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posted: 6/21/2014 5:01 AM

Elgin charter school enhances children's learning

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As an educator, a grandmother and a citizen of Elgin Area School District U-46, I enthusiastically support the Elgin Math and Science Charter School.

Throughout a 43-year career of teaching at several public universities, I have found that my students responded best, and learned most, when they had the opportunity to engage the target subject experientially. Such experiences are even more important for middle schoolers. The Elgin school's emphasis on experiential learning promises to foster a community of engaged students, teachers, parents and administrators.

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It took me a while to come to this conclusion. I used to think that charter schools inevitably and invariably weaken public school systems. Then I read about a 2007 study by the nonpartisan Civic Federation that concluded Illinois charter schools have not imposed an undue financial burden on host districts. Nor do these schools necessarily attract high-achieving students away from district public schools.

Rather, charter schools attract persons who are interested in their charter: the Elgin initiative specifically promises experiential learning in math and science. Its design committee members have a track record of understanding the situations they take on, doing their homework, and expending the energy required to see the project through. What I've seen of the proposed curriculum is impressive.

Finally, as a grandmother, I've watched my grandchildren (who live in other districts) thrive in hands-on programs in their charter schools. Composing a radio program for a history fair, producing a video World War II memorial, or actually publishing a poem has produced for them a kind of learning that lasts beyond a two-week "unit."

Patricia Harkin

Professor emerita Departments of Communication and English

University of Illinois at Chicago

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