It’s shortly after 11 a.m. on a typical Wednesday, and a seven-year-old special needs student (let’s call her Judy) is participating in a series of 12-minute exercises in the school library at the Hope Institute Learning Academy (HILA) on the near west side of Chicago.
Students at The Hope Institute
There’s nothing much unusual about the drills, which include letters (say “G-A-T-E” to show that you recognize the word “gate”), silent reading, math, writing and computers.
But what is extraordinary is that Judy’s five-year-old brother Mark (not their real names), who is not a special needs student, is simultaneously attending kindergarten at the same school.
Mark is part of the “Chipmunk” class at HILA, where each class adopts a common animal’s name (Judy is in the Kangaroos) in order to teach children about those creatures – and hopefully convince them to adopt some of the animals’ better characteristics. (Chipmunks, for example, are supposed to sneak quietly through the hallways, and puff up their cheeks instead of yelling).
Special needs students attend along with siblings
HILA, which is in the second year of a unique partnership with Pearson, believes in having special needs students and their siblings attend the same school rather than being segregated. About 75 of the school’s 350 students have special needs, including for some a lack of motoring skills, and more than a third of the special needs students have siblings who also attend HILA – which helps boost involvement by those siblings and their parents.
“We know that one of the principal predictors of educational success is parental engagement,” says Dr. Joseph E. Nyre, president and chief executive of the Hope Institute for Children and Families, which altogether serves 29,000 kids in Illinois. “If their children are going to three different schools that engagement is weakened” – because parents are less familiar with the school’s routines, and have less time to focus on their kids’ education due to time spent ferrying children around different schools.
“I’ve developed a really good relationship with the family,” says Jamie Kiefaber, teacher of Mark’s Chipmunk class. “They really know the homework routine, so it definitely helps.”
The integration of special needs students and their siblings is just one special feature of HILA, a “contract” school that is part of the Chicago public school system but is operated by the Hope Institute, a Springfield, Illinois-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping all learners reach their full potential.
HILA utilises an approach it calls the Maximum Benefit Model, which uses assessment and other data to support individualized learning regardless of students’ cognitive abilities, socioeconomic background or learning style.
'A model for inclusion'
“What makes HILA different from other schools that I’ve looked at is the fact that they are a model for inclusion,” says Debra Islam, the parent of a HILA student.
Given HILA’s mission, which fits Pearson’s approach to personalized learning, Pearson in 2008 struck a public-private partnership with Hope Institute, selecting HILA as a Pearson model school for innovation.
Under this partnership, Pearson donated products and services to help HILA open its doors to grades K-3 in September 2009, initially serving about 200 students with 58 teachers and support staff. HILA expanded to K-4 this school year, and plans to expand further to K-5 in the autumn of 2010.
The beige-bricked school building dates back to 1908. It was a special-needs-only school, but had been closed for several years before it was extensively renovated and reopened as HILA.
Among Pearson products donated are all reading curriculum for grades K-4; the enVisionMATH digital mathematics programme; Penguin books for the library (including The Big Book of Things That Go from Dorling Kindersley); Making Music, Pearson’s music learning activities for grades pre-K through 8; the AIMSWeb progress monitoring system; reading diagnostic assessments; numerous clinical assessment tools, and various bilingual materials in English and Spanish.
Pearson also helps HILA make the most of the materials.
“We help them with professional development services, on the best ways to put all these materials together, and we train people on the technology,” says Pat McHugh, Pearson’s vice president for Illinois, where about 1,000 people work in Pearson offices in the Chicago suburb of Glenview.
'Pearson is a true partner'
More than a dozen Glenview employees, clad in blue Pearson T-shirts, volunteered their time in the summer of 2009 to help HILA staff unpack books and clean up a courtyard in advance of HILA’s first day of school. A Pearson volunteering program continues, including the teaching and mentoring of HILA students.
“Many of our staff are former teachers,” says Mr. McHugh, so they know the challenges faced by HILA and its staff. “I had Pearson people say: ‘Let me know what I can do, even if it’s sweeping floors or copying papers or teaching a class.’”
In her third-grade class this particular Wednesday, Zebra class teacher Monica White is using a video from Reading Street, Pearson’s reading instruction program for grades pre-K through 6, along with the Penguin children’s book What About Me? by Ed White. Today’s lesson: the concept of “trading.”
Ms. White introduces “amazing words” such as “barter” and “peddler,” and later divides her class into seven teams (pink, purple, orange and the like) for a game, asking them to name some examples of things you can trade. The answers come fast and furious: “candy” … “baseball cards” … “marbles” … and “toys,” among others.
HILA serves as a demonstration school for Pearson, so other schools in metropolitan Chicago can observe how Reading Street, enVisionMATH and other Pearson products in action.
“Pearson is a true partner,” says Dr. Nyre. “This partnership is really advancing what a contract school should be about. It’s about how a private organization links up with a school to improve results.”