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It is sometimes easy to overlook the fact that, from the Early Childhood Program through eighth grade, a student’s academic career at Baker can span as many as 12 years. Throughout the arc of those many years, the school’s commitment to a broad curriculum grounded in progressive education, and the goal of creating citizens fully prepared to contribute to society, never wavers.
The emphasis on experiential, real-life learning over rote memorization of facts drawn from pre-packaged curricula forms the cornerstone of Baker’s educational philosophy. To take one example, some of our students studied the democratic process with an Election Day field trip to a polling place where they interviewed voters and poll workers. In another instance, students investigated market forces and economics by visiting Chicago’s Green City Market, clipboards in hand, to compare vegetable prices and talk to farmers about their work. These students later used their findings to devise their own products, which they sold at an in-school market of their own creation. The kids contributed their profits to a charity, which they also researched. These real experiences indelibly etch the concepts of democratic participation, profit and loss, the food chain, and social responsibility into students’ minds in a way that merely reading textbooks and completing worksheets cannot.
The school’s progressive curriculum also emphasizes social learning. Baker visitors will notice the absence of desks in the classrooms and, in their place, will find tables, rugs, and couches set up to enable students to work more easily in groups. Many Baker teachers implement book studies based on Literature Circles. In this method, children take on specific jobs to help their small groups study and discuss children’s literature. Each child learns his or her part to make the group run smoothly, and the discussions help even young children unravel complex concepts and ideas. At Baker kids learn not only how to get along, but how to work together.
In traditional schools, subjects are usually studied as separate, discrete topics. While Baker also teaches disciplines such as reading and math as independent subjects, the progressive curriculum is then used to integrate the learned material throughout the study of important themes. Baker kids often investigate ideas such as the weather, immigration, or markets using the tools and perspectives of disparate subject areas. For example, when a Baker third grade classroom studied the concept of symmetry, students read a novel about an artist who used symmetry in her paintings, touching on the subject areas of art and literature in the process. They placed small hand mirrors on printed alphabet letters to discover which letters were symmetrical and which were not, accessing both writing and geometry. They visited the Art Institute to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s symmetrical stained glass windows and later made their own symmetrical “stained glass” by coloring clear acetate, incorporating both art and geometry. Throughout these projects, students wrote about their symmetry studies in journals and on their classroom’s blog. The end result is that these third graders will not soon forget all they learned about symmetry.
Baker’s progressive curriculum emphasizes qualitative assessments of students’ progress over standardized test results. This is not to say Baker avoids normed testing. Indeed, Baker students do take standardized tests. However, rather than relying on a single set of results to gauge progress, teachers keep and analyze thorough portfolios of their students’ work. Parents then receive deep and detailed information about their children’s development academically, socially, emotionally, and physically.
At Baker, academic rigor lies in the depth of inquiry that occurs when students discuss, think, and write about the topics they examine each day. Baker students can do so much more than simply fill-in-the-blanks. After their Baker careers, graduates enjoy a reputation at both public and private area high schools for success, deep analytical skills, creativity and the ability to comport themselves socially.
Finally, Baker’s faculty is a skilled group of reflective practitioners, constantly honing their skills as both teachers and learners. Their excellence and expertise create best practices for the school which align with those of the Illinois State Board of Education Standards. They also conform to standards outlined by the following organizations:
American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Reading Association, National Council of Social Studies, National Council of the Teachers of Mathematics, National Council of the Teachers of English, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.