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  1. As with all things pandemic, it’s been quite the year for Chicago parents who have applied for Chicago Public School (CPS) seats at Open Enrollment, Magnet, Magnet Cluster and Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools for the 2021-2022 school year. CPS has announced that first round notifications for three magnet preschools (Suder, Drummond and Inter-American) and all lottery-based and selective enrollment elementary (K-8th grade) results will be released after 5pm on Friday, May 28, 2021. This is over a month after the results are typically released, prolonging an already unusual application year. An email and a robocall will be sent to the contact information in the student’s online application file with directions on how to access the online notifications and how to accept an offer, if applicable. Let the nail-biting begin! Are you a first-time CPS applicant, or just curious about the process? Here’s a quick run-down on what to expect from your notification(s): Magnet, magnet cluster and open enrollment lottery applicants: Once results are available, online applicants at GoCPS will see a “View Application Status” button next to each student’s name on the Student Dashboard. The results screen will list all of the schools you applied for and next to each school’s name, an indication of whether your child was offered a seat or waitlisted. If waitlisted, there will be a number indicating your child’s waitlist number. It is possible to receive offers from more than one lottery school, and it's also possible to be waitlisted at every school. If your child is on a waitlist that is not the general waitlist, this will be indicated as well (e.g., sibling, proximity, tier). You can also click on “View & Print Notification Letter” to see the traditional CPS letter showing the same information. Note: proximity and tier waitlists are only for the Entry Year of CPS Magnet programs (typically K only). Selective enrollment elementary school (SEES) applicants: All SEES applicants who have completed the testing requirement for the program(s) they have applied to (Classical and/or Regional Gifted Center) will receive either ONE offer or no offers. No multiple offers are given to SEES applicants applying to early elementary grades. Thus, the GoCPS portal will include your child’s test score(s) and which, if any, SEES program to which your child has been offered a seat. It will also indicate if your child has not been offered a seat yet and additional information regarding subsequent acceptance rounds. You can click “View & Print Notification Letter” to see the traditional CPS letter showing the same information. Waitlist numbers are not given for SEES applicants as open seats are filled based on test scores. Tier information is only shown for the Entry Year of a SEES program. For all programs, your GoCPS portal will indicate a deadline by which you must accept or decline your child’s seat at any of the offered schools. As of this writing, CPS has yet to release the deadline to accept a first-round offer, but in the past, families were given about two weeks to make their initial decision. The waitlist process then opens a few days after the first-round acceptance deadline. You should use this time period to virtually visit or re-visit those schools to help make or confirm your school choice. Schools should post virtual info session dates for accepted students and parents on the event calendar at the CPS website, go.cps.edu, or check each individual’s school website for more details. For lottery-based (non-selective enrollment) schools, acceptance at one school does not remove your child’s name from the acceptance and/or waitlists at any of the other lottery-based schools. In other words, you may accept an offer you received and if you later receive an offer from a school where your child was waitlisted, you may accept that offer instead and notify the previous school of the decision to withdraw. For those accepted to a SEES program, accepting your child’s seat at that program will remove your child’s name from the applicant list at all other SEES programs ranked on his/her application. If you decline an offered seat, your child’s name will remain on the applicant list(s) for all other schools ranked on their application. Accepting or declining a seat in a SEES program has no bearing on your child’s separate non-selective lottery application, if applicable. Bear in mind that after this initial notification period, waitlists will continue to move and offers will be given via phone and/or GoCPS (not mail) through the spring and into summer (and sometimes fall). It’s also important to note that when parents of waitlisted students are contacted, they are given only 48 hours (or as little as 2 hours in late summer) to accept or decline a seat. A second-round application process (formerly known as End-of-Year Citywide Options Program) will also be available (no dates released yet) to fill any open seats at magnet, magnet cluster and open enrollment schools. Please note that selective enrollment schools are NOT typically part of this “remaining seat” process with the exception of new programs or attrition years. Updated Spring 2021 Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum. Plus, check out School Resources Map to help you make your final school decision. New to CPS applications? NPN members can watch a 4-part video on everything you need to know about CPS. Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS (ChiSchoolGPS.com). Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.
  2. As a parent, you want to ensure that your child receives every opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. Preschool can play a significant role in achieving these goals. For children who may not fit into a standard preschool setting because of a disorder, diagnosis, or disability, a therapeutic preschool program can be life-changing. If your child would benefit from a therapeutic preschool, it is critical that you do your research. In my own experience, I found the following factors incredibly important. [Related: How to advocate for your special-needs child in CPS] Your goals as a parent A therapeutic preschool can provide support by meeting critical developmental milestones in areas such as speech and language, social skills, feeding, expanded gross and fine motor skills, and more. It is important that the program meets the unique goals you have in mind for your child. Flexibility of the program The more flexible a program is, the more it will meet your child’s needs. Does the program require you to make a year commitment or allow month-to-month? Does it offer both morning and afternoon sessions? Are you able to start at two days a week and increase if it is going well? Rigid rules and policies may not fit your child’s specific needs. Well-educated and experienced staff Top therapeutic programs tend to employ individuals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This additional education will manifest itself in better outcomes for your child. A multidisciplinary team This means a team of professionals with expertise in speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, feeding therapy, ABA therapy, and more. This diverse team allows children to receive the most well-rounded and comprehensive care and allows a program to treat the whole child. Student-to-teacher ratio A program with a low student-to-teacher ratio can provide more personalized care. A standard preschool program may have 8 to 10 children for just one teacher, while a good therapeutic program may have just 3 or 4 students per teacher. [Related: IEP 101 (video)] Reviews and results In my time as a speech-language pathologist, I have had a front-row seat in observing therapeutic services for children with a wide range of developmental delays. I have discovered that the gains children make vary greatly from program to program. The progress your child makes in a therapeutic program is a direct result of the effectiveness of the clinicians. Look for online reviews and references from satisfied parents so you know that your child is receiving the best care possible. Open-door policy The best therapeutic programs want parents involved in their child’s progress. An open-door policy that allows parents to drop in to observe their child’s day (such as through a two-way mirror) is the hallmark of a quality program. The results of a therapeutic preschool program can be truly transformative for your child. Ask questions. Ask around. Look online for reviews. Doing your research will pay off, as you will find the right program to become your “partner” in helping your child reach their full potential.
  3. Preschool in Chicago is not required, but many families consider enrolling their children into a local preschool option when their child is 3 years old. The public preschool landscape has changed a lot over the years, but it is starting to get streamlined into just two sources. In all CPS options, children must be potty-trained and age 3 or 4 by September 1. Magnet Preschool Programs: CPS offers Montessori preschool programs at two magnet elementary schools, Drummond and Suder; children must be age 3 and potty trained by September 1. Seats in CPS magnet programs are awarded via a computerized lottery, with priority given for applicants who are siblings of current students. In the entry year of a magnet program, priority is also given to those who reside within 1.5 miles of the school and then any remaining entry-year seats are distributed evenly by CPS Tier. Only these two magnet preschool programs require applicants to apply via the Choice Elementary CPS application at go.cps.edu from October to December one year prior to entry. Acceptance into the magnet preschool programs does guarantee admission into the school’s K–8 program, making spots in these programs highly competitive. [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool] Chicago Early Learning Preschool (CEL): This option is divided between 3-year-old half-day (3 hour) or 4-year-old full-day (7 hour) programs, with the latter also being known as Universal Pre-K (UPK). Most programs are free and typically are hosted by community-based sites for 3-year-olds, while 4-year-olds are prioritized in CPS school-based sites. The application process is online, with a limited number of application support sites. Applicants will rank up to 5 preschool sites. The application period begins the spring just prior to a fall school start, and this year it opens on April 19, 2022, for fall 2022 entry. After a month-long Initial Application Period, later applicants can apply via rolling admissions for remaining seats throughout the school year. Acceptance into a UPK program does not guarantee a kindergarten seat but does give priority points to stay at that school site when applicants apply for kindergarten. Visit Chicago Early Learning for application information and updates. Tours and open houses may be in person or virtual, so it’s always best to call each school you are interested in to inquire about more details. Find contact info for each program here. [Related: CPS Universal Pre-K: What you need to know] Some important notes regarding CPS preschool programs: Even if you reside within the neighborhood boundaries of an elementary school that offers a preschool program, you must submit an application via Chicago Early Learning. Attending a CPS preschool program that is not housed at your neighborhood school does not guarantee admission into that school’s K–8 program (except for the magnet programs described above). CPS no longer offers Tuition Based Pre-K and instead offers free Universal Pre-K for all 4 year olds. Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS application, acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum. Updated spring 2022
  4. To school or not to school? Wait, is that even a question? For hundreds of Chicago-area parents and many more across the nation, it is a very real one. In the past decade, there has been a nationwide surge in parents choosing to homeschool, unschool, or choose a non-traditional school without a fixed curriculum or grades. But why? Self-Directed Education Proponents believe that unschooling provides opportunities for children to explore their interests without the limits of a traditional classroom. Unschooling allows children the freedom to direct their own education and learn at their own pace, without fear of disapproval from teachers or bad grades. It helps preserve the natural love of learning that people are born with, and helps children develop skills of creativity, initiative, leadership, independence, collaboration, and self-confidence. [Related: How to apply for CPS preschools] Some parents, like myself, dip their toe in the water of unschooling by choosing a play-based preschool, where children’s interests drive the classroom experience and there is no preset curriculum. At that age, it is a broadly accepted philosophy that children are born with a natural ability and desire to learn. Many parents continue to follow this philosophy after preschool by homeschooling or unschooling their children. Still others are intrigued by the tenets of unschooling or homeschooling but it’s not the right fit for their family financially or logistically. They seek out one of the many non-traditional schools putting down roots across the Chicagoland area. These schools are hybrids of unschooling and traditional school. They follow the philosophy of self-directed education, but add a level of structure to the student experience and a general expectation of student attendance during school hours. My Story I had two bright and happy children who were doing fine in our excellent local public school. However, as they approached upper elementary grades, their zest for learning was starting to wane. As standardized testing pressures ramped up and homework loads increased, school started to become more of a battle and less of a joy. I did some research into alternative options and, as an educator myself, was intrigued by homeschooling. I longed for the ability to personalize the learning experience for my children’s abilities and interests. Unfortunately, despite my promise of a long recess, my kids did NOT share my interest in homeschooling. [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool] Luckily, we were able to find a non-traditional school that met most of my homeschooling objectives but gave my children the separation from me that they craved. While the fear of taking the path less traveled was pretty intense for all of my family members, we took the leap into self-directed education and haven’t looked back. My kids are ahead of a traditional school curriculum in some subjects, and behind in others, but spend every day learning about something that interests them, so we are all content. Best of all, they now wake up every morning excited about going to school. Options For every story like mine, there is one with a different ending. Every family has a unique set of needs. The great news is that there are so many education options in Chicago and support networks for those trying them out. Take the time to explore and see if self-directed education might be best for your family. Learn more about homeschooling through local networks like the Chicago Homeschool Network and Northside Unschoolers Group. Find schools with a self-directed education mindset on the NPN website or by talking to schools at the NPN School Fair (it’s where I found my children’s first school!).
  5. “When is the best time to begin my school search?” is a question often posed by families looking to start the always dreaded but ultimately necessary rite of passage known as the “Chicago School Search.” Sometimes the question is followed up by a plaintive, “Oh my goodness! Am I too late?!” Rest easy, Chicago families. The answer is not as cut-and-dried as one would think — and ultimately, you are never “too late.” [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool] As the third largest city in the U.S., Chicago is home to a vast range of school types, sizes, options, and admissions processes. Even within Chicago Public Schools (CPS), there are various pathways for entry from preschool to high school. Overlaid with the multitude of private and parochial schools, there are always choices for parents whenever they embark on their school search. That being said, one of the keys to increasing your odds in any endeavor is to know when those odds are at their best. “Entry Year” odds For school admissions, when a program begins is known as the “entry year” of a school (e.g., a K-8 school’s entry year is kindergarten). This is typically the time when the school has the most spots available. But it can have the most applicants, as well. For example, a school with two kindergarten classrooms of 25 students each will have 50 spots to fill, and perhaps 500 applicants (a 10% admit rate). Conversely, that same school’s first-grade class may have just one spot open, but only five students applying — so it could have a 20% admit rate in a non-entry year. Considering how difficult it is to predict if any upper-year spots may be available, a good strategy is to be in the applicant pool of the entry year for your desired school. Some common or little-known entry points are: Infants (6 weeks: Montessori Academy of Chicago) 3-year-olds (University of Chicago Lab School, Frances Xavier Warde, many Montessori schools) 4-year-olds (Chicago City Day School, Inter-American Magnet) 5-year-olds (most CPS schools) 5th grade (additional spots at Latin School) 6th grade (additional spots at Francis Parker) 7th grade (CPS Academic Centers) 9th grade (high schools) [Related: Want to make your community better? Consider your neighborhood school] September 1 cut-off Most preschool and early elementary programs have a strict age cutoff date of September 1, so keep that in mind when determining your child’s entry year. Once a school’s entry point is confirmed, be sure to apply one year before the program starts to be in the running for available seats. In other words, if you are interested in a school that begins at 3 years old, then plan to apply that fall when your child is 2 years old. Whatever year you enter a school, you are allowed to stay until the school ends, which is typically 8th or 12th grade. Targeting the entry year can increase your odds of acceptance at a school of your choice. Good luck with your school search journey, and may the odds be with you! Updated Spring 2021
  6. So, you think this fall is the right time to start preschool? If your child is three and potty trained, you’re ready to catch a ride on the pre-kindergarten rollercoaster that will decide who your parental friends are, whether or not you should move, where your child will grow up, and who their lifelong friends will be. Yes, it sounds overwhelming, but it’s never too soon to start researching. When I thought my first little one was ready, I didn’t have any “mommy friends” to consult. I panicked and started to Google, “What age do kids start preschool?” and was immediately overwhelmed by all the information I was gathering. After a few informal polls at the neighborhood park, I quickly realized every parent of a child my age was just as unprepared as I was. I had to find parents of children who were already in kindergarten to get the data I so badly needed. Through them, I developed a list of questions—all of which, for me at that time, could be answered with a “YES”: I have to go back to work. Will I need someone to watch my child all day? Is my child potty trained and able to ask to go to the bathroom when needed? Will my child be comfortable with other adults if I’m not there? Can my child listen, follow directions and handle a structured schedule? Does my child need to be socialized and learn how to play well with others? Another Google search later and I had a list of preschools in my area, and hit the road to check them out. And this was the hardest part: How do you make one of the most important decisions of your child’s formative years and know that you will not regret your decision? Answer: You go with your gut. Here is a list of basic questions to ask a preschool provider: What are your hours? Do I pay upfront, weekly, etc.? What if I’m late picking up my child? What is the extra fee? What is the ratio of kids to caregivers? What are the children’s ages in each group? Is breakfast served? Snacks? How are allergies handled? How long is nap time? Can we bring our own blanket, toy, etc.? What is the approach to socialization? Playtime? Inside? Outside? Will I be given updates on my child’s progress, how their day was, what they learned/achieved each day? Will I die without seeing every little milestone that will be accomplished when I’m not there? (Just kidding, but I know you were thinking this.) (As for No. 8: Of course you will be OK, and you’ll look back later and wonder what you would have done without so-and-so provider to help you through this portion of your child’s life.) Once you have determined who will have the pleasure of being around your child all day while you’re busy at work or wherever you need to be, you can ask for a “playdate” with the provider to let your child have some input. This will help your child to get acquainted with their new home-away-from-home and will help you to feel at ease and know that you are a great parent, and you will survive. Nikki Arana is a mother of two boys, ages 7 and 9, who attend St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic school in West Town. She works at a law firm downtown and her free time is spent as a parent ambassador to help other families learn about their wonderful school.
  7. When you ask your kids the question, “How was school today?”, count yourself lucky if you get an “OK” or “fine.” As parents, we all want to know: Are they having fun? Are they playing nicely with others? Are they nurturing healthy relationships with their friends and peers? And the one that worries us the most, Are they eating lunch? Every day, tons of us suffer from not being able to communicate effectively with our children. As a mother of three and a parent educator, I’ve had to learn how to communicate with young children, especially after school. Here are some tips and examples to get the communication between you and your child started. Be mindful. Know that they have been sitting for most of the day (at least six hours!), and some days they may be frustrated about the day and not ready to talk. Bite your tongue and resist the urge to wear your FBI hat. Do not interrogate them. You may want to wait until dinner or bedtime to ask. In the meantime, concentrate on making the time fun and relaxing by asking easy questions, e.g., example “What would you like to eat for dinner?” Ask open-ended questions and be specific: “Tell me about something new you learned in Math today.” “Where is the coolest place in the school? Why?” “Who is the funniest person in your class? Why?” Share something about your day and ask about theirs: “I had a tuna sandwich for lunch. What about you?” “I am getting ready for a meeting tomorrow and need to create an agenda. When is your next exam and what is it going to include?” Use their artwork as a conversation starter: “Which technique did you use here?” “What were you feeling when you drew this?” Ask silly/fun questions: “Tell me something that made you laugh today.” “If you could be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach and how would you teach it?” Know the school schedule: “Today is Thursday: Tell me about the new song you are learning in music class today.” Don’t forget the not-so-nice questions: “Tell me about something that made you sad today.” “Is there someone in your class that needs a time-out? Why?” “What can you do when you feel sad or frustrated in school?” Finally, listen. As soon as your child gets in the car, stop whatever you are doing and be present in the moment. Let them be the first to say anything and do not come up with conclusions before you hear the entire story. Children gain confidence as they relate their day and you affirm them. Be aware of signs. Your child may be showing off more than just having a bad day. Remember to stay in constant communication with the teacher. Teaming with the teacher helps the child be successful because after all, it takes a village! Nilmari Donate is the founder of HKC Parenting and School Consulting Services. She holds a BA in Public Health and an MA in Parenting Education and Support from DePaul University. She is the mother of three young bilingual and multicultural children.
  8. Parenting a toddler can be hard enough without the pressures of finding that “perfect” school for your curious, inquisitive, rambunctious and eager little one. You’ve heard the rumors before: ”Get into the right school now so that your path to Harvard is assured. If you miss your window, you’ve missed your chance!” But is that really true? Is there even such a thing as a “golden ticket” to those coveted universities? Are we doomed to let go of those lofty dreams if we send our child to the up-and-coming school down the street? Does it really all start with preschool?! [Related: Play all day? That's exactly what your preschooler should be doing] Rest assured that the biggest predictor of student success is engaged, involved parents versus a hefty tuition bill or a storied, exclusive school. As parents, our main job is to make sure our child is thriving, growing, staying inquisitive and learning how to get along with others in whatever environment they find themselves. While rumors abound among new parents (especially from the exclusive and pricey enclaves of New York City) that a child’s path to educational nirvana starts with the right brand-name preschool, the real skinny is that it simply isn’t true. Here in Chicago, we are lucky to have a breadth of school options that can all spark a lifelong quest for knowledge. Plus, the diversity of our city makes for a rich educational experience in its own right. Angst-ridden nights worrying about how and when to get into the “right” preschool become unnecessary when parents realize that not only do kids at “top” high schools come from all pathways (public, private, well known, under the radar, selective, traditional, etc.), but the coveted colleges only accept a small number of students from each high school, no matter the caliber of students. In the end, the goal for parents is to find schools that allow your child to unleash their potential and develop their self-confidence, no matter the name on the school’s door. [Related: What's up with Universal Pre-K? Here's what we know] But what about entry years and getting into a certain school? Is it worth the anxiety? While it’s true that more spots can be available if you apply when a program starts, there is always attrition and families can and do make school changes based on a child’s evolving needs and desires as he/she grows. The array of Chicago school choices means that finding a great school fit at any time along your child’s school journey is possible. From the play-based preschool to the Reggio-inspired elementary to the international baccalaureate high school, all experiences shape each child’s unique skills, interests and goals, which combine into the thoughtful, empathetic and well-rounded high schooler that the coveted universities are looking for. Research different types of school options at NPN’s Preschool & Elementary School Fair to learn about the many school offerings in and around Chicago. Remember: If a child begins his/her early education at a school that feels right for your family but isn’t necessarily a “big name” draw, don’t fret or feel pressured to make a change. That “happy fit” preschool is creating the spark that will go on to shape the innate curiosity and interests of your future college-bound child, wherever they ultimately attend!

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