Friday, May 23, 2014

The Best Chicago Grammar Schools - How to Spot Them

In Chicago, the process of selecting a grammar school can be grueling.  There are selective enrollment schools, charter schools, neighborhood schools and private schools.  There are schools that provide countless therapists for kids with IEPs and schools that foster an environment of faith and service.  There are schools that put kids on track for the Ivy League and schools where kids meet their lifelong friends in first grade.

Through my children, I've experienced just about every kind of Chicago school out there.

I've watched in dismay as witch hunts were conducted against principals and teachers.  I've watched politics decide which children receive preference in sports and academia.  I've witnessed scary and aggressive behavior by children that went largely unchecked.  I've seen mismanagement, misdirection, and missed opportunities all around.

Yet on the flip side, I have also experienced the beauty of these same schools.  I've watched parents and staff rally behind those in need.  I have smiled as young athletes develop new skills and gain confidence.  I have enjoyed countless chess tournaments and music concerts where cerebral endeavors are encouraged and celebrated as though they are the Super Bowl. 

I have also cried in the arms of many amazing teachers when my kids struggled.  I have done the Snoopy Happy Dance when these same professionals communicated small victories and strides.

A lot of stress and anxiety goes into picking out a school in Chicago.

So I am here to help.

You need to go to a school during pick-ups or drop-offs and park on the street. 

Then, try to pull back into traffic.

Count how many cars it takes before someone lets you back in.

If you have to wait 10 minutes before a good Samaritan waves you through, that's disappointing.

If the second you click on your turn signal and a mom in a minivan ushers you right in, that is a good sign.

I know it is arbitrary

I know it will not determine the fate of your child's social and academic future.

But for me, having a seamless drop-off is awesome.

Ideally, a school should reflect the priorities of parents.  Not surprising, parents all have different ones.  There will be great teachers at just about any school selected.  There will also be disappointing ones.  There will be enough injustices, aggravation, and miscommunication to keep a mom reaching for her Xanax weekly.

And there will be exemplary moments of community and togetherness. 

Yet in reading up on the long-term academic success of students, there is one factor that stands out above all else.

Having an engaged parent.

I have come to find that being an engaged mom requires folks to let me in at drop-offs.  It's such a small thing.  It means if I volunteer for a field trip or bake sale, I'm not going to be giving the stink eye to the mom who has never once let me in. Parents who allow you to go in front of them are parents who care about kindness and community.  Those kinds of parents often instill those same values in their own children.

When I look at the schools I have loved the best? The ones where I chose to involve myself the most?

Nobody cut me off.

I was allowed in.

It is time to spread the word.


  1. This is the best "Pick a school" advice I've ever read. It makes the most sense. I am cheering for all the drop off parents letting people in. Keep up the good work, you lovely parents!

    1. It's all about kindness and you've got plenty, Lillian!

  2. I live in Tiny Town, USA. The only things in our way are the combines and grain haulers. And the occasional pickup truck with a trailer of straw. What a difference in culture!