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  1. You've read her writing in the New York Times and The Atlantic, you follow her on Instagram, you subscribe to her ParentData Substack, you've highlighted passages in her books. Join NPN for an in-depth and intimate recorded live discussion with Emily Oster, PhD on pregnancy and babies! Emily Oster is a Professor of Economics at Brown University. She holds a PhD in Economics from Harvard University. Emily’s academic work focuses on health economics, development economics, and statistical methods. In addition to her academic work, Emily has written two bestselling books on data-driven parenting, “Expecting Better” and “Cribsheet.” Her third book, "The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years" is set to come out in August 2021. Emily’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, CNBC, NPR, Slate and more. Currently, Emily is working on the National COVID School Response Dashboard, which she developed with Qualtrics.
  2. Video

    Live at Lunch Series: Applying to Kindergarten

    Applying for Kindergarten can seem like an overwhelming process, especially in Chicago where there are so many amazing schools to consider. Although there are many different private schools in our city, there are common application elements and procedures across them all. In this intimate recorded live discussion, elementary school experts discuss the Kindergarten application process and answer your questions, with a parent Q&A at the end. This video should leave you with a better understanding of the following: 1. Application process 2. Acceptances and waitlists 3. Financial aid Thank you to our esteemed elementary school panel, which consists of: Greenfields Academy Roycemore School Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts
  3. Last year, when Juneteenth was celebrated by so many major corporations for the first time, some joked that us white people would quickly turn it into another commercialized exercise of appropriation. This year, you might still be asking, what should us white folks do on Juneteenth? Here are three options: educate ourselves, educate other white people, or actively work to dismantle a part of our white supremacy culture. [Related: The importance of celebrating Juneteenth in Chicago] During the height of the pandemic and racial unrest, all the books on the New York Times best-seller list were about anti-racism and white supremacy. Hopefully, we read the books and learned that we have a long way to go, as a society but also as white people. Educating other white people is challenging as we have to leave our comfort zone and possibly offend someone. I am certainly not the best at it, too often biting my tongue when someone demonstrates their bias, or by doing the opposite and offending without educating. And too often than I'd like to admit, I'm the one that needs educating. I’m working on it, through regular participation in SEED and a local chapter of AWARE, both at our children’s school, Near North Montessori. The third option, challenging or dismantling a part of the white supremacy culture in our institutions and organizations, might seem even more daunting than confronting and educating another white person, but it does not need to be. [Related: How to become an anti-racist parent] Our children attend a private school, and I know there is hypocrisy in choosing a private school while claiming to be helping to dismantle white supremacy. I contend it is only incrementally different, if at all, to choices many white parents make since public schools mimic the segregation in our society, and many public schools are not diverse or safe for Black, indigenous, and people of color. This year, Near North Montessori has hired a new Head of School which, after an extensive search, chose Brian Corley who had previously been the Diversity Director at the school. Brian will be one of only a handful of Black Heads of School across all the private schools in the Midwest. This is good, but we can do more. Our school, despite having diversity, does not have enough Black educators. This is a dilemma for many schools, public and private. Our soon-to-be former Head has been working to fix the training options for Montessori teachers, which seems to be one of the most vexing obstacles, and HR has made shifts to address the pipeline. But they need more tools, and money is one of the primary weapons in our society. So, my wife and I are donating a fair amount to our children’s school to start a fund to recruit and retain Black teachers. Why is it important to have Black educators on staff? My former colleague, the late Principal Robert Croston, explained it best in an article he wrote: "If more White and affluent students were educated by Black men, many stereotypes about us would fall on deaf ears and more White and affluent Americans would be able to champion our plight. As a Black male educator, some of my favorite interactions with young people include those with non- Black students because they get to experience the love, care and intellect of someone like myself. They can rebuff the swirling stereotypes when they see and know a Black man as a principal. If West Pullman schools on the South Side of Chicago need Black men, then Wilmette schools on the North Shore of Chicagoland need Black male teachers even more.” So, this Juneteenth, ask yourself and your school’s leadership: Why aren’t there more Black teachers and administrators, if any? If the first response is, “They don’t apply,” then you might have to ask: Why don’t Black teachers apply (or stay) at your school? [Related: Can we build anti-racist communities?] The uncomfortable truth is, white people like us probably have a lot more work to do to ensure schools are welcoming, safe places for Black, indigenous, and people of color to work and thrive. Donating money is one way to dismantle white supremacy, but only if you couple it with educating yourself and other white people (I highly recommend an insightful podcast on this topic, Nice White Parents). This Juneteenth, celebrate by finding ways to challenge or dismantle a part of the white supremacy culture in your child’s school, be it public or private. I guarantee you it is there, and if you do not see it, you just might be an active part of it.
  4. Event

    Live at Lunch Series: Applying to Kindergarten

    until
    Applying for Kindergarten can seem like an overwhelming process, especially in Chicago where there are so many amazing schools to consider. Although there are many different private schools in our city, there are common application elements and procedures across them all. In this intimate live discussion, elementary school experts will discuss the Kindergarten application process and answer your questions. You will walk away from this discussion with a better understanding of the following: 1. Application process 2. Acceptances and waitlists 3. Financial aid There will be time for Q&A at the end! Our esteemed elementary school panel consists of: Greenfields Academy Roycemore School Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts Please email Meredith Marzano at mmarzno@npnparents.org with any questions. This panel discussion will cover the private school application process. To learn about the public school application process, start here.
  5. Our family has opted to never return to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as an education choice post the COVID-19 shutdown. I want to preface this entire blog by saying that we are fully aware that this is an extremely privileged choice that I am very thankful for, and am very aware that not everyone, and likely most in the CPS system, can make. Knowing that CPS was highly unlikely to return to any type of in-person school this past fall, we decided to move our children to a remote mountain town out west that we all enjoy visiting as a family. We never in our wildest dreams thought we would be purchasing a home and uprooting our children by registering them in brand-new schools this past fall, but…we did. I have three children with vastly different learning needs; however, I strongly believe that all children should be in school, in-person. That belief was verified by nearly all of the private and parochial schools around the country that successfully opened in the fall for in-person instruction, and stayed open. As parents, we knew we couldn’t stand by and watch our children waste yet another instructional year in “fake computer school,” as we call it. [Related: Questions to ask yourself when considering a CPS school] For the past six months in our new town, our two youngest children in first and sixth grade have had in-person school five days per week. Our oldest in seventh grade had a bit of a rockier start. He was initially hybrid at two days per week, then the middle school had to go fully remote for a while, but since January the middle school is now hybrid with two days per week again. He does so poorly with remote school, however, that the school labeled him as high priority and he is now in four days per week with zero issues. The entire district is hoping to be back full-time, in-person, five days per week after spring break, and it looks promising. My youngest is behind a full year in her reading due to the teacher’s strike in October 2019, and then the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020. What I view as the Chicago Teacher’s Union's complete unwillingness to even contemplate in-person learning drove us to this somewhat drastic measure of moving, but we couldn’t let any of our children lose yet another year of learning. Zooming in does not work for her, and improving remote school would do next to nothing. We are grateful that our jobs allow us to live anywhere and that our kids have been able to take advantage of in-person school. In closing, I would say that a driving factor of leaving CPS entirely was the attitude of the CTU and its social media outbursts, and what I see as a complete disregard for all of our children’s best interests. In the end we will pursue private, or move. Cate White is a B2B content marketing professional by trade and has lived in the city of Chicago for 18 years. She currently lives out of state due to COVID-19 and the CTU, but normally resides in the North Center area with her three children and husband. The NPN blog gives voice to our members' thoughts about parenting in the city, and the views expressed don't necessarily reflect our own. Want to write for us? Email lauren@npnparents.org with your topic ideas. Photo by Kelly Sikkema
  6. Article
    As vaccines roll out by the thousands, the days are getting longer, and hope feels more tangible than ever. But how do we balance it with the pace of the past year? For a lot of families and couples, the pandemic's slow down period has been a blessing in disguise. This is not to say that it hasn’t been difficult in a million weird and unexpected ways. It has. However, not having to go to playdates, attend birthday parties, and uber children to multiple afterschool activities has allowed for more time together. For my family, we now have a standing Friday night pizza and movie date which we all really look forward to. So how will we remember to just relax and play when the world quickly plays catch-up? Don’t think of this as making up for lost time Time was not lost; it was slowed down. There is no need to go full speed. List the activities that each member of your family would like to do and only commit to one to two at a time. Same goes for summer camp: Keep in mind that kiddos are used to having down time, so we don’t want to overwhelm them by booking every week. Just because we can, doesn’t mean that it's the best option for our family. Keep at least two days/nights free of activities Preferably one weekend morning so that you can sleep in (if all the stars align). It is also nice to wake up and not have to run off to something. I find that on Saturday morning, my children are excited for the weekend and looking forward to playing and using their imagination for the things that they wish they could have done while in school. This also leaves room for spontaneity. Take turns Historically, my husband and I felt that we had to both attend birthday parties because it was a social event for us, but in the end we would be exhausted. One idea we’ve had since is to take turns with parties and activities. We also take turns working out, cooking, and cleaning. [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] Make time for yourself Pick something that brings you joy, and do it! For me, it was to take a pilates teacher training course so that I can learn and do something new. Another thing my partner and I do is that if I have plans to work out on a Saturday, then we make a plan for him to work out on Sunday. If you make time for yourself, you are more likely to help others make time for themselves as well. Be aware of the new social anxiety I am finding with myself and a lot of my clients that there is a sense of feeling awkward in social situations. Questioning the conversations when you get home and thinking that you talked too much are normal. We haven’t been socializing the way that we were used to. It might take time to find our groove and make new friends as adults, and this is a good reminder that our kiddos might struggle with this also. Ease back into life with one activity at a time and don’t forget that "No" is still an acceptable answer.
  7. Article
    Most of us probably have a good idea what it takes to get our young children to love reading. Snuggling up with a favorite book at bedtime, for example, sends a clear message about the value of reading. But what about a love of math? For many parents, it’s not so obvious how to help young children appreciate math — especially if they don’t enjoy it themselves or feel their skills in the subject are lacking. Yet parents are a powerful influence on how children feel about math. Feelings? Yes, research is clear that children’s mindset — their beliefs about what math is and who can do math well — helps determine their math achievement. So, if you’re a parent and don’t consider yourself a math person, there are still ways you can help your child succeed. First, try putting aside any pressure you feel to be their math teacher, and instead, think of yourself as a math cheerleader! With that perspective, following are five strategies you can use to cheer your child on and encourage their love of math. Be curious The concept of being a “math person” — or not — is a myth. But even if you don’t identify as someone who likes or is good at math right now, you can still model curiosity about the subject. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you can ask good questions. Two great questions to ask your kids: “What do you notice?” and, “What do you see?” Look with a math lens We use lenses all the time to help us see things differently: to improve our vision, to shade our eyes from the sun, to magnify microscopic organisms and to watch a 3-D movie. In the same way, we can use a math lens to help our children see the world differently. For example, you and your child might look at how eggs in a carton are lined up in two rows of six. You might notice the patterns on a checkerboard, or the symmetry of a building, shapes in the tile floor, height of a tree, rhythm of a song, etc. By pointing these things out, it won’t take long for your child to recognize the ways math is present everywhere they look. Picture books, too, are a great invitation to look at the world with a math lens. Visit your public library and check out these award-winning Mathical Prize books. Talk about math You’ve got chores to do: grocery shopping, washing dishes, doing laundry, straightening up the house. These tasks all offer opportunities to help your child sort, count, make comparisons and reason spatially. The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute offers many practical ideas for math at home. Remember that language and math skills develop together. Take advantage of small moments to talk about math ideas as you move through your day together — think of it as the curriculum of life! Play games Children learn best through play. Games provide children with enjoyable math practice skills while also developing their logical, strategic thinking. Simple card games such as Uno and Memory offer opportunities for matching and comparing. Path-based board games like Parcheesi or Chutes and Ladders, in which children use dice or spinners to advance spaces, develop a sense of number magnitude. Strategy games like Connect Four and Mancala require children to plan their problem-solving by thinking a step ahead. Puzzles are also great for spatial reasoning. The blog Games for Young Minds is full of game suggestions and reviews to help you plan your next family game night that encourages your child’s love of math. Embrace effort Making mistakes and trying to figure things out is part of doing math. How you respond when you or your child makes an error can send the message that math is a process and that success comes from effort. As children move through school, there’s bound to be some struggle learning math — and you may be in the position to help with homework. In these situations, pause for a moment before offering assistance. This sends the message that it’s okay for them to not understand right away. As parents, we have to develop a stronger stomach for some temporary frustration. This is how your child will learn problem solving and perseverance — both crucial skills for life that math teaches particularly well. Jeanine O'Nan Brownell is the mother of three children. She works at Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative and partners with school districts, childcare centers, and agencies to design programs of professional learning for preK-3rd grade teachers.
  8. Article

    Back to school…finally.

    When Mayor Lightfoot announced that CPS children would have the option of returning in person, I went into a slight panic. It felt incredibly different from when CPS announced that the 2020-2021 school year would begin virtually, since the pandemic was still raging and a second wave was expected in the fall. But this announcement? It brought forth a sense of panic. We’d adjusted to virtual learning since it quickly became our new normal, and accepted that our first-grader, Amara (pictured), may not go back to in-person this school year. Our youngest daughter returned to full-time daycare back in September, which made virtual learning easier with only one child to supervise. [Related: Anxious about the upcoming school year? Here's how to ease your child's fears — and yours.] Through virtual learning, we discovered that Amara would push every technology limit available. One of our first instances was during the first month of school when her teacher emailed us explaining that Amara mistakenly deleted some pages from her assignment. My husband and I knew that it was not a mistake. Later, she started changing the teacher’s directions. For example, if the assignment stated, “In your math book, complete pages 5, 6, and 7 and then write two sentences explaining why Jim received more apples than Johnny,” she would change it to read, “In your math book, complete pages 5 and 6,” to finish her work sooner. We ended up adjusting her screen time settings to be extensive, but also realized early on that she may do better within the structure of the physical classroom. Her first day back was incredible and her mental health improved almost immediately. Simply being in the school building seemed to elicit a positive reaction and a sense of normalcy. She met her teacher in person for the first time and saw a few friends from last year. She played on the playground during recess and had school lunch — all things we previously took for granted. It’s still very different; the children are spaced out in the classroom, proper mask-wearing is enforced, there are no before/after school activities, and of course, children only attend two days per week with a large virtual component. [Related: Reintroducing play dates in a post-pandemic world] The best part has been the mornings she attends in person. Getting ready for school those two days a week feels so close to the before times and gives me a glimpse of hope that we will eventually return. She looks forward to those those two days and always has an extra pep in her step. I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe, in-person return to school in the fall.
  9. Event

    Free Friday @ My Art House Studio

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    My Art House Studio is offering sample classes to help families get to know us. This month we're featuring two MAHS favorites, Pop Dance Party and Story Time! Story Time! | 2:30-3pm CST | Ages 3-6 This class takes reading to new heights! In this sample class, artists will read along to a new book followed by integrated movement, fun dance combinations, and themed games. This month we're reading GIRAFFES CAN'T DANCE. Pop Dance Party | 3:30-4pm CST | Ages 7-11 We'll dance to chart topping pop songs. Like pop music, our moves will be inspired by Hip-Hop and Jazz dance styles. Learn original combinations, music video choreography from your favorite pop songs, and create moves of your own! This is a free event. RSVP required: Please go here to register This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: hello@myarthousestudio.com
  10. This NPN Live at Lunch panel series is a 30 minute elementary panel discussion followed by a 15 minute Q&A about what to look for in an elementary school. We hope that you will walk away from this discussion with three things: *The ability to identify an organized, healthy school *A better idea of what factors are most important to you in finding a good-fit school *Some questions to ask to help you determine whether a school is a good fit for your family
  11. While Chicago is replete with hundreds of school choices ranging from public options (open enrollment, magnet, selective enrollment) to private religious and independent options, all schools will require some forethought in planning except one school into which you are automatically accepted and there is never a deadline: your assigned neighborhood Chicago Public School. Each Chicago address is guaranteed an assigned neighborhood elementary (K-8th grade) and high school (9th–12th grade) that allows for immediate enrollment any time of year. Find your assigned school. All other schools (including other neighborhood schools) can be viable options for families but typically do require at least an application to be filled out and, in the case of private schools, can require a lengthy, multi-step process that begins one year before your child will start the program. Some private schools do have rolling admissions, but most schools start their application processes one year prior to enrolling. The key for families is to be prepared and not to miss their window of opportunity, with the “entry year” (i.e., age or grade a program starts) of a school typically being the time when most spots may be available. Most Chicago schools also have a fairly strict cutoff date of Sept. 1, so if a school accepts students who are 3 by September 1, you should apply the fall when your child is 2 by Sept. 1. With the exception of Suder and Drummond (both start at 3 years old) and Inter-American (starts at 4 years old), CPS schools start in kindergarten, when your child is 5 by Sept. 1. Private elementary schools typically start at 3 or 4 years-old. While Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have a centralized application portal (www.go.cps.edu) with a set open and closing date for applications (typically the 1st Monday in October to the 2nd Friday in December), private schools have varying application deadlines that can start in late August and end in February. Be sure to check with each private school to determine application requirements and deadlines. Public schools may offer tours and open houses, but attendance is not a requirement for admissions. Their applications are also straightforward with one for up to 20 non-selective programs and another for up to six selective (test-based) programs. Private schools, however, typically do require participation in a coffee/tour, as well as require a playdate or shadow day, parent interviews, and recommendations. While some private schools share online documents (via Ravenna or similar online platforms), each has its own application requirements and deadlines, so it’s important to keep track along every step. Whichever schools or programs you are interested in, the key is to be ready to apply by understanding the timeline. It really is a process that requires at least a year foresight so we recommend families of any age visit NPN’s Preschool & Elementary School Fair to ask about entry years and find the open house dates and deadlines for each school they are interested in. Updated Spring 2021
  12. Is your child starting kindergarten next year? Consider taking a proactive approach to ensuring he or she is ready to arrive at kindergarten and learn. Evidence increasingly suggests that the areas most critical to young children’s long-term educational success are approaches to learning and self-regulation, language and literacy, math, and social and emotional development. While early childhood education is instrumental in supporting a child’s learning and development, family engagement may even be paramount. In 2017, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) which is a new tool that teachers in Illinois are required to use to observe and document students’ “kindergarten readiness” based on these areas of development. Following are suggested activities and examples for how families can support their children in becoming ready-to-learn. [Related: Kindergarten readiness is the key to long-term success] Approaches to learning and self-regulation There is a strong connection between these two areas of development. The approaches to learning skills include engagement and persistence and curiosity and initiative. The self-regulation skills include self-control of feelings and behavior and shared use of space and materials. Young children sometimes have a tough time sticking to a task that is hard to do. You can encourage your child to complete tasks by breaking one big task into smaller steps, like suggesting, “Let’s clean up the toys one at a time.” If your child feels overwhelmed by tasks, you can set a timer and suggest, “Let’s clean up the toys in the next five minutes, and then you can go color.” And, tasks may seem easier to the child with teamwork, such as, “Let’s work with your brother or sister to clean up the toys.” Young children also are learning how to express their feelings through words and actions. You can help your child learn that feelings have words — happy, sad, jealous and angry. Describe the behavior you want to see: “It’s nice you are petting the dog so gently.” Express your feelings back to your child, for example, “I was frustrated when…” And, help your child learn that everyone has feelings by pointing out others’ expressions such as, “Look at the smile on that little boy’s face.” Language and literacy development Language and literacy skills are the foundation for learning English and can be demonstrated in any form of communication. Among the best ways to help children develop in this area are to listen, talk more and learn. Start out your day by talking through the activities you will do: “First, we’re going to eat breakfast, then we’ll get dressed.” As you read with your children, encourage them to describe what they see and develop new ideas. As you move throughout the day, ask your child, “What do you see?” and help them expand his or her vocabulary by adding descriptions, such as, “This apple is crunchy.” [Related: Focus on mistakes to help your child learn] Math The math learning domain includes knowledge or skills in classification, number sense of quantity, number sense of math operations, measurement, patterning and shapes. Sorting, organizing and classifying objects, ideas, smells and like items are important skills for young children to develop. Ask your child to help you unload the silverware from the dishwasher and sort the knives, forks and spoon in the right place. Use egg cartons to create an activity where children can sort like objects like coins, crayons or sticks. Or, ask them to help you cook and sort food by fruits and vegetables or colors. You can also help your child make sense of numbers and discover how they can be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided by bringing numbers into conversation. For example, ask your child to count how many crackers or grapes they start with. After eating some, count again. You can talk about how many animals you see, such as “three birds” that have “six wings.” And, you can ask your child to help you set up an activity for a playdate with siblings or friends and create equal amounts of materials for each person participating. Social and emotional development Social and emotional development includes a child’s abilities to understand and interact with others and to form positive relationships with nurturing adults and their peers. At an early age, it is important for children to make friends, to work and play with other children who have different ideas and experiences, and to simply get along. You can support your child in working and playing well with other by setting a good example — most notably, by treating others kindly and with respect. Encourage your child to play with others and foster engagement with kids by pretending, building or talking together. Teach your children about the importance of sharing and positively reinforce them by saying, “You did such a great job sharing with your friends today.” And, help your child talk through his or her feelings and how other children may feel different about a situation. These are just a few ideas about how to engage with your children in the most important areas of development. You can access more tools and resources at www.isbe.net/kids.
  13. Overwhelmed by school options in the city? Chicago parents have many choices (and questions!) when it comes to private preschools & elementary schools. How do you know which school will be the right fit for your child? How will you fit in as a parent? How can you put your best foot forward during the application process? What do you want to know about financial aid but are afraid to ask? How do you find a "right-fit" school during a pandemic? Join us for an intimate panel discussion with admissions directors from some of the city's most sought-after private schools. We'll talk about different educational environments, how to find the best fit for your child and family, managing the application process, financial aid, school during a pandemic, and much more. Schools represented on the panel include: Bennett Day School Daystar Academy Latin School of Chicago Near North Montessori University of Chicago Laboratory School Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Bennett Day School.
  14. As the new school year approaches amid the Covid pandemic, we all find ourselves approaching it with a heightened sense of apprehension with a new normal of social interaction. The previous school year concluded with distance learning and parents temporarily thrust into educator roles and many are anxiously wondering what will happen this fall. It’s impossible to know what the future holds, and with no clear roadmap, parents who have been managing anxiety are now struggling. The coronavirus has caused significant disruptions to everyone’s daily life, and children are particularly feeling all of these changes as the new “normal” continues to shift. These changes come with a mix of new emotions as the new school year quickly approaches. Some may be hopeful with the excitement of in-person while others may be fearful of returning to the social stressors. Regardless, it is our job as caregivers to support our children in exploring their many feelings while providing a sense of calm to ease anxiety. But how can we do that in a time like this? [Related: 4 tips for managing your kids' coronavirus anxiety] We often try to soothe our children’s anxieties by having “all” the answers, and you may feel exhausted by trying to force things to be certain. In this situation, it is important to let go of control as nobody is sure of what the future of school looks like. Become a safe space for your child by bringing awareness to the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty that we are all experiencing. This will be tough but worth it, as figuring out how to manage anxiety and tolerate the uneasy feeling are essential skills for everyone these days. Here are some tips on how to navigate conversations about the upcoming school year with your child. Empathize and validate. Encourage your child to express any fear or anxiety while letting them know that what they are feeling is normal. Use curiosity. Children may have fears revolving around bullying, e-learning, conflicts with friends, or being separated from you. Ask open questions and actively listen while talking through strategies to help your child improve problem-solving skills and feel empowered. Emphasize what is predictable. With the uncertainties of the method of schooling these days, focus on what a child can expect—learning new things, interacting with a teacher, etc. Continue practicing. Have the family wear a face mask at home in a variety of situations. This can be playing a board game, coloring, or watching a family movie. Doing this will help with not only the potential to return to classrooms but going to places like the grocery store. Shift back into a routine. Routines promote feelings of safety and can give a child a sense of control. Create an expected school routine by following bedtimes, getting ready in the morning, etc. [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?] Provide reassurance. Revisit the safety measures in place to help keep children and teachers safe. This can ease anxiety about their safety in public spaces. Be honest. It’s okay not to have all the answers! We cannot solve all of our children’s problems, but sometimes they don’t need solutions—just to feel understood and supported. Admit that you wish you knew what the future of school looked like, but the reality is that you don’t. You are unable to make all the decisions now, but you will when you have the information you need. With honesty, you are sure not to make promises you can’t keep. Acknowledge the uneasiness. It is difficult to sit in the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety as we tend to avoid or resist it. Begin to notice and gently observe what is happening in your body to increase your ability to handle it. By doing this with your children, it will model that it is okay to feel this way—even grownups do! Focus on what you can control. It’s easy to get caught up in the unknown and “what ifs?” Notice when this is happening and gently shift to focusing on what is within your control to stay in the present moment. Be kind to yourself. Being a parent in the best of times is already the hardest job in the world. It is impossible to avoid anxiety right now but doing the best you can is all you can do!.
  15. 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.
  16. It’s the time of year again! Chicago Public Schools (CPS) begins its applications for the 2021-2022 school year on Monday, October 12, and close on Friday, January 8, 2021. Students entering kindergarten through 8th grade may apply for open seats at schools across the city, with a limited number of pre-k options available as well. Learn about Universal Pre-K status. [Related: 9 questions parents should be asking schools] In CPS, there are two main types of schools to which you can apply: 1. Magnet schools and lottery admission programs – These include magnet schools, magnet cluster schools and open enrollment schools. A completed Choice Elementary Application is required; seats are determined via computerized lottery with no testing involved. 2. Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools (SEES) – These include Classical Schools, Regional Gifted Centers (RGC) and Academic Centers for middle schoolers. A completed SEES application is required; students are selected through a testing process. For kindergarten entry at any CPS school, children must be age 5 by September 1 of the year they are entering kindergarten. (The only exception is via the Illinois Accelerated Placement Act.) Here's an abbreviated guide to getting the application process started in 5 manageable steps: 1. Activate an account (if applying online). Go to go.cps.edu to request a CPS ID for each child who is new to CPS. Each applying student needs a CPS ID to open an online CPS application. Paper applications do not require a CPS ID. All applications are due by January 8, 2021. 2. Apply. Select the schools for which you want to apply via Choice Elementary (lottery) and/or SEES (test required) applications. For the Choice Elementary application, you can choose up to 20 schools with no ranking required for the lottery. For the SEES application, you can select up to 6 Classical and/or Regional Gifted Center (RGC) schools and must rank them in order of preference. 3. Schedule a test date. If you wish to have your child tested for SEES, you will be asked to choose a test date via your portal at go.cps.edu after applying to any SEES programs. There are separate tests for Classical Schools and RGCs. If applying to kindergarten for both types of schools, each test will be administered on the same day. If applying for both types for older grades, your child will be tested on separate dates. Testing will occur from November 2020 through February 2021, or until all applicants have been tested. Students who take their test in November will receive their test results before the January 8, 2021, deadline. 4. Submit your application by 11:59pm CST on January 8, 2021 (or received by 6pm at CPSOAE for paper applications). You should receive instant confirmation of your online application and sending via certified mail is recommended for paper submissions. Notification letters and test results (for students who took their exam(s) after November 2020) will be posted to your online application portal (or mailed to paper applicants) in April 2021. 5. VIRTUALLY visit the schools you are most interested in. This is a very important step in the process and ideally should be done before you select schools and submit your application. Check out NPN School Directory to get an overview of each school, contact schools for virtual tour dates and open houses, and try to connect with parents whose children attend the schools you’re considering. Bear in mind that the “hottest” schools might not be the best fit for your child. Also, don’t underestimate your own neighborhood school, as it may be a “hidden gem” and the perfect place for your child—and for you and your family to become part of an active school community. [Related: CPS 101 video (members only)] These are just the basic steps in the CPS application process. Please note that there may be variations to these steps, depending on the particular programs and/or grades your child is applying to. Visit go.cps.edu for more information and details. Remember: No application or deadline is required for your neighborhood school. Every street address in the city is assigned to a neighborhood school where your child is guaranteed a seat. However, keep in mind that the public school nearest to your home may not necessarily be your neighborhood school (even if it’s right across the street!). Enter your primary residential address on the CPS School Locator to determine your neighborhood school. Then contact the school directly for a registration timeline and other pertinent information for incoming students and families. Looking ahead to the 2021-2022 school year (or beyond)? Keep your eye on the NPN Chicago School Choice events on the calendar for our next round of CPS 101 presentations, which offer more guidance and tips for learning about CPS and successfully navigating the public school selection and application process. NPN members can also access the four-part CPS 101 video series. 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.
  17. 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!).
  18. We’ve been telling students and families that doing well in school creates opportunities—that showing up, doing the work, and meeting teachers’ expectations will prepare them for their futures. Unfortunately, that’s a myth. That’s the subject of The Opportunity Myth: What Students Can Show Us About How School Is Letting Them Down—and How to Fix It, a new research report we at TNTP, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending the injustice of educational inequality, published last month. The Opportunity Myth unpacks a big question: Why are so many students graduating from high school ill-prepared for college and careers? Nationwide, 40 percent of college students take at least one remedial course. (That number is even higher for students of color: 66 percent of Black students and 53 percent of Latinx students, for example, end up in remedial courses.) Those courses add time and money to students’ higher education, and put them at greater risk of dropping out altogether. We wanted to understand why that was happening, and what we—all of us who work in and around schools—could do to change it. We believed that a better understanding of what students experience in school every day would help us do that. So, we went straight to the source: students themselves. We partnered with five school systems to observe nearly 1,000 lessons, analyze nearly 5,000 assignments and more than 20,000 student work samples, and collect nearly 30,000 student surveys conducted in real-time during their classes. We conducted focus groups and interviews with teachers and school leaders and interviewed more than 50 students in greater depth. The young people in our sample reflect the richly diverse fabric of our public schools in every way. But they have a few things in common: The vast majority (94 percent overall) told us they intend to go to college. And among high schoolers, roughly 70 percent specifically aspire to careers that require at least a college degree. Unfortunately, another thing they have in common is that most are not getting what they need to meet those goals. Across all five school systems, students were missing out on four key in-school resources: grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and teachers who hold high expectations. Students spent more than 500 hours per school year on assignments that weren’t appropriate for their grade and with instruction that didn’t ask enough of them—the equivalent of six months of wasted class time in each core subject. And middle and high school students reported that their school experiences were engaging less than half the time. Underlying those weak experiences were low expectations: While more than 80 percent of teachers supported standards for college readiness in theory, less than half had the expectation that their students could reach that bar. We also found that while daily school experiences were unacceptable for most students in our sample, they were notably worse for students of color, those from low-income families, English language learners, and students with mild to moderate disabilities. For example, classrooms that served predominantly students from higher-income backgrounds spent twice as much time on grade-appropriate assignments and five times as much time with strong instruction, compared to classrooms with predominantly students from low-income backgrounds. But critically, we found that students from every demographic background had roughly the same success rates on grade-level work, when they were given the opportunity to try it. More than half met the bar for grade-level standards when their assignments asked them to. Moreover, when students had greater access to the four key resources, students from all groups—and especially those who started the school year academically behind—gained months of additional learning compared to students in classrooms with less access the key resources. What this data tells us, indisputably, is that students’ success in school is not dependent on their abilities, their income background, or their race or ethnicity. The key variable is actually adults’ decisions. As a parent or family member, you have the opportunity to be an invaluable partner in shaping your child’s school experiences. You have the right to know what’s happening in your child’s classroom and school, and to raise questions and concerns. To advocate for improvements in students’ school experiences like those discussed in The Opportunity Myth, visit our website to download a collection of tools and resources to support productive conversations with your child’s teachers, school leaders, and district leaders. TNTP is a national nonprofit dedicated to ending the injustice of educational inequality. Learn more at tntp.org.
  19. “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
  20. 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.
  21. Kindergarten is a pivotal year for kids and families. Leading up to the big send-off, many parents feel tremendous pressure and spend countless hours worrying about where their child will go to school, if they are making the best educational choices for their family and how they will juggle a new schedule. Meanwhile, kindergarten students transition from their early childhood environment—whether it’s a childcare center, preschool or at home—to a more structured approach to learning in the classroom with new classmates, a new teacher and often a new school. As families experience this educational milestone, it is critical to ensure that every child entering kindergarten is ready to learn. A young child’s development in language and literacy, math, social and emotional learning, and skills such as curiosity, creativity, and perseverance, are predictors of a child’s long-term success. Understanding kindergarten students’ strengths in these areas as they begin their “formal” educational journey allows teachers and families to build a strong foundation for children to learn and grow through school. This year, for the first time in Illinois, all teachers in public and charter schools are required to use a new tool called the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) to observe and document students’ development in four domains—Approaches to Learning and Self-Regulation, Social and Emotional Development, Language and Literacy Development and Math. KIDS is based on observation, meaning teachers will collect information while students are going about their daily routines of learning and playing. (Chances are that students in the classroom won’t even notice what their teachers are doing!) KIDS will provide the state and districts with consistent and comprehensive data on how well students are prepared to learn upon arriving to kindergarten. Ideally, teachers will use information from KIDS to guide conversations with parents and families about their own child’s needs to ensure instruction throughout kindergarten is developmentally appropriate for all children in the class. KIDS also will connect Illinois to a national movement to deepen understanding of children’s development at the state level. Having this information will the allow state and districts to: Better understand how educators and communities can best collaborate across grade levels—from early childhood through elementary school; Establish stronger partnerships with schools and families to support individual children’s growth and development in-school and at-home; Inform policymakers on the most effective ways to allocate resources to best support all kids and communities across the state. Prior to KIDS, the first evaluation of student learning was typically in third grade when they are required to take a state-mandated standardized test. While test scores are a significant input into evaluating a student’s overall skills and abilities, they do not consider other areas of development, including social and emotional, that are key to lifelong success in school and the workplace. Evidence increasingly suggests that the early years may be the most important time for children to acquire proficiencies in these areas. Whether you have a child approaching kindergarten or is in kindergarten, it is important to support your child’s learning and development at home. You can find a toolkit including suggested activities and resources to support family engagement in the key learning domains at https://www.isbe.net/Pages/KIDS_Parents_Families.aspx. As KIDS enters the second year of implementation, advocates and educators hope that the initiative brings more awareness, focus and resources on the importance of kindergarten readiness among communities and policymakers and deepens the commitment across the state to ensuring every Illinois child arrives at kindergarten ready to learn. Here is a short informational video about KIDS; you can also learn more at www.isbe.net/KIDS.
  22. This Trib article outlines the impact school choice has had on CPS neighborhood schools. While I haven't seen updated numbers, it's unlikely the trend has changed: Less than half of CPS students attended their assigned, in-boundary neighborhood school last year. The proliferation of charters is just one cause. Every spring on NPN we see the frenzy around trying to decide whether to take a spot at Awesome Elementary School or gamble on the wait list for Super Awesome Elementary School. Many of us elect to skip the CPS maze altogether and seek out the best private school option. While I don't intend to deprive anyone of all that fun, I just want to make a plea to anyone preparing for the next school year to consider your CPS neighborhood public school. It's easy to follow discussions on the NPN forum about school applications and individual schools and draw the conclusion that there are only a few good options for educating our kids. There are so many little neighborhood school gems that barely get airtime on this site and one of them may be walking distance from your home. Last year I posted a question about my neighborhood school, New Field in Rogers Park, and literally had zero responses from NPN members. I also looked on the Great Schools site and saw nothing. So I decided to visit and absolutely fell in love with this amazing school that was on no one's radar. We've since gotten really involved with a beautiful school community and my son is thriving, loves school, and has a classroom experience that is every bit as great as the pricey private school he attended. I wish someone had suggested to me what I'm asking of you: if you're currently fretting about what to do about school consider your neighborhood public school, too. Opting out of your neighborhood school has a real impact on that school. Funding is driven by enrollment—your child brings what is likely a substantial per-pupil dollar amount to whatever public school he or she attends. An overwhelming majority of CPS schools lost enrollment last year resulting in reduction of resources and for some, the threat of underutilization and closure. A school's success is driven, in large part, by the community that rallies around it. A supportive and engaged parent group and LSC means the world to administrators, teachers and students alike. And a thriving public neighborhood school is one of the biggest drivers in making a community great! I fully support anyone making the choice that's best for their children and family. I know there are religious reasons, special needs and other important considerations that drive where you send your kids to school. But if you're weighing your options, please make sure you pay your local neighborhood school a visit, talk to your neighbors who have children attending, sit in on an LSC meeting. Please to go forward fully informed. You may find your own little neighborhood school gem and have a big impact on that school community! This article first appeared as a post in the NPN discussion forum. Become an NPN member to join conversations Chicago parents are having about school choice, parenting, relationships and more!
  23. As Chicago parents, we have many, many questions about our children’s education. These questions start before our little ones are even born: Should I send my child to CPS, look at private schools, or move to the suburbs? What is my local school? Is it “good”? Parents of diverse learners face many more questions as their children grow: How will my child get her needs met once she is in school? Is CPS up to the challenge? How do I start the process of enlisting school support? More questions arise once your child is in school. You may start to hear teacher concerns or have your own concerns about reading, behavioral difficulties, attention, etc. Some of these questions may be: Can my child’s needs be met in her current classroom? Will he have to leave his friends and teacher? Will she be labeled or seen as “different”? Will he qualify for special-education support? In my years as a school social worker and a diverse-learner clinical staff member, I have seen how daunting these questions can be for parents. Here are some key points to help you through the process of engaging support for your diverse learner: IEP (Individual Education Plans) and 504 plans are different. An IEP is a plan based upon an educational diagnosis that is determined due to a school-based educational need. A 504 is a medical plan based upon a student’s medical diagnosis. An IEP carries with it support from a special education teacher or speech pathologist; a 504 does not. But they do look a lot alike. Students on a 504 can receive educational accommodations and modifications, such as extended time on tests. Conversely, students can have medical accommodations provided through an IEP. CPS schools are not inherently “bad” places for special education. As in suburban schools, CPS schools have uninspired, bitter teachers who are waiting to retire, and they also have knowledgeable, passionate, miracle-worker teachers who make significant gains with diverse learners. Teachers and members of clinical staff do what they do for the kids. Don’t be afraid to raise your voice. I am a social worker, not a speech therapist or school psychologist. After more than a decade on the job, I am not ashamed to say that I do not fully understand every clinical assessment of every child. As clinicians present their evaluations, please feel free to stop us to ask questions. If you disagree with our findings, let us know. Determining eligibility for support is a collaborative process. We want to make sure that we have all of the facts before making this important decision. Know where to park your squeaky wheel. Are you having an issue with your child’s special education placement? Were you told that your child would require a paraprofessional, yet this position has not been approved at your school? Ask school staff (typically the school counselor) for the name of the person who is in charge of these decisions. If that person does not call you back, contact their supervisor. Some overarching decisions do not come from your local school. You will increase your odds of getting action when you reach out to those in charge rather than rely upon school staff. Parents wield much more power than they know. Your child is your child, not anyone else’s. If you tell other parents, family members, neighbors, etc., about your child and her needs, you will find that everyone has a story about a diverse learner and the school support that the child has or has not received. Please know that this experience is not your experience or that of your child. Try to start from a place of trust, believing that your child’s school support team will do all that they can for your child. Please remember that you are not in this alone. You are your child’s life-long advocate, but you are also a member of his or her school support team. Your questions, thoughts, feelings and hopes for your child are important for the school team to know and take into account.
  24. One of the things I both love and find infuriating about raising kids in the city of Chicago is school choice. I grew up in a small suburb outside of Boston and you simply went to the school that was assigned to your neighborhood—one of the three that were available. A few outliers went to one of the local Catholic schools, and even fewer attended the private boarding school down the road. Raising, and educating, children in the city of Chicago is an entirely different animal, but having gone through the early preschool and elementary years generally unscathed I can tell you: Take a deep breath and relax, because it all somehow works out. I think one of the biggest lessons I had to learn was that I might not get this school thing right on the first try, and changing schools is not the end of the world. Kids are resilient, kids will not remember their 3-year-old preschool friends if that is not who they end up going to school with for elementary school, and it is most certainly okay to make a change if the school is not the right fit—that’s what choice is all about. Here are what I feel are the top three things to keep in mind when deciding where to send your child to school: Location – I’m putting this one first because the initial preschool we decided to send my oldest son to was exactly the right school on paper, except it was 3.5 miles from my house. Now, 3.5 miles does not sound very far, but at 8:30am in Chicago rush-hour traffic (even without snow or rain or construction) this is a 25-30 minute commute. My naïve younger self thought this was no big deal. Wrong! This is a huge deal. First of all, getting a toddler out the door is no easy feat in and of itself, never mind his or her younger siblings, then to drive close to half an hour for a two-hour toddler program. No, thank you. Lesson learned. We switched to the preschool we could walk to. Price – School tuition for both the preschool and the elementary years runs the gamut from free to more than some colleges. The tuition-based preschool program for 3- to 5-year-olds via CPS is approximately $14,000 for the year for 2017-18 – for a 10-hour day. If you need that type of coverage during the school year this is an excellent tuition. And, of course, there are many other schools at a lower or higher price point that should work within your budget. Curriculum – This is another area that I had strong opinions about. Although I did want my children in school at age 3, I did not want them sitting at a desk. I wanted a play-based curriculum for them that focused more on having fun and socializing than academics. Of course, this changed for us for elementary school where I wanted them to be pushed academically, but nurtured socially. Having been through this process and finally finding the right fit for our family for elementary school, I can’t reiterate enough that although the process can be exhausting, it does all work out in the end. Our family did not take a straight path from A to Z to find our school but rather meandered through three different preschools and two different elementary schools, running the gamut from public to private to Catholic. Do I wish it were easier? Of course, but at the same time I’m glad I made the changes and found the schools that were right for my kids. Remember, deep breaths.
  25. Article
    It’s your kids who are starting school, but for many parents searching for schools feels like being in the classroom all over again! You’re taking notes on various schools, coming across brand-new terms you’ve never seen before and—gasp!—maybe even compiling a spreadsheet to keep everything straight. It’s overwhelming, and the urge to play hooky to escape all this is tempting. But we at NPN are here to ease some of the anxiety that comes with finding the right school for your child with our Preschool & Elementary School Fair, CPS 101 classes and more. Let’s drill down on the basics: a lesson on elementary school terms. Charter (adj.): a school that gets both private and public funding but is not subject to the same regulations and school-board policies as traditional public schools. Students must apply, and the schedule and curriculum may be different from other public schools. Used in a sentence: I have one child in a CPS school and another in a charter school, and even though their days off don’t always align, it’s still the best option for our family. Lottery (n.): a computerized student-selection process that is, on its face, random, but is actually influenced by a few factors. If your child has a sibling in the school; if you live within 1.5 miles from the school; and/or if you live in an area that, according to U.S. census data, is considered to be in a low socioeconomic tier, your child moves up on the list. Used in a sentence: I am praying to the lottery gods that our proximity to the school will grant my son a spot. Magnet (adj.): a school that specializes in certain subjects, such as math and science, or teaching and learning styles, such as Montessori. Students are selected via lottery (see: lottery). Used in a sentence: The school right across the street from me is a magnet, so I can’t count on my daughter getting in. Magnet cluster (adj.): a neighborhood school (see: neighborhood school) that specializes in certain subjects or teaching styles and accepts students based on attendance boundaries. Students who live outside the boundary may apply, and they’re selected through a lottery (see: lottery). Used in a sentence: Affordable real estate surrounding Lakeview’s Blaine Elementary, a highly rated CPS magnet cluster school that focuses on the fine arts, is hard to come by. Neighborhood school (n.): the CPS school your child is automatically accepted into, based on your address. Used in a sentence: The CPS School Locator tells you what your neighborhood school is. Selective enrollment (adj.): schools for academically advanced students; testing is required for acceptance. Used in a sentence: Bob and Judy have been using math flashcards with their daughter since she was 6 months old in hopes she’d test into a selective enrollment school.

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