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Different schools for different kids

Opinion: Columns

August 8th, 2017 2:35 PM

By Allison Jack

One View

Even though I went to elementary school a long time ago in a galaxy far away in California, I am repeatedly surprised by how much my children's school right here in Illinois looks like my elementary school.

I was the type of kid who did well in school. I was good at folding my hands and being quiet. I followed directions and I never got in trouble. I also didn't ask questions. And I had little to no interest in what I was learning. It was a game to me, I knew the rules, and I was winning. So for the type of kid I was, you could say that school worked.

Except it didn't. 

I knew math facts, dates in history, and I could memorize spelling words. Fortunately, I did have a couple of great teachers, one who put a moratorium on math for a month so we could build Dictopolis from the Phantom Tollbooth in our classroom.

Research shows that people learn best when what they are learning has a personal connection for them, especially if it is an emotional connection. When content builds off what children know, the retention of information is increased. But what if school wasn't about the retention and regurgitation of information but rather about what students can do and make and solve? What if instead of memorizing the balance of powers in the Constitution, kids debated it? What if instead of learning fractions and ratios, third graders were building scale models of the Titanic like they do at the Children's School in Berwyn?

Traditional schools still work for many children, especially if they are white and from affluent families, but they don't work for every child. What if the near-western suburbs had a public school option that was more student-focused, more project-based, and offered a model for kids for whom sitting quietly with folded hands and listening for multiple hours a day is not an option? Despite efforts by educators to personalize instruction, our schools are still basically a one-size-fits-all operation. Maybe you get some pull-out services or join a robotics club, but instruction still seems pretty uniform.

People choose to live in District 97 and District 90 because of the schools — and they are protective of those schools. They are proud of the outcomes and test scores for most of the kids; however, the data (check out school/district Report Cards at isbe.net) show that the schools are clearly not working for everyone. 

It is possible that we can preserve the traditional school option without trapping every single family inside that box. We can come together as a community to build a new school.

We are a forward-looking, diverse group of parents seeking to build that school. We are organizing in Bellwood, Berwyn, Broadview, Forest Park, Maywood, Melrose Park, Oak Park and River Forest to bring a different kind of school to our communities. If any community is open to more diversity and is equipped to handle the differences a multi-district school would have, isn't Oak Park that community? 

We want to help educate the community so they have a better understanding of the potential such a school would bring to our area.

To do that, we are showing the Sundance-winning education documentary, Most Likely to Succeed (http://www.mltsfilm.org/), on Sunday, Aug. 13 from 2-5 p.m. at Slainte Irish Pub, 7505 Madison St. in Forest Park. This documentary examines the history of education in the U.S., revealing the challenges to our current education system. The film explores compelling new approaches aiming to revolutionize what school is in America. 

Learn more and connect with us at https://wecanunify.wordpress.com/.

Allison Jack is a resident of River Forest.