Class sizes across Community Unit Community Unit District 300 are nearing capacity, stretching resources and teachers' nerves. But the initiative of one parent has become a boon for a Liberty Elementary School teacher and her 31 kindergarten students.
When Cameron Monti signed his son, Caden, up for the school's dual language program, the Carpentersville resident was told seating would be limited to 18 students. At orientation, however, that number swelled to 31.
"If they had told us the class would be 31, that would have had an impact on our initial decision, Monti said. "I thought, 'There's got to be a solution here. Let's be creative.'
That led Monti to contact Kristen Stombres, an associate professor of elementary education at Judson University. Monti said he figured college students were always on the lookout for opportunities to gain experience and pad their resumes.
His hunch was spot on. One such student was Kristen Semrich, a 26-year-old elementary education student who had recently transferred from Elgin Community College. Part of the practicum at Judson involves spending 47 hours in a diverse classroom.
"You can't get much more diverse than this, said Semrich, as she helped a table of students complete a worksheet teaching students words beginning with the letter M.
Imelda Collazo, who has taught the dual language kindergarten class since the program was introduced three years ago, said this year's enrollment is the largest she has taught. Handling a class of 31 would have been difficult without the assistance, she said.
"It is a big hand; a big help, Collazo said. "I can stay with one group to help them and she helps the others with independent work and keeps them on task. It would have been very hard without it.
Another Judson University student, Rachelle Johnston, also is completing practicum hours in the classroom.
Students in the class are immersed in Spanish language for about 90 percent of their school day. Half of the students are native Spanish speakers, the other half are native English speakers. As the students progress through elementary school, the balance of English and Spanish adjusts until students are taught equally in both languages in the fifth grade.
"I have been here for almost a month and it is amazing to see how quickly the kids pick it up, said Semrich, who spends Thursday and Friday mornings in the classroom. "I am not fluent in Spanish; I know some basic words. But what I don't know, they correct me on.
And the students enjoy having Semrich in their classroom.
"She helps me with my work and she's fun, said Annelise Warren, 5, from Algonquin. "I like learning Spanish.