Innovative programs and schools engage students

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Private, independent schools are not quite like the schools most parents today attended when they were growing up.

Take, for example, the Lake Forest Country Day School (PreK-8). It has a Think Tank where students can collaborate and reflect. The 2,800 square foot Innovation Lab is a place to prototype, build, test and design. The Robotics Lab is home to two training tables as well as dozens of motorized blue-toothed LEGO robots, LEGO engineering software, lunar robots, and a simulated lunar landscape. The Greene Outdoor Laboratory offers students the opportunity to study nature and earth sciences in an interactive setting. Young students can play in a clay kitchen and examine leaves, insects, branches and dirt.
“We graduate from great students,” says Alex Sheridan, director of enrollment, marketing and financial aid at Lake Forest Country Day School. He adds that the school makes even better people, emphasizing the school’s social and emotional program for students aged 2-8.

Innovative schools offer innovative programs, not cookie-cutter courses. Students explore and create. They learn to code, print 3D models and dance. Personalized attention stimulates the love of learning. A big trend is that high schools are now offering internship and entrepreneurship programs to give older students a sample of potential careers.

The Lycée Français de Chicago (PreK-12), a bilingual French school in Chicago, opened a web radio lab this year. Students produce podcasts and content for the streaming service in French, German, English and Spanish. “Students can share their experience and express themselves while improving their language skills,” explains Eric Veteau, president and head of school of the Lycée Français de Chicago. He adds that the school offers exchange and reception programs abroad.

Parent Megan Scully needed to find an innovative school program for her child with a learning disability after attending public school for several years. “We were dedicated to public schools, but you have to know your kid,” Scully says. She chose Hyde Park Day School (6-15 years old). With campuses in Northfield, Chicago and Lemont, the school offers a specialized educational program for bright students with learning disabilities. The classes are small. “It’s an amazing place,” says Scully. “My son has made incredible progress.”

“We teach students to defend themselves”Casey Crinch, Executive Director, Hyde Park Day School

Besides his academic progress, Scully says his son is engaged as a learner and leader in the classroom. Many students with learning disabilities have low self-esteem. “He got that confidence back,” she said. Hyde Park Executive Director Casey Crnich adds, “We teach students how to represent themselves. “

Wolcott College Prep (9-12) is designed for older students with learning differences. “Our whole school is innovative,” says Miriam Pike, principal of Wolcott School in Chicago. Children who learn differently need to be in the right environment. Wolcott offers standard courses as well as courses in visual arts, music production, robotics, engineering, software, entrepreneurship and other specialties. Last year, the robotics team designed a drinking ventilator for COVID patients. Wolcott also offers a strong college counseling program that begins in Grade 9 to help students find the right school to meet their needs after graduation.

Unique approaches

Innovative programs are being extended to the GCE (Global Citizenship Experience) Lab School (9-12). Chicago High School, which focuses on experiential learning, recently moved to a new 16,000 square foot facility in Chicago at 9 W. Washington St. The large space includes a teaching kitchen, a manufacturing space and laboratories. Field experiences and action projects connect the classroom to the real world. “GCE students are ready to try new things,” says Sarah Brock, Director of Enrollment Management. As part of the study program, students devote 50 hours to a special community project that interests them. “We train citizens of the world,” says Brock.

Creative students often thrive in schools dedicated to the arts. The Chicago Academy for the Arts (9-12) offers innovative programs for high school students with a specialization in music, drama, musical theater, media arts (filmmaking, animation, creative writing), visual arts, and dance. Students, who come from across the Chicago area, also study traditional subjects. Applicants submit a portfolio of their work or pass an audition.

Located at 1010 W. Chicago Ave., the Academy’s school day consists of six 45-minute academic periods followed by more than three hours of immersion in the student’s chosen arts department. Students participate in over 100 productions throughout the school year.

Innovative enrichment programs are also available.

Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development (3 years – 12th grade) offers courses and programs for talented students. Most of the extracurricular courses are online at the moment.

Young learners have a wide choice of courses ranging from storytelling and architecture to robotics and rocket science. A new program for older students is the Intensive Leadership Series. The courses promote skills development and socially responsible leadership. For example, the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation course relies on case studies, meetings with entrepreneurs and group collaborations to design the student’s social innovation project.

The Center for Talent Development has approximately 5,000 registrations per year. Students are selected based on grades and test results, or on teacher recommendations, according to Eric Calvert, associate director of the Center.

Career preparation

A growing number of independent and private high schools offer innovative courses that connect the student with business and career opportunities.

Students from the Lycée Français de Chicago can participate in Start’Up Lycée. The program is a competition where students create a start-up over an intensive period of 48 hours, with the advice and support of coaches. Students get to know each other in order to refine their professional goals and develop the skills required in today’s business world.

Once a week, students of the Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart (9-12) engage in real-world learning. The Career Development and Internship program provides students with hands-on work experience in a local organization or business. “We put our students in the field to educate them about the opportunities available to us,” said Colleen Schrantz, principal of Catholic Girls’ High School in Chicago. “Students emerged in the community through networks and mentors to help them be successful.”

Resurrection College Prep High School (9-12) offers a hands-on employment program. Small groups of students meet and work with a coordinator to identify areas of employment that interest them. Students at the Catholic School for Girls in Chicago followed 130 different organizations to find out if they would like to pursue a career in this field.

While some of the job visits took place virtually last year due to the pandemic, the school plans to add an internship program next year. “We want to help students determine where they fit in,” said Resurrection president Rick Piwowarski.


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