Joliet’s own electoral college: Grade school students choose electives at Forest Park
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org October 26, 2012 6:38PM
Students from left, Eleanor Parks, Paris Shaw and Kate Bailey, at Forest Park, Joliet's magnet school, sing during a music Creative Course at the school in Joliet, IL on Tuesday October 23, 2012. The school is offering some unusual electives beginning this week; music, health awareness, reading Aesop's Fables and learning about Reptiles and Egyptian History. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 29, 2012 6:16AM
JOLIET — Oscar Avila had the simple assignment of creating a clay sculpture of an insect. Using his creativity, though, he extended the frame of the bug’s body a little further, into a long and sleek arc.
Nicole Sanchez-Paramo, the teacher of the first-grade class, looked curiously at the sculpture.
“It reminds me of an insect I’ve seen outside — a praying mantis,” she told him, adding that she would discuss this species later in the class.
Creativity that extends the character arc a little further — that’s an important goal at Forest Park Individual Education School, a magnet school in Joliet.
Last week, Forest Park rolled out its elective classes. Yes, first-graders choose electives at this school. So do their older classmates. And yes, one of those electives is bugs — “Creepy Crawlies,” to be specific.
Other electives include Architectural Design, Aesop’s Fables, Culinary Adventures, Onomatopoeia, and “See Ya Later Alligator!”
Forest Park School forms these elective courses based partially on students’ own interests, which they express to their teachers.
“If students are finding a special interest in something that they see in their academic courses, they can approach the teacher and say, ‘I wish I knew more about bugs,’ or, ‘I wish I knew more about architecture,’” Principal Jacob Darley said. “And the teacher may take that information and offer a creative course on that topic.”
Classroom activity may be fun, but it also is serious and challenging. As the students made their sculptures on Tuesday, Sanchez-Paramo used the assembly process to explain the structure of an insect’s body: head, thorax, abdomen, antennae, compound eye, wings.
And of course, the proboscis.
Ray Corsini, who created the individual education concept, stressed four R’s that are different — but not mutually exclusive — from the reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic that most of us remember in school.
Corsini’s four R’s are:
◆ Responsibility: A student is given the opportunity to be responsible for his or her own learning and behavior.
Overall, Forest Park School uses a pass-fail system. Students earn credit on assessments: 80 percent is passing; and below that is not.
If students realize they have not passed a test, they have the opportunity to study again and retake it.
It becomes a lesson in personal motivation and time management: If a student did not pass Unit 1, and the class is moving on to Unit 2, the student can use time at home, recess time or homeroom time to go back and make up Unit 1.
◆ Respectfulness: A student is always treated with respect and thereby learns to respect self and others.
◆ Resourcefulness: A student develops an awareness of his ability to control and direct his resources toward accomplishing life tasks.
◆ Responsiveness: A student learns how to react to situations and builds trusting interpersonal relationships with peers, parents and teachers.
In addition, Forest Park has three components to its philosophy: academics, socialization and creative courses.
When students choose their creative courses, that is part of learning responsibility and resourcefulness.
“They are, for all practical purposes, an elective much like you and I would take in high school,” Darley said of the classes. “Students first through fifth grade are allowed to choose from a variety of courses, three different courses per quarter.”
Bridget Broucek, teacher of the Architectural Design class, used a Smart Board to show students the different styles of columns.
“These are three columns that Greek people built, many centuries ago,” she told the class of fourth- and fifth-graders. “They figured out a way to hold up very heavy stones, which would make buildings last for centuries.”
“They’re all around Joliet,” Broucek said of columns. “When you’re on bus rides or in your car, I want you to look for columns.”
She moved further into the Smart Board presentation.
“Look at this — the arch, the vault, the dome,” she said. “Think of where you would see a dome. Where would a dome be in Illinois, in Springfield?”
She helped the students along, without giving them the answer: “Think about Washington, D.C.”
“The Capitol building,” said Adam Fitzpatrick, a fourth-grader.
Adam was one of many students raising their hands in a class with good participation. Broucek also taught students about aqueducts on Tuesday.
Ashlyn Fisk, a fifth-grader, described the class during a later interview.
“We’re learning about how to build things — and what they built, and how they built it, a long time ago,” Ashlyn said. “We’re going to rebuild little versions of it.”
The class will build small columns from paper-towel rolls. Paper on the outside will display the artistic details of the columns.
Darley himself attended Forest Park as a grade school student in the 1980s. The school had the individual education philosophy back then, and Darley is excited to continue it today.
“Our school is based on the idea that we want to offer choice to people who live in District 86,” Darley said. “We’ve been a magnet school since 1978, and I consider us one of Joliet’s best kept secrets. Many people who have lived here for a long time don’t even know we exist.”
Forest Park is a public school, and the process for enrolling a student is simply an orientation meeting. The parents are introduced to the school’s philosophy in areas of academics, discipline and social skills. If the parents agree to the philosophy, they sign a parent contract — and the child is enrolled, as long as the school has room.
Forest Park graduates may continue in this individual education concept at the magnet school within Hufford Junior High School, which serves sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
Jordynn Sullivan and Jasmine Diaz, fourth-graders at Forest Park, used a laptop computer to study Aesop’s Fables on Tuesday. They were reading “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”
“The lesson was: Be prepared for the days of necessity,” Jordynn said.
Appropriate enough. But if you’re looking for a proboscis — a straw-like mouth — then you would have to study the butterfly, who has quite a graduation ceremony after its days as a resourceful and responsible caterpillar.