A Growing Network Since Chicago International’s Loomis Primary campus opened its doors last school year, out-of-school programming has taken off—and it’s not just students who are reaping the benefits. by Caroline Eberly | photos by Tommy Giglio
If you were to visit CICS Loomis Primary this spring during the campus’s out-of-schoolprogramming final show, you would see kindergarten through second-grade children showing off ballet or ballroom dance steps, playing the violin, and performing their own skits—talents they’ve honed throughout the year outside of their regular academic classes. But stick around after the show, and you would see an even greater picture of the benefits of extracurricular programming for students at CICS Loomis—and their families. Last school year, after the CICS Loomis students performed, parents set up booths to display their local businesses—from daycare and real estate services to bakeries and
barber shops. Parents browsed the booths, mingled with each other, and discovered new resources within their neighborhood. “It’s the perfect venue to have the parents sell their products and promote themselves,” says student support manager Theresa Mills, who worked with the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) to host the inaugural parent-networking event. Efforts like this are just the beginning of opportunities for CICS Loomis parents not only to support the enrichment of their children, but also to engage with the CICS Loomis community—and learn valuable skills themselves—through the school’s vibrant and ever-growing out-of-school programming.
This year, there will be a similar, yet enhanced, opportunity for parents to network during their children’s end-of-season show. Mills and her colleague, Assistant Director Lindsey Bixby, are taking it a step further with the help of an idea from the PTO. (CICS Loomis and its PTO “work collaboratively on everything,” Mills explains.) “We’ve decided to… provide a parent business directory so parents can search within our community to have their needs met.” This community is what PTO president Kim Turner, who’s helping create the directory, calls the “inner family” at CICS Loomis. Turner is passionate about the sense of community she’s found at the school, and she’s
hoping that the business booklet—which will be distributed to each family this spring—will strengthen social and economic ties within the greater family. “We can touch everyone in the school that may have their own business, even if they don’t set up a booth,” she says. “We’ll have a one-stop shop.”
One-stop shop it will be: parents will be better able to make connections with each other, deepen their sense of belonging to the CICS Loomis community, and help support each other during a down economy —all while staying within the Loomis family.
Moving forward, the shared goal of the CICS Loomis faculty, staff, and PTO is to quickly address parents’ interest in and need for additional family activities and opportunities. “Last year we had a big request from parents at the end of the school year, and they said they were looking for more education, more programming for them. So that was something we really tried hard to get started for this year,” Bixby says. Loomis began by piggybacking on its PTO gatherings, using the group as a pilot to try out educational workshops for parents. The topic of the first PTO workshop was demystifying the two types of assessment tests all CICS Loomis students must take. Mills and Bixby are already noticing positive results. “Once parents attended the PTO workshop, they understood that their children were taking an important test,” Bixby says, “and that they would have the opportunity to
see their child’s scores and discuss them at conferences. When parents know what their children are doing at school, students perform better.” To that end, twice a year the school hosts “Curriculum Night”, an after-school-hours gathering during which parents go behind the scenes of the classroom to get to know what the CICS Loomis day is like. It’s not only educational; it’s a good time. “It’s a party. It’s really bumping,” Mills says. The entire CICS Loomis staff stays for the duration of the evening. Parents are invited to spend time in every classroom at every grade level. If their child is in first grade, they can visit a kindergarten classroom to pick up review activities—or second grade to take home materials that will challenge their son or daughter. Left: CICS LOOMIS PRIMARY PARENT AND LOCAL BUSINESS OWNER RAYTARA BLACK top: PTO PRESIDENT KIM TURNER
Parents typically stick around until they’ve visited each grade level and at the end of the night, they leave with a new understanding of their child’s experience at school—and bags chock full of activities to enjoy with their kids at home.
The future plan is for CICS Loomis students and parents to collaborate on extracurricular enrichment activities. Mills and Bixby imagine a seminar in which children show their parents how to navigate the Web in the new computer lab or a book club in which students and parents read together. For the moment, CICS Loomis is focused on offering relevant educational opportunities for parents that are meaningful to them and extend new avenues for learning. This spring, special guests—members of the community, professionals from local banks and businesses, CICS Loomis’ own teachers—will present on topics that range from “balancing work and family” to “taking the hassle out of
homework” and “how to read with your child at home.” For the future, Turner talks about heading up money-management classes, among other personal development opportunities for parents, through the PTO. In the end, of course, the programming isn’t just about helping parents learn new skills or build their networks—though these are important goals. It’s about strengthening the ties that bind this family—this big, extended family—together and then watching that family grow. BOTTOM: CICS LOOMIS TEACHERS LINDSEY BIXBY AND THERESA MILLS RIGHT: CICS LOOMIS TEACHERS AND STUDENTS ARE ALL SMILES
After school programming for parents flourishes at CICS campuses.