being in close proximity to home or work has a significant impact on your day and logistics, as well as the hours of operation and calendar closure dates which effect your daily work schedule. Other aspects, such as whether the school has an open-door policy may matter to you—are you able to drop in and check on your little one at any time?
Take a look at the financials. Not only what works for your family’s budget, but what the tuition includes. Some schools include meals and special meals with children with dietary restrictions. Extra fees may be incurred for certain activities or additional programs. Schools vary greatly in educational philosophies. It will be helpful to familiarize yourself and understand the key differences between common terms and formal educational philosophies such as the Montessori Method, The Reggio Emilia Approach, The Waldorf Approach, The High-Scope Approach, Active Engaged Learning, Accelerated Academics, Child-centered, Teacher-led, Child-led, Co-operative Childcare, and Developmentally Appropriate. Also, take a look to see if they offer individualized instruction available for students at various academic levels, or for children with different learning styles.
Another important philosophy you will want to know about is the disciplinary standards and style. Schools can vary greatly in quality and standards for their teachers’ and staff certifications and education level, as well as teacher-to-child ratios. One to note is Adult, Child and Infant CPR/First Aid. Schools at this level may offer comprehensive activities and special programs—think Spanish or yoga classes. These programs often introduce new teachers to class for these programs.
Being prepared helps parents feel less overwhelmed when choosing the best preschool fit for their child and allows parents to enter the process more aware, which makes the process more effective, efficient and enjoyable.
A LOOK INTO A CPS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
The challenges that CPS faces has been well-documented. A north-side principal gives an inside look into how she manages the day-to-day operations at her school while keeping parents aware of how the situation affects their children.
Diverse both culturally and socioeconomically, Nettelhorst is like a “mini utopia”, says Principal Yasmeen Muhammad, who feels both factors are major components for college and career readiness. “It is important for students to read about other cultures and learn how they contribute to our society,” she explains. “[At Nettelhorst] we are able to put theory into practice while enriching our students through events that highlight various cultures.” But even the school’s unique culture and her extensive background in elementary education could not have prepared her for the challenges that came with the state budget cuts. Navigating through the political nuances to keep students, parents, and staff happy—while also making sure Nettelhorst continues to live up to its excellent reputation, was essential. As a first-year principal, Muhammad has addressed the money deficit by being open with her parents and sharing with them all information presented from the district.
THE PRIVATE SCHOOL OPTION
Be ambitious. That is the common thread that runs through all aspects of British International School of Chicago in Lincoln Park. Mel Curtis, Principal of BISC Lincoln Park, describes the educational experience students receive as a “personalized education that creates a purposeful and meaningful experience. Our school is passionate about giving opportunities to explore more than just math and science.” Making the effort to get to know all of the students and what they do outside of school is important to determining what they need while in the classroom. Curtis says that a common question she is asked is how BISC Lincoln Park tests students. “Assessment happens every day,” she says. “Our children are adept at challenging themselves, and our school has an all-around approach to learning, including character building and teaching them to be able to communicate with both adults and children.”
Like many schools, BISC Lincoln Park wants to teach their children to be globally-minded and able to make a difference in the world. Curtis mentions that BISC Lincoln Park has a program for older students to travel to Tanzania to work with students there and learn to be compassionate international citizens.
An important part of the BISC Lincoln Park curriculum is the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) corridor for their 2-11 year old students. An all-integrated, interdisciplinary program, the campus includes a science lab, a library, an arts studio, a drama room, maker space, and a robotics studio. According to Curtis, the arts component in STEAM learning is crucial. “If you ignore the arts element, you have let children down. You have to have a much bigger perception of what the arts can do.” BISC Lincoln Park recently announced a collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to further enhance the school’s STEAM program in the form of classroom challenges that focus on the intersections between the five disciplines.
CHARTER SCHOOLS: PLAN FOR SUCCESS
DRW College Prep is one of 17 campuses of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which collectively serves a student population that is 98 percent minority and 89 percent low-income. Noble was founded in 1999 as an alternative choice for families that were otherwise assigned to traditional Chicago Public School campuses. It’s an option where students from all across the city could experience a top-notch college-prep education that placed a deliberate emphasis on school safety, an inclusive learning environment, and a focus on lifelong success through college.
Since the original Noble Street College Prep opened, it has expanded to 17 high school campuses all across Chicago, including DRW College Prep in the Homan Square neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. All Noble schools are open-enrollment public charter schools, meaning that any student living within the city limits may attend. They are non-selective and there is no tuition. The Noble model of highly-trained teachers and a supportive school environment has proven to substantially improve outcomes for traditionally under-served students and neighborhoods in Chicago. Everything that Noble does is built around college access and success for their students.
With an unshakable belief that any child can succeed in college and in life given the proper education and support in high school, Noble campuses are sending students to and through college at historically unprecedented rates. Despite comprising only 10 percent of the public high school population in Chicago, Noble students earned over one third of all college scholarship dollars awarded to public school students in the graduating class of 2016. As recognition for these and many other remarkable achievements, Noble was recently awarded the distinguished Broad Prize for Best Charter School in the nation in 2015, an extraordinary honor that reinforces the high level of dedication and success of Noble students and staff.
KEEPING KIDS SAFE AFTER SCHOOL
Since it was founded in 2004, Spark Chicago has been helping middle school students in under-served neighborhoods connect with mentors so they can have a higher chance of graduating and look toward a more fulfilling future. Executive Director Kathleen St. Louis Caliento—who has been with Spark Chicago for three and a half years now—speaks to why after-school programming has become indispensable for much of Chicago’s youth: “It provides students with something to do, somewhere to go, when they might otherwise hang with the wrong crowd or look for trouble. After-school programming that especially help students think about and imagine futures beyond the communities they live in are, in my mind, especially valuable.”
Because of Spark, kids from dangerous parts of the city have access to the kind of opportunities and guidance they otherwise may not be able to have. According to the numbers, it’s undeniable that Spark Chicago has had great success since it opened in 2011. The program now serves 12 schools and 350 students, with 95 percent of them finishing 8th grade compared to 71 percent district-wide.
ONE MILLION DEGREES: HELPING STUDENTS ACHIEVE THEIR COLLEGE DREAMS
The dialogue surrounding college often centers on traditional four-year university programs, leaving young people who might be interested in exploring a community college option out of the conversation. A local organization called One Million Degrees, has a mission to remove obstacles that stand in the way of a college education at any of Chicago’s seven community colleges.
Founded in 2006, One Million Degrees provides a full complement of support systems to students (called scholars) who might be vulnerable to failure in school due to socio-economic factors, including the lack of college-educated role models in their families and neighborhoods. Paige Ponder, CEO of One Million Degrees, previously worked in CPS and has a background in working in communities touched by poverty. “I see education as a lever to address poverty”, she says. OMD was launched as a way to address the needs of low-income, largely minority, students who were usually first-generation undergraduate students. “The success of these first-generation students in four-year colleges in very important”, Ponder says. “So there was a huge, wide open opportunity to invest in these students, and here is where we can make a difference.”
It didn’t take long before the organization realized that tuition was just one of the barriers that students faced. Ponder points out that there are hidden costs involved, such as the loss of income when students are not able to work a full schedule because of school. Childcare, computers and books also add up and just $100 can be a financial burden. In addition to financial assistance, OMD also helps students with other supports that are just as important. With the help of a professor at one of the City Colleges, OMD was able to develop an initial wish list of what they wanted to be able provide for their scholars. “She was able to tell us that students need tutoring, mentoring and exposure to other career paths- they need to learn what the labor market looks like and what upwardly mobile trajectories look like. With the help of volunteer coaches from the professional world, the scholars learn how to network, how to present themselves in a professional manner and are held accountable for their academic performance.
Learn more at onemilliondegrees.org.