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Choosing a Chicago Friends School education: Your future self will thank you

[A guest post written by the parent of a graduate from Chicago Friends School’s class of 2023.]

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over nine years since Chicago Friends School entered our lives. Our then pre-K student wanted a small class size where he would have freedom to play and explore. We wanted a place that would allow him to grow and learn, and thrive at his own pace. Little did we know all those years ago, we would get all that and so much more!

Fast forward to eighth grade graduation: Our son wrote a graduation speech with advice to the younger students, telling them all they should do today so that their future selves would thank them (plan ahead, get rest, do their homework, etc.). It got me thinking: What wisdom have we gained, as the family of a CFS graduate, that we could share with other families enrolled at or considering Chicago Friends School?

We realize now that many of the things we love most about Chicago Friends School come from the way the school leads with its values. CFS helps shape good humans–young people who are curious, caring, excited about learning, and motivated to make the world a more peaceful, inclusive, and equitable place. Having these as guiding principles makes the educational piece a more natural way of learning. Inquisitive minds want to know, right? The academic rigor is absolutely there as a common thread within every value, but the values themselves are treated with equal importance.

The qualities we ended up valuing the most about CFS were not the ones we originally expected when choosing a school. So let’s look at those values, and examples of what we’ve learned from each one:

Simplicity: The opportunity to learn hands-on about leading a sustainable life can teach you something new at any age. Each year, students at CFS take on responsibilities for supporting the school’s composting initiative. As a K-2 student, our son adopted the worms used for composting over the summer months. Today, he voluntarily leads our compost efforts for the family. He is responsible for taking out our compost bin weekly, and can also educate others about which materials are recyclable, and why. It seems like a simple concept, but has actually taught him so much about physics/science, as well as the environment. (Did you know that a 9-pound cat won’t squish an entire bin of composting worms?)

Peace: Our son learned how to approach conflict resolution. The students signed peace contracts with one another at an early age, learned how to discuss and resolve their issues together, and were given time and space to think through complex conflicts in a safe, supportive environment. He brought those lessons home, and taught us how to reflect versus deflect.

Integrity: We see in our son the basics of integrity–being honest and up front, and owning when something doesn’t go as planned. Having rules in place helped provide him structure, developed his ability to know what was right and wrong, and gave him skills for moving forward with positive intent.

Community: CFS has community potlucks across all ages, and buddies in other grades that work together for student government, reading, and special projects. Outside the school, students spend time visiting seniors at the Admiral on the Lake, a neighborhood retirement community. Our son is now comfortable speaking to adults and kids alike– even working as a junior counselor for little kids, and volunteering at a food depository.

Equality: Recognizing and accommodating diversity is so much a part of CFS culture, it is simply part of what students do every day in community, and is embraced. This is different from what some might imagine from a small, private-school “bubble.” No matter how someone identifies, or what their family may look like, at CFS they are welcomed and invited to be their authentic selves, reflecting the great, diverse city we live in.

Stewardship: The school engages in eco-friendly activities like cleaning the beaches, or encouraging the use of bikes or public transit. Our son can definitely tell you how to get anywhere in the Chicagoland area–being mindful of friendly bike paths, or using the CTA/Metra or PACE system. That knowledge and personal interest even helped him get to school on time each day when he was old enough to commute independently. All-school service days twice a year encouraged him to recognize and respond to needs in the community. For his seventh-grade service project, he hosted a bake sale, raising funds to stock the school’s first aid supplies.

Whether a decision is big or small, it’s not always easy to know in the moment whether you’re making the right choice. Sometimes you have to listen to your instincts, imagine the impact, and trust that your future self will thank you.

We can now look back and confidently thank our earlier selves for choosing Chicago Friends School. The long-term value of a Chicago Friends School education will continue to make our son thrive as he enters Northside College Prep, one of the most rigorous high schools in the city. With the foundational learning that has guided him over the past nine years, we know he is now prepared to start new adventures.

So, what are our words of wisdom? Do something today that your future self will thank you for. Whether you’re a current family or a prospective one: Choose to learn more, to trust more, and to get more involved. Choose to just “be” more, and to embrace everything that Chicago Friends School offers, in the way that makes the best sense for your family.

Your future self will thank you.

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Karen Carney

is the head of school. Karen’s career demonstrates a rich and diverse set of skills: project oversight, curriculum development, educator training and mentoring, and classroom instruction. Prior to coming to Chicago Friends School, she worked as a senior specialist in science curriculum for American Institutes for Research. Before this, she oversaw educational programming at the Adler Planetarium, first as its director of education and then as associate vice president for visitor experience and learning. She has also worked in instruction and teacher development at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Learning Sciences Research Institute and has authored more than 20 scholarly papers, book chapters, and conference presentations.

Karen is an active, dedicated Friend (Quaker) and has held various leadership positions at the Evanston Friends Meeting. She enjoys baking, cooking, and painting and is a member of the Playmation improv comedy team.