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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Chicago Public Schools Add STEM, World Language, IB Programs To West Side Schools

For years, West Side schools have lacked critical programming for their students. New CPS funding seeks to change that.

Sayre Language Academy is getting a new IB program.
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AUSTIN — Twenty-two schools across the city are expanding their academic programming thanks to an $18 million multi-year investment from Chicago Public Schools.

The additions are a result of the district’s application process inviting schools to apply for new programs in under-resourced schools and communities. The district’s investments are targeted at closing gaps in academic programming revealed by the Annual Regional Analysis.

The West Side has long struggled with some of the city’s most pronounced gaps in academic opportunities. Now the area is primed for several new programs, including the West Side’s first Regional Gifted Center, a world language program, a STEM program and an International Baccalaureate curriculum for middle schoolers.

“These critical academic investments push the district closer to a future where every student has access to high-quality educational experiences regardless of the neighborhood they live in,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement.

More on the new programs:

Clark Elementary School, World Language Program

Credit: Provided
Students at Clark Elementary playing games outside.

Students at Clark Elementary School in South Austin have asked for a language program for at least three years, said Principal Natasha Buckner.

As the calls for a Spanish program gained momentum among teachers and parents, Buckner began exploring what type of language program would be the right fit.

Initially, Clark’s administrators envisioned a dual-language program where students would be immersed in Spanish-language learning in different subjects for 80 percent of their class time. Instead, Clark will create a world language model where each student will receive around two hours of Spanish instruction a day.

Buckner said it is critical to start early to develop mastery over multiple languages in order to stay competitive with other students across the world where bilingual education is the standard.

“Developmentally, we know that the younger that you are, you are like a sponge in terms of learning and being able to absorb the information,” Buckner said.

The language program will help students connect with their heritage and older generations of Spanish speakers in their own family, Buckner said. About 40 percent of students at Clark are Latino, she said. The new program also will allow native Spanish speakers to develop their language skills.

“My viewpoint is that you provide them with opportunities in hopes that it will change the trajectory of their lives,” she said. “We want them to be global citizens.”

Sayre Language Academy, IB Middle Years Programme

Credit: Provided
Students at Sayre Language Academy

Sayre Language Academy in Galewood once offered upwards of five language programs and opportunities for international experiences for elementary students.

But when Principal Folasade Adekunle joined the school four years ago, it was a language academy in name only.

The K-8 school had only one language instructor split between all grades, and students received just one hour of Spanish lessons each week.

Sayre serves a multicultural student body and families in the area had asked for programming that reflected their learning community. Adekunle spent years informally pushing the school’s curriculum to include more project-based learning, global perspectives, and language acquisition skills.

Now that the school has been granted an International Baccalaureate program for middle schoolers, they’ll be able to build on that groundwork.

“The [International Baccalaureate] program really spoke to things that we were attempting to do without such a framework,” Adekunle said.

The International Baccalaureate program will be driven by the learner to develop creative thinking, problem solving and exploration of their own interests. Adekunle said kids will be encouraged to follow a pathway of inquiry that looks at their place in the world and find their own answers.

“They’re the one sort of running the show,” Adekunle said.

Sayre teachers will get additional programming to help them formalize an interdisciplinary curriculum as well as professional development to help them teach students using the new framework that emphasizes student-led thinking.

The school will also bring on an additional language instructor to help Sayre get back to its roots as a language academy.

Plamondon Elementary School, STEM Program

Plamondon Elementary is a small school tucked away in a pocket of North Lawndale, east of Douglas Park.

Principal Althea Hammond said parents are drawn to the school’s intimate learning environment, but smaller schools often have challenges adding specialized programming. Adding a STEM program means Plamondon will be able to deliver advanced learning in science and tech while staying true to the feeling of a small school.

“Students on the West Side don’t often have access to this type of programming. And today, every job you would encounter would require some knowledge of STEM in order to be competitive and successful,” Hammond said. “We can offer this much-needed programming at scale.”

The school will spend one year in incubation as they add two coaching and integration specialists to the staff to build out the STEM program. The school will also begin developing a space where students will get hands-on learning experience and collaborate with their peers to use science to build.

“I really want it to be an extremely inviting environment where children can feel like they can be engineers and mathematicians and work with technology to build and construct and solve problems,” Hammond said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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