How some Chicago area schools are setting themselves apart

While schools around the country focus on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, some Chicago area schools go to great lengths to put their own unique spin on the curriculum they offer.

For example, Northside Catholic Academy is a Blue Ribbon School that serves the Andersonville, Edgewater and Rogers Park neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago, offering full- and half-day preschool, as well as a top-ranked K-8 academic program.

“At NCA, we are committed to educating the whole child: intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Our program grows out of our Catholic traditions and beliefs, which is at the heart of everything we do. It is this commitment to academic excellence and providing a well-rounded Catholic education that sets NCA apart from other schools,” says Melissa Soberanes, marketing and development director for the school.

Principal Christine Huzenis agrees.

“At NCA, you’ll find a challenging and diversified curriculum that includes foreign language, music, art, technology and athletics. Our test scores consistently rank above the national average, and NCA graduates place into Chicago’s top high schools each year,” Huzenis says. “By providing a well-rounded education we are preparing our students for success in high school and beyond.

Parent engagement helps set NCA apart.

“Most families will tell you that one of the things they love the most about NCA is the community. We strive to create a community that is welcoming, respectful, nurturing, honest and compassionate. At the heart of this is our focus on the partnership we have with our parents,” she says.

Every family is required to give 20 hours of service every year. “This encourages our parents to be active collaborators in their child’s education and NCA. We are privileged to have such an engaged parent community that is committed to the continued success and growth of NCA,” Huzenis says.

Montessori Academy of Chicago, the only American Montessori Society-accredited school in the city that starts at birth and goes through eighth grade, promotes eight characteristics of a graduate, including autonomy, independence, confidence and competence, academic success, global citizenship, spiritual awareness and social responsibility, says Fosca White, founder and headmistress of the school.

“Our programming is pretty unique, children have the opportunity to begin as infants and stay through 8th grade. Education really starts at the outset,” she says. “We work hard to make sure they’re engaged, because the first two years is where they’re really acquiring everything at a quick pace, so we want to foster education and happiness from the start.”

Preschoolers just entering Montessori Academy do exceptionally well with the tangible lessons of the classroom and the early introduction to literacy.

“Montessori is especially strong for preschoolers because it fosters independence and self-discipline. Entering preschoolers have the opportunity to engage directly with the materials boost their learning through the use of hands-on activities to understand deeper, abstract concepts,” White says.

The school also has a strong social-emotional learning component to its curriculum, which starts with mindfulness practices such as a peace corner in each classroom, and an emphasis on conflict resolution and empathy from the earliest stages of development. At a higher level, as their emotional development grows, students receive more direct lessons in Social Emotional Intelligence, and as their SEI grows, they are entrusted with more responsibility that includes helping younger students at the school.

The school keeps a low teacher-to-student ratio, lower than the state mandate, to allow teachers to foster a more one-on-one relationship with their students.

White says the school also has a unique relationship between parents, students and teachers, where each group feels invested and engaged in the student learning process. For nursery students, teachers visit the family in their homes and get to know them before the school year starts. In elementary grades, the students create a report that is shared as part of the parent/teacher conference. The oldest students in grades seven and eight actually sit in on the conferences.

“The teachers, parents and administrators work closely together to create a foundation for future life success,” White says.

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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