We’re pleased to announce that the final step in our seven-year-long dual accreditation process with ISACS (Independent School Accreditation of the Central States) and AMS (American Montessori Society) is coming as we prepare for our team site visit at the end of the month.
We will be hosting nine education professionals which include teachers and administrators (both Montessorian and non-Montessorians alike) who will spend four days with us. During this visit, every aspect of the school is examined and documented, including governance, curriculum, fiscal and personnel policies, facilities, health and safety practices, teacher preparation, and learner outcomes.
So, what exactly does this dual accreditation mean? Accreditation, for ISACS and AMS, begins with an intensive self-study, by the school, involving the school’s entire community. Our whopping almost-200-page self-study goes over every aspect of our school. At the end of the self-study period, a thorough onsite peer visit is conducted. In addition to determining whether the school meets the over 200 AMS and ISACS standards, the visiting team evaluates the school to see how well it is achieving its mission and goals—whether the school is what it says it is and does what it says it does.
ISACS is a membership organization of more than 230 independent schools from 13 states in the Midwest region. The purpose of ISACS is to promote the development of active learning communities characterized by high achievements, social responsibility, and independence of governance, programs, and policies. This goal is achieved partly through a rigorous school accreditation process.
While the United States Department of Education can only recognize accrediting bodies for higher and adult education, ISACS accreditation is recognized by the U.S. Government. AMS accreditation affirms that a school meets a standard of excellence recognized within the Montessori community and by educators worldwide. Because AMS is accredited by the National Council for Private School Accreditation, schools that are AMS-accredited also gain accreditation by the NCPSA. Additionally, accreditation assures families that their child's school is a quality one and that it is accountable to a larger body. Finally, we will receive a report with commendations and recommendations from the visiting team which will help us grow as a school.
We will be in great company as our peer ISACS or AMS schools include: Near North Montessori, Brickton Montessori, Ancona School, Avery Coonley, Beacon Academy, The British School, The Latin School of Chicago, Francis W. Parker, Rogers Park Montessori, Countryside Day School, and University of Chicago Laboratory School.
A special thanks to the Steering Committee: Roxy Krawczyk, Nicole Cochrane, Phoenix Holt, and Alex Valera. Thanks again to everyone who has supported this incredible journey, and we can’t wait to celebrate our final steps.
In the Spanish program, we build relationships through open and compassionate communication, creative collaborative work, and by valuing and respecting another’s perspective and input as well as our own. The program helps to develop essential life skills such as innovative and flexible thinking, cooperation, resilience in the face of challenges, and courage to attempt new endeavors --- all qualities to be found in contributing members of society.
To open the door to creative writing, storytelling, drawing and role playing, students heard the story of Pete the Cat. The moral of Pete’s story is that when there are challenges in your life, you can get upset and give up, or choose to continue working toward your goal.
Telling stories is one of the best ways for children to not only learn the language but also learn meaning, cultural understanding, and how to solve everyday problems. Additionally, storytelling helps students acquire and develop individual reading tastes, skills, and creativity.
Or as Nohora Inés Porras González, author and former language coordinator at Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia states, “Telling stories provides the opportunities for students to speak the foreign language creatively, integrate information and knowledge they learn from other sources, and become more confident in the ability to express themselves spontaneously.”
In the upcoming months, the different levels of the Spanish Program will be participating in various projects, such as building a country, a poetry and poster competition, group creative writing, a Spanish spelling bee, musical composition, many cultural explorations, and of course, the Middle School trip to Costa Rica!
Alcuin Spanish Coordinator
Last week was filled with learning a few different routines, as well as making new friends. For many of the toddlers, the classroom was a completely new environment, but they quickly jumped in. The children engaged in exploration, old friends got reacquainted, they practiced Grace and Courtesy during snack time and a lot of self-care. They are such independent little human beings.
They spent their time building, chopping fruits and vegetables, helping one another, listening to music, climbing the playground structure, setting and busing tables. We are often amazed at what our toddlers can do, but they are too!
We also began our toilet learning routine; everyone is practicing dressing and undressing themselves with eagerness.
Having consistent routines in place helps toddlers to develop a strong sense of security. Knowing that they will do the same thing at the same time every day brings a peaceful calm to their little souls and their growing sense of order.
Maria Montessori observed that there are “Sensitive periods” when a child has an especially strong sensitivity towards a particular piece of knowledge or skill. The article goes into more detail on that. I hope it is helpful!
We look forward to all the great things this week has to offer.
Throughout the year, the art curriculum connects to subjects and themes, such as nature, the built environment, and community. Our recent theme of identity, which is always the focus during the first few months of the year, is a wonderful way for Alcuin students to develop their drawing skills while also exploring their interests, needs and personal lives.
We have all been learning that making a great drawing isn’t all about having a steady hand or making things perfect, it’s about how you see and how you interpret the information that your eyes receive. I tell the students “draw what you see, not what you think you see.” Using mirrors and thinking about simple shapes and proportions, Junior and Senior Elementary students have been creating self-portrait drawings in their sketchbooks. These studies have developed into final compositions, some that include just the face and others that include the full figure drawn with colored pencils.
In addition to self-portrait studies, the Middle School students also composed an “I Am From” poem that includes meaningful imagery and sensory details connected to experiences from their own lives. The sketching exercises helped the students develop their realistic drawing skills and explore their personal style as they practiced contour drawing and shading techniques. Group drawing and writing activities also gave the students an opportunity to interact with one another and foster a sense of community in the classroom. A walking tour and visit to an artists studio in the Pilsen neighborhood gave the group a better understanding of how these complex issues of identity are being explored by professional artists in their own work as well as in public art projects with local communities in Chicago.
As the year continues, idea sharing and experimentation will continue to be at the core of the artistic process as we explore how the visual arts connects to our everyday lives and the world around us.
Alcuin Montessori Art Teacher
We are thrilled to share an update on our new Roosevelt Campus! As we relayed to you at the Spring All-Parent meeting, we had been completing the details of our financing and working toward final design drawings and permits for the new building, in preparation for our new campus. We are pleased to share that we closed on the construction loan and purchase of the property at 6936-6950 West Roosevelt Road. Now the real work and the fun begin.
Our groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Friday, August 24th at 12:30 pm at the building site on Roosevelt Road. Our entire Alcuin community and the greater Oak Park community are invited to join us as we celebrate the incredible milestone in our school’s 56-year history. Bulley & Andrews will join us with their trucks and equipment so the children can climb in and get the construction work started. Shovels and hard hats will be on hand as we literally break ground on a new beginning. After the ceremony, parents, children, and friends are invited to Maple Park for a picnic and further celebration. Hot dogs and cake will be plentiful!
Our building on Roosevelt will be home to a much needed All-Year Infant and Toddler program. We are excited to launch this new program designed to meet the needs of our youngest community members. It will serve as the bedrock of our Montessori program and the true beginning of a child's journey through Alcuin.
In addition to the new construction, we will also be renovating the existing building on the new campus. The renovated one-story building will serve our ever-growing Middle School program.
Construction on both buildings is set to begin in early September with a very tight construction schedule of seven months. The project is set to be completed in late April 2019, barring any major complications.
If you have an infant or young toddler, or have friends and families with young children, please help spread the word about our upcoming program. Please contact the Alcuin office for more information. All of our current programs (Toddler – Senior Elementary) will remain at the Main Campus at 324 N Oak Park Avenue.
We look forward to seeing you on August 24th for the groundbreaking ceremony and to celebrate this incredible time in Alcuin’s history.
Best wishes for a bright future with the Alcuin Community!
Adolescence is an age of rapid growth, emotional development, and the transformation of the child into an adult member of society. At this critical age, adolescents need more guidance as they develop key communication skills and a more mature and complex understanding of social interactions. They need creative and physical outlets, especially for processing complex emotional and psychological issues. They crave personal space, but they are also highly social! They still need to move on a regular basis, and being physically engaged in work that produces tangible results is rewarding to them.
The Middle School program at Alcuin Montessori School is designed to meet the very specific needs of children from 12 – 14 years of age and to support their families through this unique time in their development.
The program incorporates both traditional Montessori philosophy and current “best practices” for middle school education. The program emphasizes independent, project-based and student-driven work. Students are encouraged to do high-level critical thinking and to consider themes and issues across all areas of the curriculum. Daily and weekly homework is given in addition to student-managed long-term projects with the goal of having students engaged in 1 – 1.5 hours of homework a night. Students are introduced to formal lectures along with interactive presentations, dynamic activities, student-led research, group projects and more. Students are given quizzes and tests, as well as alternative forms of assessment and informal observation.
The program also includes weekly enrichment programs in art, theater and physical education led by child-focused specialists. They engage the students in learning about and through all areas of life (not just textbooks) by incorporating real-world applications of studied concepts. They discuss current events and their implications on all spheres of life and they contribute to our school and local communities through volunteering and service projects. The students take weekly trips into the Oak Park and Chicagoland area to facilitate curriculum enhancement, community engagement, and authentic orienteering and practical life experiences.
Our curriculum has been carefully designed to meet or exceed state standards in all fundamental areas of study, as well as to align with the benchmark outcomes of local public schools, ensuring full preparation for a smooth transition into high school. Our units of study are theme-based and center around several essential questions. The curriculum includes mathematics, the sciences, social studies, literature, humanities, writing, Spanish and more.
Alcuin Montessori’s teaching staff is fully committed to mentoring and coaching students through a sometimes complicated and confusing time in their lives. They facilitate appropriate, effective communication and problem-solving skills through one-on-one, small group, and large group interactions. Additionally, they support students in balancing their school and home lives, helping to plan homework around family time and extracurricular activities.
With a clear understanding of the emotional, social, and academic needs of this formative developmental stage, Alcuin Montessori’s program is specifically designed to guide and nurture students as they transition into high school and their teenage years.
Walking into an Alcuin Junior Elementary classroom, one is immediately struck by two things: there is a busy hum of activity, and the children are engaged and happy.
As children move through age six, they enter the second plane of development in which imagination and reasoning are used to gain knowledge and information. The Junior Elementary program gives these abilities priority in the child’s learning process, fostering an interest in facts and factual relationships. According to Dr. Maria Montessori, this is the time to sow the seeds of culture.
“What I think is special is all the kids are so kind, all the good lessons are so cool, all the people are so nice, and all the peace.”
“What I like about Junior Elementary is that I get to do handwriting and Spanish and landforms and small bead frame!”
“I like Junior Elementary because we get to cook, use the microscope, and do experiments. We get to grow crystals and go on field trips. We get to have school pets and great lessons.”
The above quotes are from Alcuin first, second, and third-grade members of our Junior Elementary program.
Alcuin’s Junior Elementary teachers make sure the children’s academic work is balanced but also empower them to make their own choices. The children are taught independence and how to manage their time. They manage their daily goals and their week’s worth of work. They are positively challenged academically, socially, and emotionally.
In addition to a strong academic curriculum, the children's social skills are enhanced through an emphasis on independent learning, cooperative group relationships and personal responsibility. A sense of respect and collaboration creates a social community that encourages cooperation rather than competition. The children work collaboratively, showing that they can work well with peers and enjoy their time in the classroom. They are learning and having fun in the process. Self-discipline, independent work habits, and self-direction are required of the children in these classes.
Junior Elementary teacher, Nicole Cochrane, states, “I love in Junior Elementary that we are teaching them how to maneuver the difficulty of socializing. At 6-9 years old the children are learning how to socialize, they care what others think of them, and they have a strong sense of justice. The teachers guide the children in standing up for what they believe but in a peaceful and respectful manner. When social mistakes are made, we teach the children how to request a peace talk and let someone know they are upset. We also teach the children how to give meaningful apologies and reflect on their behavior.”
The Junior Elementary children also benefit from the strong peace curriculum offered. At Alcuin, there isn’t just one unit on peace. It is interwoven into everything the children do and equally as important as learning to read, write, or solve math equations. The children are taught how to be the best they can be, how to act and react in difficult situations, how to be a good friend and classmate, and how to have respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment.
Resourcefulness, problem-solving, self-advocacy, compromise, listening skills, executive functioning, conflict resolution – the children in our Junior Elementary program are fortunate that along with great academic preparation, they are also given the skills they will need throughout their lives from childhood to adulthood.
"Education begins at birth.”– Maria Montessori
Did you know that Alcuin offers a parent/infant class which meets one day week? We invite everyone to come and discover our Parent/Infant class. The Parent/Infant class, on Fridays from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m., gives parents the opportunity to observe and interact with their child in a rich Montessori environment in which both can explore and discover.
In the Parent/Infant class, children (ages birth to 18 months) can explore and develop social skills, concentration, coordination, and feel a sense of belonging to a group. It also gives parent and child a special time together — time that is all their own.
Led by a Montessori-trained teacher, the class will provide helpful guidance and discussions on child development and how to incorporate the Montessori philosophy into the home. Grandparents and caregivers are welcome to attend in the place of parents.
The class aims to distill and honor each child’s natural tendencies toward healthy, authentic, growth and development. We learn to observe, wait, and trust in the child’s natural ability to self-create.
To register for Alcuin Montessori's Parent/Infant class, or for more information, please contact our Director of Advancement, Alex Valera.
At some point in your child's life, whether they were two or even 11, you knew self-directed, hands-on learning and collaborative play were non-negotiable factors in picking their school. So, you opted for a Montessori program, which was developed with those principles in mind. However, as you began your search in the Oak Park River Forest area, you soon noticed that Montessori schools are popular educational choices, and therefore, they exist in great number.
"What sets a Montessori curriculum apart is the emphasis on the social and emotional growth of the student in tandem with their academic learning," explains Gina Gleason, head of Alcuin Montessori in Oak Park. "From birth through middle school, we inspire a lifelong curiosity about learning, while nurturing each child's individual strengths, challenging them to reach their fullest potential."
With a number of Montessori schools in the Oak Park River Forest area, it is important to research and visit as many as possible to gain a very clear understanding of what school is the best fit for your child.
Alejandra Valera, head of admissions for Alcuin Montessori, shares these tips for finding the best Montessori school suited for your child's unique needs.
1. What does the classroom's appearance say?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing a true Montessori classroom in action is worth volumes. It's one thing to read about a school online, but visiting a school in person will help you get a sense of what your child will experience on a daily basis.
A few tips to prepare for your visit:
The term "Montessori" isn't trademarked, therefore, any program can call itself Montessori without being a true Montessori school. To be sure you are choosing an authentic program, explore the school's website and ask questions during the tour, such as:
In addition to being loved and nurtured, we all want our kids to be safe. During your tour, find out:
To get a sense of the school's culture, ask questions like:
Reading, writing, and arithmetic aren't the only things a child should learn - exposure to new ideas and experiences help children become well-rounded individuals.
Ask how the following are integrated into the curriculum and whether extracurricular opportunities exist:
The admission process itself is a great indicator of how the school itself is run. Throughout the process, ask yourself:
This is the most important question of all. Follow your instinct in making a decision about what school is best for your child and your family. Can you picture your child in these classrooms? Is the faculty and staff warm, welcoming, and professional in their pursuit of Montessori excellence? Can you picture yourself and your family as a valued part of this community?
Alcuin Montessori School in Oak Park, now in its 56th year in serving Oak Park, the western suburbs and Chicago, is hosting open enrollment for children ages 0-14. For questions, insights from Alcuin alumni, students or parents or for a guided tour, contact Alejandra Valera, Director of Admissions, at email@example.com or 708-366-1882, and visit Alcuin.org.
Alcuin Executive Director, Gina Gleason, was recently featured in Around Oak Park’s Know Your Neighbors segment. Thanks to Kelli Williams for the fun interview.
Around Oak Park
Where is home for you? And what brought you there?
I live in Oak Park and moved here about five years ago from Chicago. I wanted to be closer to Alcuin (where I work) and allow my kids the opportunity to be part of their school and neighborhood community.
What is Alcuin? What do you do there? How did you get your start?
Alcuin Montessori School is the second oldest Montessori school in the country and have a very long and proud history in the Oak Park community. We were founded in 1961 by six local OP families who were looking for a different way to educate their children. Alcuin is a very special place, with some of the most talented and committed teachers that I’ve ever met. Together with a strong sense of community and commitment to Montessori education we can really provide an exceptional experience for the children.
I am the Executive Director at Alcuin. I started at Alcuin in 2003 as an intern in a Primary classroom (3-6 year olds) and have been there ever since. This is my 7th year leading the school. I was actually working at several graphic design shops in the beginning of my career out of college and learned about Montessori from a good friend. I visited a few schools to see what it was all about since I didn’t have children and hadn’t studied education. I instantly fell in love with the independence that such young children had and the endless learning opportunities and had to learn more myself. I took the training that summer to become a Montessori teacher and the rest is history. I love the fact that Alcuin has so much history and I have the great privilege of carrying on the legacy and dreams that our founders began so long ago.
Where in Oak Park is Alcuin located?
Alcuin is located in the heart of Oak Park so we have the opportunity to use the OP Public library and parks on a daily basis, our kids swim at the YMCA as part of our fitness program and our middle school kids use public transportation as part of their “beyond the classroom walls” learning. We are lucky to be so immersed in our community and the children have a lot of opportunities to feel connected outside of the classroom.
What inspires you most in your work?
The children (at Alcuin) are definitely are my daily inspiration. We have infants all the way through middle school children at the school, a great age range. It’s incredible when we get to see a child’s first steps or words; the first time they tie their shoe or learn how to do multiplication, or read their first book. It’s so great to be a part of that!
Our graduation ceremony at the end of the school year is by far the most touching. The 8th grade students give speeches and show videos that include a short farewell to the younger students, and the younger students sing and give them gifts. It’s such a strong community and the younger students really look up to the graduates, and hold a very special place in their hearts for them.
Knowing that we have such a positive impact on so many children is very meaningful. The world can be a tough place for both parents and kids but here at Alcuin, we’ve embraced the idea of respect, kindness, and meeting the children where they are in all their areas of development.
In your opinion, what are the top three things a parent should consider before enrolling their child at a school?
What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you in your career?
Weird things don’t always happen. But funny things happen all the time. We had a chicken get out of its coop come into our playground which caused quite a bit of fun and a cat tried to come into the school one day. Maybe we are meant to be part farm, too! Just kidding.
I should write a book about all the “overheard” things that kids say. Strictly anonymous of course because it’s usually very funny things about their parents.
How would you quickly summarize the Montessori difference?
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs anyone will ever do, even with the relatively easy kids. We really are looking to partner with parents so that education and parenting really become more cohesive and everyone benefits, but especially the child.
What are some important and unique aspects of your school community that people may not know about?
At every level and in every classroom we are focused on peace education, problem solving/conflict resolution and practicing mindfulness. From the youngest toddlers to the oldest middle school student, there are endless opportunities to continue learning and developing these critical skills. It’s completely integrated into the classroom and the children take ownership and as they get older they eventually become, for the most part completely independent in resolving their conflicts.
We also have a very strong commitment to providing opportunities for charitable work or to provide service. This can vary, but we think it’s incredibly important to role model the idea of giving back to our school community, Oak Park community, and the greater world. On the first Friday of every month, we have a parent/child community event at 8 a.m. that focuses on some type of giving back project.
We’ve made hats for preemies, scarves for the homeless, holiday cards for seniors and shut-ins and a recent project called “kindness rocks” where we wrote messages on rocks and put them in and around Oak Park and the city. We do a variety of projects with Housing Forward, from blanket drives to making the lunches for the shelter guests on Thursday nights. Our middle school students volunteer at local places in Oak Park on a regular basis for the school year. Within our school community, the older students have programs for volunteering in the classrooms of the younger students so that they are helping with reading, editing or assisting the toddlers with snack and recess time. There are so many opportunities for all of the children and such a great life lesson.
What do you feel is the highlight of Alcuin’s program?
Our Middle School is definitely a shining star in our school program. It’s a perfect mix of preparation for high school, experienced-based learning, respect and nurturing of the young adolescent child, travel and more travel, independent learning and a huge amount of parent support. Junior High can be a really tough time for most kids and parents but at Alcuin, the experience is so meaningful and for many the highlight of their education.
And now for a few questions about YOU outside of work! When you’re not at Alcuin, where can we find you?
When I am not working I am spending the very early morning hours running with my friends. It’s the best way to start my day. Other than that I spend time with my two kids and friends exploring the city or finding a forest preserve or park to spend so we can spend as much time in nature as we possible. My kids are still young but I am finding myself at the Ridgeland Ice Rink quite a bit!
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
Well, since it’s just magic I would cook, eat and read, in that order but the reality is I would probably just work more!
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is never a typical day, and that is one of the best parts about this job. Every day, every moment is something different, and it never quite goes the way you had planned. When you are dealing with kids, it’s always best to approach everything with a sense of calm and a lot of humor. I might be in the classroom helping the toddlers one moment or with middle school kids, or working on a budget the next, meeting with a parent and then back to a classroom. There’s never a dull moment. My job is all about helping the children, teachers, and parents first and then later after everyone is gone for the day I can work on the business side of running a school.
What is the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
I check the weather and open my email.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.