Two photos of the same person as a kindergartener and as an eighth grader standing or sitting on the stairs of a school

From Chicago Friends School to High School: One Parent’s Perspective

[A guest post written by the parent of a graduate from Chicago Friends School’s class of 2022.]

It’s “afternoon pick-up” time on a sunny, autumn day. I scan the crowd as more than a thousand teens stream out of the three-story, 210,000 square foot building. A loud “thunk” announces our high schooler’s arrival as he swings his massive backpack into the back seat of the car and then joins me up front. If I’m lucky, he might be in a talkative mood and I’ll hear a little bit about what he is studying—exploitative capitalist practices in 1890s Latin America (World Studies) or imaginary numbers in math class. Most days, though, he seems grateful for a quiet, “chill” ride home after a long day of learning.

A year ago, Luke was an 8th grader at Chicago Friends School. We were just beginning the Chicago Public Schools high school application season and were up to our ears in school tours, open houses and reading online reviews. As a parent, I found the process daunting. On top of compulsively researching high school options, I found myself awash in questions like “How will Luke adjust to such a BIG school when he has spent his whole life at such a small school?” or “How will Luke handle the homework load?” and “Will he make friends and find ‘his people’?”

Luke is now a full quarter into his first year of high school. Yes, the classes are huge—some with as many as 35 students! We’re still deciphering the “block schedule” system the school uses, and Luke misses daily, in-person interactions with his CFS friends; lasting friendships formed over his nine years at CFS. Nonetheless, Luke is thriving in high school—and we attribute much of his success to the excellent foundation he received at Chicago Friends School.

Chicago Friends School gave Luke a safe environment where he could be himself, grow, learn, play, create and take risks. At CFS, teachers expertly guide students in a spirit of inquiry and wonder. What a joy it was to witness Luke’s love of learning and intellectual confidence grow from year to year! More than anything, though, it was CFS’s emphasis on character development that made all the difference.

Values of peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality and service are the heart of Chicago Friends School. During his time at CFS, Luke learned how to treat others. He learned to recognize the inherent and unique worth/light of every person as a given, and that we must work to make the world a place of welcome and belonging for all. At CFS, Luke learned what true friendship looks like and the importance of a supportive, positive peer group. And through years of weekly community meetings, Luke learned to focus and listen for the still, small voice within.

Nine years (K-8) of being steeped in the Quaker-yet-universal values of peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality and service gave Luke the ability to approach high school with confidence, curiosity and optimism rather than fear. Thanks to his time at Chicago Friends School, Luke is diving into high school equipped not only with an excellent academic foundation and supportive community, but also a strong moral compass, secure sense of self and the confidence to tackle the challenges that will inevitably come his way.

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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.