How schools are preparing kids for college

When you send your little one to school for the very first time, the college years seem so far away. But even while the littles are learning their A, B, C’s and 1, 2, 3’s, there are things your child’s school can be doing to help them prepare for college.

The biggest thing, already embraced by some of the area’s top schools, is encouraging a love of learning, creative thinking and teamwork.

Early childhood education, which takes place between six months old and preschool, has a tremendous effect on learning well past kindergarten, says Laura Miller, marketing manager for The Gardner School.

Having a structured academic setting in preschool helps teach them early about the importance of having a school routine.

“This sets the stage of having to be around teachers and groups of children. Kids learn to share, play with others, work under adult supervision, follow instructions and more,” Miller says. “Though The Gardner School is an academically-focused preschool, our rules of discovery are simple for first-timers — we let children adjust, explore and grow throughout their stages of development through gentle guidance and encouragement. These experiences foster self-esteem and confidence, which are essential to grasping knowledge.”

It is also important to help young children develop a sense of self at an early age.

“Children make independent choices every day in a childcare setting. These decisions allow kids to choose activities that hold a personal interest, whether it’s playing make-believe on the playground with other children, engineering towns with toy blocks or drawing self-portraits during art class,” Miller says. At Northside Catholic Academy in Chicago, teachers believe preparing a child for college and the real-world begins by educating the whole child.

“We are committed to educating the whole child: intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. … Our test scores consistently rank above the national average, and graduates place into Chicago’s top high schools each year,” says Melissa Soberanes, NCA’s marketing and development director.

Principal Christine Huzenis says project-based learning and student collaboration provides a dynamic learning environment that engages students in their own learning and academic success.

“Project-based learning allows students to actively explore real-world problems and challenges using critical thinking skills to gain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they’re studying. Collaboration at the student level provides our students with more leadership and responsibility in their own learning and academic success.”

Huzenis says such project-based learning and collaboration occurs across curriculum areas and grades. It can include a variety of strategies from literacy stations and peer editing to collaborative math discussions.

For instance, teachers use games, interactive white board lessons, iPad stations and hands-on activities in the lower grades throughout the day. In Middle School, students use Google Classroom to work together.

“All of these strategies provide a strong foundation for college and career readiness,” she says.

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