Waukegan D60 preschools earn state honor; 'We work on making … – Chicago Tribune

This preschool student is learning through play. – Original Credit: News-Sun (Waukegan District / HANDOUT)
Teaching preschoolers between 3 and 5 age-appropriate math is giving students skills that are surprising some of their Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 teachers.
Nicole Session, the principal at the district’s Robbie M. Lightfoot Early Learning Center, said educators there give the children usually 30 seconds to look at a picture and then ask each other what they see.
“Children at that age play next to each other, but not necessarily with each other,” Session said. “They’re actually having a discussion and asking each other questions,” she added, describing the interaction after seeing the picture. “It’s amazing what they are doing.”
Session said there are times the obvious image in the picture may be six specific vegetables. Sometimes a student may see the vegetables, but they also notice something else.
“One may notice a tomato in the corner of the picture and say, ‘That’s just like the one we have at home,’” she said.
Two Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 preschool students share a moment. – Original Credit: News-Sun (Waukegan District / HANDOUT)
Teaching preschoolers how to talk to each other, and ask questions of each other as well as their teachers, are a couple of the reasons District 60 earned the Golden Circle of Quality designation from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) earlier this fall, placing it among the state’s best.
“I was elated when we found out,” Session said. “I called someone who retired last year to let them know. That teacher was so happy.”
As part of the ISBE’s Preschool for All program, she said schools are rated periodically. They can be labeled as meeting standards, bronze, silver or gold. Waukegan has earned the top rating in the past.
Cheryl Caesar, the district’s assistant director of the diverse learning department, said the Golden Circle rating covers Lightfoot — which is exclusively a preschool — and the six other elementary schools in the district with preschool programs. This year it is five.
Caesar is also impressed with the children’s response to being taught math by counting the number of items in pictures. It imparts skills beyond counting, and interacting with each other — like asking and answering questions.
“Working with these impressions and asking questions will support them for the rest of their life,” Caesar said. “It’s amazing how the children are buying into this, and learning how to ask questions of each other and their teachers.”
Session said the teachers and classrooms are rated in 15 categories during a visit from an ISBE representative. Though they are watched closely, they strive to exceed the standard all of the time. Every interaction with each student is observed.
“Every interaction we have with the students and their families are assessed,” she said.
All learning in the district’s preschools — literacy, math, reading, motor skill development and more — is done through play. Session said social emotional development is also worked into their activities.
Professional development plays an important role in keeping the preschool program at a high level. Session said activities are held regularly bringing teachers from all the schools together so they can collaborate.
“We talk about the best practices and coach the teachers on those best practices,” Session said.
“We work together to have a high-quality preschool program,” Caesar added. “We work on making our program high-quality because that’s what’s best for the kids.”
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