A private school with a public agenda

We are proud of our urban setting in the heart of Chicago, a large diverse metropolis. We plan our curriculum to offer students opportunities to actively participate in the school community as well as the broader world. We believe one of the hallmarks of a first-rate education is the capacity to understand complex questions and issues through a schema that incorporates multiple perspectives.

How do we accomplish this? On a fundamental level, it begins with the way we teach. We continually help students attempt to walk in someone else’s shoes and consider a problem from a new vantage point through the questions we pose, the voices we listen to and the complex variables we consider.

Lower and Intermediate School

There are many opportunities for the development of relationships across grades in a JK–12 school. The whole community comes together in the auditorium or gym to share experiences throughout the year, and frequently, JK–5th graders share classroom activities with each other. Students also interact with each other across grade levels formally and informally.

Teachers contact each other throughout the year with opportunities for meaningful connections: Senior Kindergarteners exploring planes and levers with blocks may meet with Upper School physics students, or 2nd graders learning to listen and respond in book clubs may observe older students discussing a novel. Adults from around the building visit classrooms to share a story and tell the students about themselves. Classes establish “buddy” relationships with other grades to read together, play games or run around outside. Each senior serves as a Big Brother or Sister to a class in JK–8th grade, visiting monthly during a Morning Ex and spending time as their schedules permit. Seniors help their younger counterparts with lessons, play games and talk. It is always a joy to observe a younger student encountering a Big Brother or Sister in the hallways, witnessing their comfort and delight as they approach their older friends with confidence. Through the community service project, K-Walking, 4th graders walk Junior and Senior Kindergarteners from their cars on Webster Avenue to their classrooms, providing safe passage as well as meaningful interactions that help the youngsters transition smoothly into their school day. Parker is an environment that seeks to establish a sense of community among all members, regardless of their age or location in the building.

Middle School

The Middle School Community Service program gives Parker students the opportunity to learn about themselves by working in different neighborhoods and institutions. Students organize activities, provide assistance and discover and implement solutions to real-life problems. As a result, they can strengthen their self-esteem, solidify their capacity to feel empathy for others and deepen their understanding of what it means to be responsible citizens in a democratic society.

Guided by faculty and parent co-facilitators, each small group spends eight mornings during the year working at an agency or on a project. Although the program primarily provides students with learning outside of school, the classroom is not abandoned. In conjunction with their on-site learning, students read articles, see films and participate in other projects appropriate to the service they are providing.

One of the themes of community service is helping Middle School students move beyond the familiar, to encourage them to explore new situations and encounter a variety of people with open minds and hearts. The hope is that this will encourage them to grow as empathetic human beings who can understand the world from more than one perspective.

Most important, students talk about their thoughts and feelings regarding activities at their sites. By encouraging students to reflect on their experiences through journal writing, we help them better understand themselves and their relationships to society. These journals are included in student portfolios and passed on from one year to the next.

Community Service is vital: not a single day should be missed. If a student misses a visitation morning, he/she will stay home the remainder of the day. 

Upper School

Guiding students’ civic development by engaging the principles of Parker’s mission, the Upper School Community Connections program aims to help students learn about and play a direct role in social justice work around the city through diverse experiences and ongoing reflection and dialogue. Community Connections is not community service. While fieldwork days may include a service component, the focus is not on accomplishing a particular task or affecting a change in the life of a particular person. Rather, the focus is on learning what civic commitment looks like in action.

Below is an overview of the Community Connections work groups have engaged in.

Ninth grade students work with their science and history classes to explore social and environmental responsibility at local and global levels. Through partnerships with local organizations and ongoing participation in the Pulitzer Gateway Program, students learn about and practice sustainability and social responsibility. This interdisciplinary environmental and civic educational program comprises field trips to schools, urban farms, nature centers and preserves and other places. This year, students have helped clean up the Chicago River and learned about mulching, composting, recycling, alternative energy and transportation, community gardening, aquaponics and more!

The 10th grade Community Connections program focuses on building relationships among Parker students and students from different schools in the Chicago area. There is a strong commitment to making sure the partnership has reciprocal benefits for students in both schools. Students, faculty and staff have engaged with their peers on a variety of projects at Islamic Foundation School, North Lawndale College Prep and Orr Academy.

Eleventh grade Community Connections curriculum is connected to U.S. History and American Literature classes and provides students with the opportunity to explore a single issue over the course of a year through research, discussion, action and reflection. Students learn about a chosen social issue in issue-based groups led by their teachers, then connect with organizations and groups advocating for change relative to that issue. One group recently visited the Broadway Youth Center, an organization that serves a large transgender and homeless youth population. Another group focusing on immigration spent the morning sitting in detention court to witness the trials of those currently detained for immigration-related issues. A group working with Parents Allied with Children and Teachers for Tomorrow (PACTT), a learning center aiming to discover the best ways to connect with autistic individuals to help them become as independent as possible, has been reflecting upon the story and persona of Helen Keller as a powerful social justice advocate. A group investigating homelessness recently spent a morning working at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter. Students interested in raising awareness of veterans’ issues coordinated a panel discussion and art show entitled “Parker After the War: The Legacy of Trauma.” Students taking a close look at the relationship of the war on drugs to the prison industrial complex recently attended the exhibit "Black/Inside: A History of Captivity and Confinement in the United States." Eleventh grade student leaders also recently hosted their annual Civil Disobedience assembly with special guest speaker Rabbi Brant Rosen.

Twelfth grade students have been engaged in their independent colloquium projects since the beginning of the year, partnering with community organizations as volunteers and interns and reflecting upon their experience. These students spend their fieldwork days in workshops with guest speakers to help support their individual work and growth as engaged justice-minded young adults. Most recently, 12th grade students participated in a workshop run by the Chicago Freedom School entitled “Civic Engagement through Chicago History.”

Through their work in Community Connections, Upper School students form partnerships that foster multicultural connections and increase democratic learning opportunities for our students and students at other schools.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.