After graduating from Morgan Park Academy, kindergarten teacher Paula Cuadros ’87 earned an undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies at Carleton College, an M.A. in social science at the University of Chicago, and an M.S. in Elementary Education at Northwestern University.
Mrs. Cuadros taught kindergarten for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools before working as a stay-at-home parent. Upon resuming her teaching career, she taught 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds and worked as a school librarian before joining the MPA faculty this fall.
Why did you choose to return to MPA as a teacher?
Once my youngest child was settled in school and I was ready to return to teaching full-time, I knew that MPA would be a great place to do that. The small class sizes mean teachers have a better opportunity to connect to students. The ability to create a true relationship with students and families is essential to teaching and learning.
Kindergarten teacher Erin McDuffie joins Morgan Park Academy this fall after teaching in public schools in both Chicago and Boston and working as an ESL teacher in a public charter school for refugee and immigrant children in Columbus, Ohio.
In 2011, she received the Rochelle Lee Boundless Readers Individual Award, and the following year, she participated in the Fulbright Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for Sustainable Development.
She holds a B.A. in sociology and political science from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Education degree in elementary education from Boston College.
Why did you choose to work at Morgan Park Academy?
Initially I came to MPA as a prospective parent. I fell in love with the small class sizes, the student body diversity, the child-centered, developmentally appropriate curriculum, and the strong sense of community. During my admissions tour, I kept thinking, “What a wonderful place to learn!” When I saw the job posting for what became my position, I thought, “What an even better place to teach!” I feel so lucky to be joining the MPA community as both a parent and a teacher.
Most parents begin asking this question as their child approaches the age of 5. This is one of the first questions that parents ask at admission events and it can cause unwarranted anxiety and worry. Due to the focus (or over-focus) on common core standards and standardized testing in many schools, parents often think children need to enter Kindergarten knowing how to read and write. You may have even heard that “Kindergarten is the new First Grade.” While it may be true that the Kindergarten curriculum has become more academic, educators still recognize that students enter Kindergarten from a wide variety of experiences and settings. Therefore, expecting them to know and to be able to do the same things as one another doesn’t make sense.
At Morgan Park Academy, we do not believe in a rote, strictly skills process for admittance into Kindergarten. Instead, we conduct an assessment screening that determines if a child is developmentally and emotionally ready for school. In addition, we offer a play date experience to further observe a child’s social interactions with same-age peers. So, what does Kindergarten readiness look like?
Here is a basic checklist with a few questions within developmental areas that help determine a child’s success in school:
- Social/Emotional Skills: Does your child…
- Share and take turns?
- Get along with peers?
- Initiate social interactions with peers and adults?
- Separate from adults without anxiety?
- Handle emotions and possess coping strategies?
- Participate in group activities?
- Intellectual Skills: Does your child…
- Think logically?
- Sit still and listen to a story or group activity?
- Follow simple directions?
- Possess a solid oral vocabulary and the ability to express themselves?
- Express creativity in thought and play?
- Self-sufficiency: Is your child able to…
- Put own coat and shoes on?
- Use the restroom independently?
- Hang up and pack/unpack belongings?
- Ask for help if needed?
- Express the desire to be independent?
- Interest in learning: Is your child…
- Curious about the surrounding environment?
- Able to persevere when faced with difficulty?
- Excited about learning and school?
- Physical Development: Does your child…
- Exhibit sufficient stamina for a full-day program with many transitions?
- Walk up/down stairs?
- Enjoy playing at the playground?
- Participate in gross motor activities such as jumping, throwing a ball, hopping, running, etc.?
- Have experience with basic cutting, drawing, and other fine motor skills?
You may see your child as having strengths in some areas of development, but challenges in others. This is not uncommon. A good Kindergarten curriculum provides support in all developmental areas based on the individual needs of each student.
So, what is your role as a parent in preparing your child for Kindergarten? Read, read, read with your child for pleasure! Play games together. Spend time outdoors. Enroll your child in group activities with same-age peers. And lastly, don’t stress!
By Kari Misulonas
Ms. Misulonas is our Early Childhood Curriculum Leader &
Director of Student Support Services.