Enrichment opportunities enhance curriculum in Chicago area schools

Traditional subjects like reading, writing and arithmetic will always be important, but educators believe supplementing those with exciting, engaging enrichment programs is also important to student success.

Schools create well-rounded students through enrichment

Whether it be volunteering in a nursing home or hospital, or taking advantage of one of the many museums the city of Chicago has to offer, educational leaders around Chicagoland believe that providing numerous enrichment opportunities for students will create well-rounded students.

At Northside Catholic Academy in Chicago, Principal Mary Stachura says the school believes in educating the whole child. “It’s more than math and science,” she says. “We focus in on the arts to help do that.”

Students in middle school take trimesters of ballroom dancing, drama and storytelling. They also participate in art and music programs and have after-school fine arts activities, including voice, piano, and stringed instrument lessons.

In the classroom, teachers are challenged to find creative ways to teach to different learning styles and offer different opportunities within the classroom, she says.

“We want them to be well-rounded and be exposed to as much as they can be in the arts,” she says about Northside’s students. “We want them to reach their full potential, whatever that may be.”

Brehm Preparatory School strives to empower students with complex learning abilities and help them reach their full potential, says Charity Finley, the school’s director of communications.

The Carbondale school helps students who might not succeed in traditional public schools, she says.

In addition to instruction in core academic areas, students get organizational strategies, social skills development, health and wellness education and career and college exploration.

Many also participate in the Arrowsmith Program, which is based on neuroscience research and helps students stretch their brain through cognitive exercises.

“Our ‘family-style’, 24/7 boarding school is uniquely designed to foster independence and responsibility,” she says. “Brehm students go on to college, find fulfilling careers and become successful entrepreneurs. Nothing is more satisfying than the breakthroughs we make here.”

At Detour 2 Discovery Day School in Chicago, even the smallest students are offered enrichment activities to help them reach their full potential, says Jennifer Heim, the founder and executive director of the school.

“Our students, infant through kindergarten, are surrounded by a lot of extras that we feel absolutely necessary for a well-rounded curriculum,” she says. “Things like an artist-in-residence program, which includes visits of creativity, art and music. This gift to our learning community keeps giving as we are all touched by the artistic light.”

Another way the school separates itself, Heim says, is not charging for the enrichment programs.

“We feel enrichment is absolutely necessary,” she says. “Yoga is something we recently added to the long list of our enrichment plethora. We chose to add yoga because it teaches us about our bodies. When we practice asanas (postures) we learn to move more freely with greater awareness. It also teaches us to breathe better and use our prana (life force energy) so we can bring peacefulness or energy to our bodies.”

The Gardner School has five schools around the Chicagoland area, including one in Naperville, that offer enrichment classes for students starting at 18 months old.

Classes include music, Spanish, soccer, fitness and computer-based learning, says Kerry Finnegan, the executive school director of the Naperville school.

“The music class encourages the children to sing, dance and use their imaginations, while also helping with gross motor, brain and language development,” she says. “Foreign language classes are taught through social interaction so that the children learn conversational language in addition to vocabulary. In all of our classes we stress the importance of teamwork and encourage the students to support each other.”

The school offers small groups to ensure individualized attention and instructors are trained in the area they are teaching.

“We encourage par

At Acacia Academy, students have the opportunity to explore and create projects that enrich the curriculum in a 2.5-acre nature center, says Kathryn Fouks, principal at Acacia Academy and clinical director for The Achievement Centers.

They also use their traditional subject skills in more creative ways, such as using math skills to design and make their own stringed instrument to play in guitar class or creating educational and recreational games for the other students to play at the Fall Festival.

“They learn to think outside the box and problem solve,” she says. “We build creativity and divergent problem-solving activities into our enrichment program because no matter what is taught in the classroom or how many degrees a person may obtain, the minute they step out into the real world, there will be a problem they need to solve and thereby a need to access their own thinking skills.”

Fouks says it is important for programs to include divergent, open-ended problem solving elements.

“Our enrichment programs include a multitude of hands-on, experiential learning activities that further develop and utilize the student gifts, problem solving abilities and go significantly beyond the literal interpretations,” she says. “The benefits of these enrichment programs is that they allow the student to go beyond the printed page, further develop their strengths and creative abilities.”

Lakefront Children’s Academy offers private piano lessons for students ages 4 and up, and that skill has helped students become successful in every other facet of their academic life, says Cheryl Rogers, founder and owner of the school.

“Within the first year, I literally saw a difference in their academic skills, and our graduates went on to elementary school and saw their cognitive level grow twice as much. Piano seems to put them a step ahead,” she says. “It just teaches the brain to work in different ways.”

Other important enrichment activities include physical education, Rogers says.

“There needs to be exercise in the classroom, the kids need to have play and movement time,” she says. “We’ve learned, especially for the boys, the movement helps them focus better, hold still better.”

Other important enrichment activities include incorporating a foreign language, incorporating regular field trips, and oral lessons are vital as well, she says.

“Extra enrichment opportunities help the curriculum and resources go a little further,” she says. “You want them to be able to learn globally and see things outside the classroom.”

At Old Town School of Folk Music, the school’s programs are designed to enrich children’s minds, bodies and learning styles, says Dave Zibell, director of marketing for the school.

“All of our programs are developed to help children grow, explore and reach new heights, all while learning how to think independently and work cooperatively,” he says. “Children at Old Town School feel safe to be themselves as they become active learners in our programs’ community-focused and family-oriented atmosphere.”

The experts say parents should choose enrichment activities based on their child’s interests and what kind of learning environment they thrive in.

“Parents should remember that it’s important not to force a child into a certain activity. Trying new things can be intimidating and it’s normal for children to feel anxious about starting something new, so always give new things a try,” Zibell says.

“Maybe your music-loving child will love creating comics, or maybe your jitterbug child will love sitting down to learn the banjo. (But) be aware that not every experience or art form is good for every child. If your child is resisting, struggling and breaking down a great deal when it comes to learning a certain art form, don’t force it.”

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

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