District 116 seeking top young students for academic competition

 
 
Updated 9/14/2016 9:20 AM
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  • Ana Fuhrer, left, Round Lake Area Unit District 116's assistant superintendent of elementary teaching and learning, speaks about a new academic enrichment program Monday night. She's accompanied by District 116 elementary teaching and learning coordinator Melanie Lanni.

      Ana Fuhrer, left, Round Lake Area Unit District 116's assistant superintendent of elementary teaching and learning, speaks about a new academic enrichment program Monday night. She's accompanied by District 116 elementary teaching and learning coordinator Melanie Lanni. Bob Susnjara | Staff Photographer

A quote in this story from District 116 board member Annette Negrete McGinley should have been attributed to board member Lori Berdenis.

Round Lake Area Unit District 116 is ready to start a new team competition program designed to encourage high-achieving elementary school students as part of a goal to beef up academics.

Under Round Lake Elementary Scholars, qualifying fourth- and fifth-grade students will get a chance to represent District 116 in academic competitions against other school systems with similar programs.

District 116 board member Lori Berdenis said she likes that the program should result in getting some students off their mobile devices after school and working together on academics. She said improved personal communication skills the young students are expected to gain could stick with them.

"You see the kids with their cellphones in their hand," Berdenis said after a Monday presentation on the initiative. "All the kids are on the corner and they're not talking, they're not doing anything. They're just watching their phone."

Fourth- and fifth-grade students performing at the 70th percentile in reading and math will be eligible for the program that'll be linked to the Destination Imagination Inc. nonprofit education organization. Destination Imagination specializes in academic challenges in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

District 116's Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Teaching and Learning, Ana Fuhrer, said the highly selective elementary scholars initiative will benefit students through experiences in leadership, teamwork, conflict resolution, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. She said it's part of the district's strategic plan to boost academic achievement.

Teams of students will select themed academic challenges, such as scientific and fine arts. For example, a scientific challenge this year might be to research and apply methods from cryptography and steganography to reveal secret messages.

Participating students from District 116's five elementary buildings will be given opportunities to go on cultural experience trips or college visits as part of the program, Fuhrer said.

It will all lead to teams being in a District 116 showcase event, then a regional Destination Imagination academic competition March 4 at Viking Middle School in Gurnee.

"The team competition experience is unique," Fuhrer said, "and our students really need to experience the academic competition. What we have is sports. And I think that this side of things will bring opportunities for all students to celebrate the academic gains that our students are making. It'll also be wonderful for other students to see and cheer their teammates on, and also their peers to see that we're celebrating their academic gains."

Superintendent Constance Collins said she's "excited" to see where the initiative goes this year nd beyond. After invitations are extended to students, the district will host a parent information night at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, in Round Lake High School's theater.

Officials estimate the program will cost the district about $16,500 annually. The private Round Lake Area Schools Education Foundation has contributed $3,500 to pay for this year's college and cultural trips.

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