Though it can take many forms, innovation is the name of the game for schools. Every parent is looking for something different — from a heavy emphasis on STEM to a back-to-basics foundational approach to a deep understanding of social justice and individual responsibility. Or, perhaps the ideal location is just the right place to meet an individual student’s special needs.
More and more, schools offer much more than a typical classroom setting. School is now a place for deep inquiry, social-emotional development and individualized learning. Many schools are expanding their reach to take on the role of a community hub, where whole families can participate and grow.
What every parent wants is a school where their child can dig in, engage and thrive. One thing is for certain: parents have many choices. Here, we share top Education Innovators we think are worth a look.
While Northside Learning Center High School looks like any other Chicago Public School, with sports teams and dozens of clubs, take a closer look and you’ll see a best-practice educational model for students with disabilities preparing for their future. Throughout the seven-year program, students gain authentic real-world experience through occupational and life skills preparation and, eventually, through community classroom experience in partner restaurants, recycling centers, community service organizations, theaters and more.
Across seven JCC Chicago early childhood locations, young learners ages 6 weeks to 5 years are thriving in outdoor classrooms where they’re exploring how to solve problems, think critically and collaborate, all with the open sky above them. It’s part of JCC Chicago’s curriculum to immerse young students in outdoor learning for significant portions of their day year-round to involve more meaningful explorations and learning. JCC Chicago’s early childhood program is based on the Reggio Emilia educational framework that gives children the time and space to delve deeply into learning through self-guided exploration.
Citizenship and what it means to engage in a civil society are top-of-mind concepts for students at this small, independent K-8 school on Chicago’s North Side. Through engagement with classroom governance, learning to resolve conflict, taking action on behalf of others, and engaging in thoughtful reflection, students address questions about how we live in a community with others, protect each other, fairly decide between different options and use our voices to advocate for a world we want.
St. Norbert School, a private, Catholic PreK-8 school in Northbrook, embraces a unique small-school environment where students and families belong to an educational community that thrives. Here, students achieve success after success through strong academics, inclusive sports opportunities, genuine connections and meaningful relationships with their teachers to build a strong and purposeful sense of self.
Students at the Lycée Français de Chicago (LFC), a bilingual PreK-12 immersion French International School in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, learn the value of multilingual storytelling, Through engaging multi-grade collaboration and journalism projects, students learn creative ways to share information and express themselves. The LFC accepts new French learners in all grades except fourth through eighth. Students can also take language courses in German, Mandarin and Spanish.
At Latin School of Chicago, a co-educational JK-12 day school in Chicago, Summer@Latin students engage in summer programs that encourage friendship, fun and immersive learning through hands-on activities. Open to all kids, these summer learning opportunities provide kids with memorable experiences and success. Latin offers a diverse selection of in-person and virtual opportunities for subject review, new learning and summer fun.
A strong school community lays the foundation for developing happy, healthy children, secure in the knowledge that they are supported in everything they do. This is the goal at St. Isaac Jogues Parish School, a private, Catholic PreK-8 school in Hinsdale. Here, family-centered traditions help kids thrive in their school environment. From a robust preschool program to a unique set of resources for supporting kids who learn differently, St. Isaac Jogues is building on its 89-year tradition of excellence.
To support and guide the school community through an unprecedented school year, The Cove School, an independent K-12 school in Northbrook for students with complex learning disabilities, created a theme of “Stronger Together.” This catchphrase remains a mantra for all members of the Cove community to work together to provide learning for all students, according to their needs. The commitment underscores Cove’s mission to provide personalized individual education and life strategies for students with complex learning needs.
Bennett Day School, a PreK-12 independent school in Chicago’s West Town, adapted and thrived during the pandemic with a measured, scientific approach. Its team of child development and education experts created a plan to meet students’ needs. As a Reggio Emilia-inspired school, Bennett Day School’s project-based educational model has highlighted the innate capabilities and sheer resilience of children who are adapting to rapid change in a largely uncertain world.
Located right on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Fourth Church Day School engages 2- to 5-year-old students in a play-based learning curriculum designed to build social, emotional and interpersonal skills that serve as a foundation for future academic success. Here, students thrive through student-led inquiry in a space designed specifically for growing minds and bodies. In addition to being a safe, welcoming environment for children, Fourth Church Day School is a family-centered community for parents and caregivers to get to know each other.
Now in its 11th year, Hope Learning Academy is a general education Chicago Public School contract school that serves learners of all abilities. The school’s continuum of services includes general and special education classrooms, paraprofessional educator support and related service team member support, enabling all scholars to shine and develop into productive and empowered learners. Currently, K-5, the school is working to expand to middle school to better serve the student community.
At this gem of a school in Wicker Park, children and their families gather to celebrate their love for Italian culture. A bilingual school, children learn according to the Reggio Emilia tradition in a welcoming and friendly environment, embraced by the Italian culture. Established in 2016, SIEF welcomes preschoolers, kindergartners and first graders, with a plan to grow up to eighth grade.