Posts filed under ‘Random topics’

CPSObsessed hitting the airwaves!

Newish public radio station WBEW (89.5 FM) will be featuring the topic of education during the month of September on their talk segments.

The exciting news is that yours truly (that would be me) will be one of the guests interviewed!  Woo hoo!

I’ll be on air this Friday Sept 4th at 8 am representing the “obsessed parent.”  Quite fitting, indeed.  The guy from the station told me that they’d have some other obsessed parents throughout the month and I dared him to find others more obsessive than I have been.

The whole month of discussion on WBEW should prove interesting so tune in when you can.  And especially this Friday to hear me (hopefully) not make a total fool of myself.   If you have any good stories that represent any obsessive thing you have done in the school search process, please share and I may mention them.

If you can’t pick up the station on the radio, you can listen live on the web site.

More about the station: is a project of Chicago Public Radio, a new station that takes a different approach to public broadcasting—more informal and participatory.  In our case, public radio is made largely by the public:  Many of the stories and conversations we air have been contributed by listeners.  We do not play any NPR content—no “All Things Considered,” no “This American Life.”  Instead, our staff hosts a live broadcast from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. that mixes these listener-contributed stories with live talk segments and an eclectic smattering of local music.  (When we’re not doing a live-hosted broadcast, we’re in “mixtape” mode—an automated, semi-random shuffle of listener-created material.)
Every month we pick a theme to explore—not that it’s the only thing we talk about, but it’s a conversation that continues throughout the month—and education is our theme for September.

August 31, 2009 at 2:21 pm 4 comments

School Supply Time

It’s that time of year again… time to shop for school supplies.  I have fond memories of school-supply shopping.  I think we did our main shopping at Ribordy’s Drugs and McShane’s Office supplies – two little local businesses that provided an enjoyable school-supply shopping experience compared to the mayhem, banners, “teen section” of Target.  And what’s with the frantically competing flyers from Staples, Office Depot, and Office Max?  When did our school supply dollars become so sought after?

Somehow now that I’m the parent, the whole school supply shopping seems wrought with stress.  The first shock as a CPS parent involves learning that we are required to purchase paper towels, various sanitizing products, and tissue.  This brings on confusion until another parent explains the paltry budgets of our fine school system and why we need to provide what used to be considered the basic supplies in a school.

The rest of our lists have been pretty standard.  But I still find things to stress about.  With a background in advertising/marketing I take it seriously when a teacher lists a specific brand name.  When she says Crayola crayons does that mean she finds that brand superior in some way and wants only that brand?  If I buy Rose Art will my child be looked down upon?  Or God forbid if I buy crayons at the Dollar Store?  What about the Target brand of plastic bags?  Do I go for quanitity of tissue or box attractiveness?  And for the second year in a row I am confused about what type of paper I’m supposed to buy.  Does “primary” mean the baby kind with the dotted line halfway up? Or is it regular notebook paper?  So many decisions.  So many questions.

I thought it would be fun this year because my son gets to pick out 2 folders and a pencil case.  For some reason all the pencil cases at Target looked really girly but he did find a blue camo one.  The folder selection was equally paltry, dominated by High School Musical.  We scavanged and finally came up with Harry Potter and Spiderman (because yes, those franchises need to rake in even more money.)  I suppose my parents rolled their eyes when I went for the Partridge Family and Josie and the Pussycats school supplies.

Despite the stress, I still geek out a little when it comes to school-supply shopping.  I love looking at all the markers and crayons and blank paper.  Somehow it makes me remember the excitement of starting a new school year.  I can’t tell if my son is feeling any of that yet.  He’s mainly lamenting that 1st grade means no snack time.  And he hasn’t even been told yet that the afternoon fun time doesn’t happen either.   Or that his new room won’t have air conditioning.  Or that the grades are actually A’s, B’s etc.  Best to roll the news out slowly.

Happy shopping!

August 6, 2009 at 11:36 pm 13 comments

A glimpse at schools in the outside world

I was visiting my sister this weekend in a nice Minnesota town.  She has a child who will be in 2nd grade and one starting Kindergarten.  Of course I had to get the lowdown on their local school to see what goes on outside of CPS (and outside of under-funded Illinois.)  From the stories I’ve heard so far, they’ve been very pleased with the school.

A few things I’ve noticed:

Parents have their choice of half- or full-day Kindergarten.  Full day costs $350 per month.  Parents were split half and half in their choices (but in the past more chose full-day… this year is likely a result of the economy.)

Kindergarten classes have about 20 kids per class (well, most of know the reality of this from friends in the suburbs.)

Parents are given a school calendar that has literally every upcoming date that they’ll need to know for the year — from days off to PTA meetings to family reading nights to fundraising events and fun fairs.   These are events that I’ve typically found out about around 48 hours before they occur (or as a friend of mine pointed out, if we even DO find out ahead of time.)  I expressed my awe of the calendar and my sister asked how I could even function without one.  Somehow we learn to adapt in CPS I suppose.

Schools have big, nice (tuition-based) before- and after-school programs, summer camps, and care on days off school.

Well, the really sad one: We drove by a big school and she pointed out that it’s where her kids will be going to high school one day.  It took my a few minutes to realize how nice it must be to know that when your child isn’t even in Kindergarten yet.  For pretty much all of us, that will be a complete unknown for years to come and a source of anxiety that most people in the outside world don’t need to worry about.

The one thing I’ll say in our favor is the school buildings.  I love the big old CPS school building with all their character and charm.  I love that many were built over 100 year ago and I like to think about what the schools must have been like back then (before electricity?)  I love the hardwood floors and the high ceilings and big windows and big staircases.  And school offices with big wooden counters and hallways with strange doors that are located 6 feet off the ground.  Huge boiler rooms that could be the setting of a horror film.

Many schools around the country were built during the Baby Boom when the style seemed to resemble a prison – big cement blocks, blandness everywhere.

So with our big classes, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants scheduling, high school insanity, and cool old buildings, I’d say that CPS wins hands-down in the “character” department.  I hope we can all continue to embrace it.

July 27, 2009 at 10:52 pm 3 comments

Home schooling done right

I know most of us don’t have the fortitude to home school our kids.  I know I don’t.  But IF I did, this is how I’d like to do it.
I read this article last summer in the Tribune about a mom who had home schooled her child since age 5.  After reading the article I was left being very impressed with the mom who included things in her home school program such as  “enrichment classes and lots of travel (they learned about Buddhism in Tibet, philosophy in Greeceand Taoism with an abbot atop China’s holiest mountain).  Less exotic but equally important was immersion in Chicago’s rich arts scene.”  Now THAT is a cool way to educate a child.  It would take a lot of work to prepare school-work for a child all the way through high school.

The great achievement was that the girl had been accepted into Harvard, Yale,  Princeton, Northwestern, and Stanford.   Clearly impressive for any child, but especially a home-schooled one.  Apparently when you don’t have “real” grades it’s hard for colleges to assess your application.  In this case the mom prepared detailed course descriptions, transcripts from outside coursework, and recommendation letters from tutors.  I get tired just reading about THAT part of the effort!

I met the mom this past year at a conference for parents of gifted students and it was funny because when SHE presented the story it was based a lot more on her daughter’s abilities (she says she is profoundly gifted) and desire to learn outside a traditional classroom.  As I read the article again, it was clear that this was no ordinary child.  She’s done things from teaching Shakespeare to youngsters to studying the harp in Ireland.

Whoever the driver of this feat was, it’s clear that the parents did everything they could to let the child’s passions and desire to learn blossom.

Reading it again this week, it totally shames me.  I had intended to do a short learning time with my son every day this summer (and make him read something everyday – besides the Tivo listings.)  I think it’s happened 3 times this summer.  Maybe.

The whole article is here in the Chicago Tribune archives:

July 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm 6 comments

Nettelhorst to march in Gay Pride Parade

Pride FlagWow, this is pretty cool.  Parents from the Nettelhorst Elem School have organized to march (with their kids) in the Gay Pride Parade this year.  They’ll be the first school to march in the parade. 

Nettelhorst is located in Lakeview near Broadway and Belmont in the heart of Chicago’s main gay community.  Parents want to show support for the community and to help their kids realize that there are families of all types.

I think it’s a cool idea.  Not sure how the parents will handle explaining some of the outfits they’re likely to see there that day but hey, a parade is always a good time.  I took my son to the Andersonville Midsommerfest last year and he still refers to it as the “festival where all the guys had their shirts off.” 

In any case, if you’re at the parade, make sure to cheer for the kids of Nettelhorst.  They’re showing support for their school community which is a great thing.,0,3925455.story

A note from Jacqueline Edelberg, author of How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Rennaisance (the story of Nettelhorst’s parent-lead transformation into a highly regarded neighborhood school.)

 Nettelhorst would love you to walk with us on Sunday!!
The outpouring of support and encouragement from families of all flavors has been overwhelming.  So far, over 100 parents, kids, and faculty members have RSVP’ed that we will march together in the Pride Parade and send a unified message of support to our neighborhood and our families.
This is history. Nettelhorst will be the very first school ever to march in Chicago’s parade. If you haven’t read them, some recent press articles do a fabulous job describing the spirit of what we’ve done together.  We should all be proud…
Tribune: Chicago school to march in Pride Parade,0,3925455.story

Sun-Times: East Lake View school’s straight parents line up with gays,CST-EDT-edit15a.article 

If you’d like to participate:
Date:   Sunday, June 28
Time:   11:00-11:30 am
Place:  Line up with the groups near the front of the parade on Clark Street at Barry in the east curb lane (by CVS). We’re #17.

June 25, 2009 at 12:19 pm 1 comment

Nursery University (TV show Monday night)

Ooh, this show sounds good….

Showtime, Monday May 11 6:30pm

From Entertainment Weekly:
On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a father anxiously flips through a thesarus, searching for the perfect word for his daughter’s preschool application. A Christopher Guest parody about psycho New York Parents? If only.  Rather it’s an all-too-true documentary about the competitive culture of applying to preschool (yes preschool) in Manhattan.  Jaw droppingly fascinating/disturbing/hilarious/terrifying, the film perfectly captures the mania of thinking a glorified playgroup can land your kid at Harvard.  (Grade from ET:  A)

Well, I am surely going to watch.  Ooh, I hope I get Showtime.  I can’t keep track.   Somehow I suspect that those of in Chicago will be more sympathetic than horrified about what goes on – but from what I read in the NYTimes, everything education-related there is magnified by 1000x.   Plus throwing in the rich, upper-east side element should add a good twist.

UPDATE: There are more showings, plus it is on Showtime On Demand

May 9, 2009 at 3:58 pm 14 comments

Humor in the CPS Directory

I’ve been entertaining myself lately with the giant CPS directory that lists all the schools and their vital stats.  (Lots of extra time without freelance work right now – if anyone reading this needs a marketing researcher, please get in touch!)Every year CPS puts out their Elementary and Pre-School Directory so that parents can “shop” for schools.  These are available at the Library and I’d advise you to nab one now for next year, as this year’s model came out about 1 week before applications were due.This is a great book for looking at the hard data about schools (test scores, parent ratings.)  It also has the map of each school district which is helpful if you’re trying to figure out where to live.Each school gets to submit a blurb that is printed at the top of their page.  In theory, the school should use this as a chance to advertise themselves – to get prospective parents to stop and read more about the school.  It’s like their “elevator pitch” if you will.Needless to say, many of them deserve to be publicly mocked.  Some made me laugh, some puzzled me, and some made me wonder if they had delegated the job of writing the blurb to the school janitor.  Read on…..
(Disclaimer: My comments in no way reflect anything about the school.  My comments DO in every way reflect something about the blurb.)

 (Final Note: As a feminist-type, I applaud CPS for having a decent number of schools named after women.)

 OK, these make the school sound good:

At Trumbull, student achievement, enrichment, and fun all go together. We are proud of our enthusiastic and dedicated teaching staff, excellent standardized test scores, Literature and Writing Magnet Program, and many extracurricular activities.
West Pullman
West Pullman has a warm, friendly, and supportive atmosphere where staff, students, and parents put learning first.

Edgebrook is a wonderful place to learn. Dedicated staff members provide high quality reading, math, and science programs. Social studies and fine arts are integrated throughout the curriculum. Our grade level history fairs have become a highlight of the year. Students achieve the highest academic standards. Strong parent and community support provides enrichment experiences for our students.

Scholastic Academy provides a positive learning atmosphere for all students with a focus on reading and writing. We are proud of our long-standing tradition of academic excellence that has been a collaborative effort among all our stakeholders.

Schools my son would like based on their blurb:
Periodically, we see Mickey and Minnie Mouse running through the halls! This is a happy place where we believe that learning should be fun!
The first NASA Explorers School in Illinois.

Hanging their hat on one detail that doesn’t have much to do with actually educating kids: 
Our school has an Organic School Project — we serve all organic food for breakfast and lunch.
The original Avondale School was built in 1881. The current building on Sawyer Avenue was built in 1894 and holds landmark status.
At Cather, we have two enclosed flower gardens that we nurture and develop, just as we nurture and develop our children.
Franklin is the fifth oldest school in Chicago and opened when the city was just four years old. Find the plaque for the original building on Wells Street across from the campus park.
Volta alumni include: Florence Berman (owner, Super Dawg restaurant), Steve Goodman (City of New Orleans performer/composer), and Bob Sirott (TV personality).
Grammy-award winning hip hop artist Kanye West is a former student.
The school serves as the backdrop for the 57th Street Art Fair and Children’s Book Fair (Arne Duncan’s kids went here btw.)

A little too corny for my taste:
Where “can’t” is not part of the equation!
As a year-round school, we are like the Energizer Bunny, we just keep going and going and…

Are these schools as grumpy as they sound?
Then people visit Brentano they always leave with a lasting impression. Brentano has a positive school climate conducive for learning. If you don’t believe it, come see us for yourselves.
Bontemps has an open door policy and invites anyone at anytime to visit providing they get a visitor’s pass from the office.

…and where students learn to use lots of adjectives!
Haugan is a place where teachers are motivated, innovative and dedicated. Students are happy, ambitious, unique, genuine, accomplished and notable. In 2007, Haugan received an Exemplary Achievement Award from CPS for six years of consecutive gains on the ISAT.

OK, I know what they meant but one could interpret it in a slightly more creepy way:
Albany Park
Albany Park Multicultural Academy (APMA) has a very diverse student body that honors multiculturalism. The small school allows for personal relationships to develop between each student and staff member.
Locke School is more than just a school, it’s our home.

C’mon.  ALL?
All Dirksen School children are academically successful. 

A free school?! What a refreshing change from all those other CPS schools!
Drummond School is a year-round small Montessori Magnet School-within-a-School that provides students and their families with an exemplary and progressive curriculum, at no cost. 

Uh, your test scores would suggest otherwise:
here academic achievement is the only option.

Is this an elementary school or an exciting new loft development meant to attract yuppies?
The Ogden Elementary School is a neighborhood school on the near north side of Chicago. Located in a rapidly redeveloping cosmopolitan city, Ogden Elementary School serves students from a racially, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse community. Nestled among some of the most prominent cultural, social, and business institutions in the world, we are committed to providing a world-class education.

Stating the obvious….
You can learn more about our school by visiting our school website at
“A place where teaching and learning occurs!”

Motto that would be hardest to fit on a T-shirt:
Our motto: “We are available 24 hours a day and eight days a week.  Why eight days…? Because we go that extra mile!”

Taking a more philosophical approach:
Castellanos believes that educational change depends on what teachers do and think. It’s as simple and as complex as that.
Our motto: Learning is a cyclical inquiry action revolving through the stages of experience, accommodation, assimilation, memory, and transfer.

April 11, 2009 at 6:08 pm 4 comments

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