Chicago Free School celebrates 5th year, adds classroom for elementary students

Chicago Free School students on a field trip to the Indiana Dunes in June 2018. From left to right: Isabella Smith, Sofia Rodriguez, Rosalie Reed, Anissa Tharsen, Khushi Pusnur, Alice Dowd. – Photo courtesy of Chicago Free School

By GABRIELLA CRUZ-MARTÍNEZ
Contributing Writer

The Chicago Free School (CFS), 1100 E Hyde Park Blvd., is starting its fifth year by expanding its space to include a new classroom for children in second and third grade, making a total of five multi-grade classrooms for grades pre-K – 8 in the school, according to a statement by school officials.

The expansion means that the school still has openings for the 2018/19 school year in grades second through eighth, with a short waiting list for other grades.

According to CFS Founder and Teacher Lauren Beitler the idea for the expansion came after staff and parents looked at re-enrollment numbers and realized that so many of the school’s current families would be returning next year. She also noticed the first through fifth grade classes would be overcrowded unless the school hired another teacher. The school’s board, which includes five parents, made the decision to lease an additional room at the KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue, the school’s current home, for the expansion.

“Our family is thrilled to see the Chicago Free School expand this year,” said Leanne Beaudoin-Ryan, a parent of a rising third grader. “During our time at the Free School, I have watched my children blossom into curious, caring boys, who are actively engaged in the learning process. They are becoming critical thinkers who love to learn. This is the way that learning should be for all children and is a true testament to the power of the Free School model,” Ryan added in a statement released by the school.

At CFS, first through eighth grade classes are capped at 15 students, while pre-K and kindergarten classrooms are capped at 25 students and assisted by two full time teachers and a classroom aide. According to Beitler, the school board is currently in the process of hiring another teacher in time for the new school year to accompany the recent expansion.

“We’re excited to be growing our team so we can expand the number of courses we offer for our students and make a unique model available to more families,” said Beitler.

Sara Volk de Garcia, a parent of a rising fourth grader at CFS said, “I’m also happy because I think this change gives teachers more flexibility to meet their kids needs. For example, Lauren can team up with other teachers for a broader multi-grade experience, but she’ll have a better option for teaching a narrower age range, too.”

A recent study by the K-12 Working Group at the University of Chicago showed that several academic appointees at U. of C. had concerns about the ability of the Lab Schools and other area schools to provide both a high-quality and affordable education, particularly for students with diverse learning needs.

“We feel that our expansion is a step that can help address this need in Hyde Park,” added Volk de Garcia, who is also president of the CFS Board of Directors.

In order to make the CFS as inclusive as possible, the school calculates tuition on a sliding-scale based on the family’s total income. According to the school website, the minimum tuition is $3,500 for pre-K and $1,500 for grades K-8. The school also offers a 50 percent sibling discount for all children after the first child is enrolled.

As spaces are limited, all interested families are encouraged to apply soon. To learn more about the school’s teachers, program and curriculum, an information session will be held on campus on July 14 and on Aug. 11, from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. More details about the admission process, the school, and tuition is available on the school website https://chicagofreeschool.org/admissions/. Anyone who cannot attend an information session but would like a tour of the school should email admissions@chicagofreeschool.org.