Standing at the podium at graduation, one LEARN 6 eighth grader Farhan explained, “Being a military child, I try not to get too close to my friends—with the idea of moving looming over my head. But at LEARN, you can’t help but feel like LEARN is your second family.”
Eighth grade graduation is a critical milestone for the 500 K-8 students educated at LEARN 6 Campus in North Chicago, Illinois. Serving military-connected students from the Naval Station Great Lakes and civilian students from North Chicago, the school works very hard to ensure all students are immediately welcomed into the LEARN family.
The school community works very intentionally to support the unique needs of military students. Nicole Wiese, English Language Coordinator at LEARN 6, served in the Navy and understands the impact a high-quality elementary school can have on a child and family. “We do a really good job of understanding what military families experience with transition,” explains Nicole. “We use a program called Responsive Classroom, where every morning classrooms conduct a morning meeting where students greet each other, share information about themselves, participate in an activity, and share a morning message. It really helps military students transitioning to LEARN feel like part of the classroom from day one.”
LEARN 6 Principal Kelly Tyson has developed a school model that strives to meet the needs of all children. “We departmentalize so teachers know their subjects inside and out and can dig really deeply,” notes Tyson. “All of our students, but especially our military students, come in with what we call ‘splinter skills.’ Because military students have attended many schools, some students may have missed curriculum or have repeated curriculum. Our teachers are very experienced at personalization and are highly skilled educators in their subject matters.”
Teachers at LEARN 6 also loop with their students for two to four years. “Looping is a practice that minimizes the level of transition students experience while at LEARN 6. We feel it is beneficial for a student to work with the same teacher for the duration of their time at the school. The student and family really get to know the teacher, and it’s one less transition our students have to make.”
What happens after LEARN is also critical for military students. LEARN employs a high school placement coordinator who works with middle school families on identifying and placing students into high-quality high schools. For military students, it might be working with the family on identifying boarding schools so students can remain in the same school for four years. The high school placement coordinator also helps military families identify high schools out of state in a new community where they are moving. And the program works: The graduating class of 2017 earned over $600,000 in scholarships to attend college prep high schools across the country.
The school also hosts a variety of events celebrating the military child. In April—Military Child Month—LEARN 6 hosts a special assembly where military students share their experiences with all LEARN scholars. As Tyson explains, “This helps non-military students understand what military students are experiencing. It is amazing what happens when we create a safe, inclusive space for students to open up to each other.”
Partnerships are also very important to LEARN, including a relationship with the Navy’s Fleet and Family Services and the Naval Hospital.
“It’s important for students to get to know servicemen and women. An adult presence in our school is important,” says Wiese. “Working with these organizations helps us build relationships with the military community. We think that’s good for all students in the school – civilian included.”
Everyone at LEARN agrees this school plays a critical role in ensuring all families have access to a high-quality education.
Wiese notes, “We don’t have Department of Defense schools nearby, and it is very daunting when parents are moving to a different community where they are bound to the district schools. We provide a public option that is rigorous, college prep in nature, and where we understand the unique needs of military families. It’s really important to have options.”
Principal Tyson explains, “The sons and daughters of our service people absolutely deserve a high-quality education. It is an honor to serve their children. If the district school is not a good option for their family and if a private option is not feasible, then a charter option on or nearby the base is essential.”
Social worker Tara Sheppard gives each student transitioning out of LEARN 6 a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Thanks to LEARN, these students will go far.