Choice Matters

Posted by Jeff Cacek on 3/3/2014


As if sending your 5 year old to school isn't difficult enough by itself, making the decision as to which school your child will attend can be agonizing. I have been through it many times for my own children. In a state that provides choice through open enrollment it is becoming more and more difficult to determine the best fit for your child. As a parent, I have been mindful to not lose sight of the years beyond Kindergarten - when my wife and I made a decision about elementary school choice it has always been a K-5 decision. At North Park, all-day, every-day Kindergarten is not new. We have been doing it this way for well over a decade. While some schools may need a year or two to work through the bugs of new, expanded programming, at North Park, we are moving forward with the business of Kindergarten rigor.

We are currently enrolling children who will turn 5 by September 1st for our 2014-15 Kindergarten class. Every year, as we begin the process of greeting the next year's newest students, it is a time for excitement for what is to come and reflection on what it is we do at North Park that is different from many other schools.

If you have paid any attention to education over the last two decades you are aware of our national - some would argue international - compulsion to have the highest scores on standardized tests of reading and math. There is no argument against the importance of language and math literacy that is rational. However, is the compulsion to perform well on tests that are assessing only these skills prudent?

Lost in the drive to "reform" education in the United States is preparing our children to be successful in an economy based on ideas. It is essential that students learn to read, write and use mathematics to find, understand and solve problems. Will these be the only skills necessary for our children to thrive in our current and future economies? No. If a child graduates from high school with only the skills to meet proficiency on a math test and a reading test, that student will be doomed to a marginal life - our system of education will have failed her by focusing a mere fraction of that child's needs.

At North Park, we understand the importance of math and reading literacy - we spend a significant portion of our school day learning these skills. However, unlike many other schools, we allow students to practice skills that as important to their future success in a constantly changing economy. Our students practice the 4 C's (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity) every day. At North Park, it is understood that mastery of the 4 C's is every bit as important as mastery of reading and math.

Our Kindergarten programming is rich and rigorous. Like many schools, our morning program is focuses on reading and math - children become readers, writers and begin mastery of math. Unlike many other schools, our afternoon program is also quite rigorous. It is not about nap time, it is about science, technology and social skills building. Our students leave Kindergarten with the stamina and skills to excel in 1st Grade 

Our students learn to read, write and begin their journey to proficiency in math. They also learn how to log onto laptops and create their own Google accounts. By the end of 1st grade, our students know how to use Google applications to create documents and spreadsheets. They can copy/paste pictures into their digital work and learn to use iPads.

In 2nd grade, each North Park student creates a personal web page to serve as an electronic portfolio to follow them through high school. They learn how to create podcasts and work collaboratively with others to create and deliver presentations. They practice the engineering design process to solve problems using math, science and the arts. Our 2nd graders also learn to use audio/visual applications in documenting their work.

Our 3rd graders are currently digging into Project Based Learning (PBL). Their PBL topic is design based as they are determining what to do with the currently wasted space of our courtyard. Students have spent the first part of the year learning about the problem and, in groups of 4, learning how to effectively brainstorm ideas and collaborate on solutions. Each group has created a design proposal using the Google architectural drawing application Sketch-Up. Currently, the groups are completing cost analyses of their plans in preparation for bringing them to the larger group and collaborating on a final grade-level proposal. Oh yeah…..and they will take the MCA Reading and Math tests in a few weeks.

The fascinating and imaginative learning that is happening in these grades would not be possible without our North Park families, however. Our students' parents and guardians did their homework, visited us for a tour and decided to send their children to a school that is doing something that will better prepare kids for future. I invite you to come explore our kindergarten website, then stop in for a tour to see what North Park is all about.