Different schools for different kids

Opinion: Columns

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By Allison Jack

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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.

Reader Comments

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Barbara Joan  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 6:10 PM

Illinois Network of Charter Schools has an agenda in which some elite folks get very rich of the backs of children used as pawns for the political and financial gains of a select few...; A.Jack lives in a wealthy elitist community, so typical of Socialists.

Ron Baiman  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 4:43 PM

More specialized and diverse public schools, if there's a need and we can afford it as a community? Sure. But private charters have demonstrably undermined standards for teachers, special needs, funding and attention to public schools that are the foundation of a democratic society, across the country. The under handed way the Allison Jack has written her opinion piece without identifying herself as a paid lobbyist for Charter Schools also does not bode well for the integrity of the Charter effort that she's trying to push in Oak Park.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: August 18th, 2017 8:06 PM

Jeffrey Smith - it is very presumptuous for someone like you, who can afford to live in the neighborhood with good schools, to fancy yourself as some kind of a gatekeeper for people who are less fortunate. Low-income families, often families of color, should not be locked into failing public schools without so much as an option to decide for themselves.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: August 18th, 2017 7:27 PM

No, the purpose of charter schools is to undermine public schools and replace them with for-profit education for some but not for all. It's inherently anti-democratic, and like the military, police and fire brigades public education should *not be in private hands. Beginning in earnest with Reagan, the GOP and right wing have spent more than 30 years undermining public education and the payoff really came in the last election with millions of voters who live in a fact free universe. Charter schools are un-American.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: August 18th, 2017 5:47 PM

The purpose of charter school is to provide options for kids whose public schools are failing them. Oak Park schools are fine, so it would make more sense to build a charter school in a neighborhood that really needs it.

Jeanine Pedersen from Oak Park  

Posted: August 18th, 2017 4:47 PM

Allison Jack is a person who makes a living selling charter schools. She is the Director of Charter Growth and Support for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. Yet she fails to mention that little fact, instead choosing to represent herself as one of a group of forward thinking parents in this scenario. How very entertaining.

James Hall  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 9:07 AM

I can already see my taxes going up.

Steve Krasinsky from Oak Park  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 1:06 AM

Charter schools are wrong for Oak Park. Check the opinion of the good people that brought us Brown v. Board of Education? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/26/naacp-report-charter-schools-not-a-substitute-for-traditional-public-schools-and-many-need-reform/?utm_term=.de0faa2c333f

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