Navigating the Champaign Kindergarten Process with the Pridemores, Part II
EDITOR’S NOTE: We will be following the Pridemores’ journey through the Champaign Unit 4 Schools kindergarten registration process. If you want general information about the Champaign kindergarten process and timelines, visit our overview for 2019 HERE.
For the first installment of this series, GO HERE.
By Melanie Pridemore
As we transitioned from the research phase of the Champaign Unit 4 Schools of Choice process into the school tours/open house phase, I can say (honestly) that we are still enjoying the school of choice journey. When you read all about the schools, you get a picture in your head of what they might be like and it’s fun to get to actually go into the schools, look around, and meet some of the staff.
My wife, Jen, and I didn’t really have any expectations of what the tours would be like, but we left each one feeling good about the possibilities.
The first school we got a chance to see was Westview Elementary. Upon entry, we were immediately greeted by Mr. Swords; the super friendly principal. After introducing himself to us, he got right down on my son Ethan’s level and introduced himself. He also took the time to greet my 2-year-old son Andrew who tagged along for the tour. Mr. Swords encouraged us to look around the school, visit the kindergarten classrooms, and to let him know if we had any questions.
As we made our way down the hallway to the kindergarten rooms, Ethan was so happy and excited to finally be looking at one the “big boy schools” that we had been talking about.
We visited the kindergarten classrooms and automatically liked how they were arranged with the class area, the cubbies, and easy access to restrooms (can’t underrate that for small children). Andrew and Ethan played while Jen and I talked with the teachers about class size and looked at the daily schedule that the kids follow.
One thing that I thought was neat on the evening we visited was that they had decorations up for Chinese New Year. Diversity and inclusion are important to us and it’s always nice to see that it is valued in the Champaign schools as well. This was reinforced to us when we were headed out from our tour; Mr. Swords showed us the cafeteria where the school proudly displays flags from all the countries that have been represented by students and staff at the school.
With our work schedules, Jen and I were not able to make the other evening tours, or the morning tours that are offered, so we sent emails to Robeson, Carrie Busey, and Dr. Howard to inquire about seeing the schools on alternative dates. Those were the schools on our list that we had never been in so we wanted to make those a priority to visit. I heard back immediately from Jessica Pitcher (Principal at Robeson Elementary) and we set up a time to visit the school following a PTA meeting.
Mrs. Pitcher met us at the front doors and gave us a 1:1 tour of the school, which I found to be really thoughtful (at 7pm at night). She let us see a kindergarten classroom, the gym, the art classes, and encouraged Ethan to (literally) run in the halls to get a feel for the place.
We asked Mrs. Pitcher a lot of the same questions we asked at Westview (e.g. class sizes, schedules). When I asked her about the focus on diversity, she said that inclusion really is a value of all of the Champaign schools and I thought that was really great to hear!
We talked about how the school of choice process can feel intense (in terms of getting your heart set on a certain school), she said that no matter where Ethan ends up he will be in good hands and will have a great experience. To me, that was wonderful to hear.
The last school that we were able to visit was Dr. Howard. Jen had an opportunity in her work schedule to see the school during the school day. She said it was nice to see the school while classes were in session and kids were present.
One of the notable things about Dr. Howard is that it is currently in a temporary location while a brand new school is building built. That school will open in 2020 so we know that if Ethan were to get into Dr. Howard, he would be in the temporary location for kindergarten and then would move to the new school after that. To Jen and I, the temporary location was not a deterrent.
When I asked Jen what was notable about her visit to Dr. Howard, she told me that the diversity focus, classroom size, and daily schedule was similar to the other schools. She said the staff spoke specifically about their “responsive classroom” environment; where the teachers attempt to create an environment that responds to all of the children’s needs (academic, emotional, physical) so that the “child can do his or her best learning.”
As a parent, it’s great to know that a school will do it’s best to meet the specific needs that your child may have.
As we near the conclusion of all of our research and our school tours, we feel good about all the potential schools for Ethan.
Our next step will be submitting an application and our final five schools are: 1) Westview 2) Robeson 3) Carrie Busey 4) Dr. Howard 5) Bottenfield
I feel like waiting for our letter in the mail will be like a blast from the past of when I applied to college and eagerly awaited an acceptance letter. We will see what happens!
Melanie Pridemore is a certified coach and trainer and owner of 6 Dimensions. She lives in Champaign with her wife and two sons.
Want to read the previous journeys of parents going through the Unit 4 process? Here’s links to our archives.
The Bakers (2018): Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3
The Croops (2017): Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, Installment 4
The Blakemans (2016): Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4