Meet the Parents! Highlights from the GROW Parent-to-Parent Panel

On October 27, we hosted the GROW Parent-to-Parent Panel and Reception at O’Donovan’s. Prospective parents had the opportunity to hear from current Amundsen High School and Lake View High School parents about their experiences at the two GROW high schools and navigating the transition from elementary to high school.

Thank you to all the prospective parents who attended and especially to our parent panelists: Lake View parents, Peggy Herrington and Amy Smolensky, and Amundsen parents, Lauren Bell and Beneen Prendiville. Missed the event? Read on for discussion highlights!

The Path to Amundsen & Lake View

We’ve always been supportive of the concept of neighborhood schools. I’m not anti-selective enrollment—I just think it’s a flawed system, and it’s very difficult and stressful. In deciding on Lake View, we felt if there’s a great neighborhood option, why wouldn’t we take that path?
— Amy, Lake View Parent
I don’t think we could have predicted how things would have gone so great…We kind of drank the Kool-Aid that the only answer in Chicago was selective, but we’re here to say otherwise. My son is doing well at Lake View. He’s applying to amazing colleges. I am so proud of him.
— Peggy, Lake View Parent
We went and signed up for swimming lessons at Winnemac Park, just so I could sort of spy on Amundsen, because I knew the pool was in Amundsen. This was even before the current principal was there, and there was something about the building that just felt really good. Then the next year, Anna (the current principal) came, and I started getting involved with Friends of Amundsen. So when my oldest was in sixth grade and my youngest was in fourth, I just started telling both of my girls, ‘You guys are Vikings. You guys are Vikings. You guys are Vikings.’
— Beneen, Amundsen Parent
We allowed our son to make the final decision. He did test. He was accepted into Whitney and Amundsen. He’s in the IB program at Amundsen. He’s a very analytical kid so he spent a lot of time really thinking through. I asked him, ‘What’s important to you if you set aside academics and extracurricular options? Because you’ll have access to those regardless of where you go.’ And one of the biggest things for him was that he said he wanted to make good friends, and that was one of the deciding factors in the end. My kids go to Newberry, which is a magnet, for elementary, which we love. Except everybody comes from all over the city, so it’s very hard to get together with kids after school. And that was something that was important to him: to be surrounded by good people and not just be thinking test, test, test, test, test, and top scores.
— Lauren, Amundsen Parent
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The Transition to High School

Open communication is key. High school transition is a big thing. The first thing that I do the first week of school is email every teacher just to introduce myself, tell them that I like open communication. So that starts a dialogue. Also, for freshmen, get to know their counselor right away. They tend to have the same counselor throughout high school, and they’re the ones that are really going to get to know your kids and help them with their post high school track. It’s also great because they’ll help you identify any challenges that your kids are having academically, socially, everything like that.
— Beneen, Amundsen Parent
In his freshman year, my son was a rower at Chicago Rowing Foundation, so he was not staying at school after school. And I think that made a difference. He really didn’t get to know people after school as much. So we talked about that the summer after freshman year, and we thought, ‘You know, why not give it a chance? Maybe join something at school.’ He did. He joined cross country, and he loved it. He met more people. It was really a good experience for him…It’s something that I wish someone told me early on—encourage your children to join clubs, sports, athletics, after school things. Because the more you join up front, you meet people, you decide what is the best fit for you.
— Peggy, Lake View Parent
There’s not been anything that has really been a struggle for him, I think partially because he kind of immersed himself into the experience before he even got there. And just the support that you get walking in the first day from everybody, staff on down. Upper classmen that reach out to the kids as they come in…They really care about each other as students there, and the teachers do, so the whole environment is very conducive to helping them grow into that next phase.
— Lauren, Amundsen Parent
I would recommend for all students to join a club or a sport where you are with kids that are interested in something that you’re interested in. It helps. But I will say, having gone through this two years in a row, the transition to high school takes time for every child no matter what school they go to.
— Amy, Lake View Parent
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Kudos

My son was asked last year, as a student ambassador, to work at a high school fair at North Park Elementary. He was the representative student at the Lake View table. I went, helped set it up, and I stood in the back and watched him. I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ I was so amazed. He was very proud of his school. He was bragging about all the highlights—all the sports, clubs, everything. So he took pride in his school, which as a parent, that makes you feel good, like it’s all working out.
— Peggy, Lake View Parent
I encourage my daughter to be social and get out, but the one thing that I love is that she can walk to school. She can take the bus to school. She can walk to friends’ houses. She can explore nearby neighborhoods—walk to Andersonville, for example—with her friends.
— Beneen, Amundsen Parent
We’ve been completely blown away by the level of academics and the teachers at Lake View. When I went to our first open house, I was really overwhelmed by how well-rounded the teachers were and the deep thinking they were putting into the classes. I was also impressed by how well they knew my child, after just a few weeks into the school year. It was really nice.
— Amy, Lake View Parent
I went to public high school in a suburb of Chicago, and it was diverse in terms of backgrounds but also ability levels. And that’s something that I think is mirrored at Amundsen, as well. That’s one of the things we talked about with my son, too, before he decided: to think about his own experience at Newberry, where kids come from all over the city, and there are all different ability levels. Amundsen is representative of the people of Chicago. And we live in Chicago, so we wanted him to be exposed to the people of Chicago, and of the world.
— Lauren, Amundsen Parent
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Words of Wisdom

You know your kids best. So you know, along with them hopefully, what the best choice will be, no matter what anyone says. And you’re probably going to get a lot of flak if you don’t choose whatever option most people would choose—which we have from people that are very close to us. And we smile and nod and say, ‘He’s doing great, and we’re very happy with our choice.’ And it’s interesting now, the kids in our neighborhood—a lot of them that our kids know—their parents are saying, ‘Oh, your son’s going to Amundsen? Oh, ok.’ And they’re happy to hear this. Now it’s becoming something that they’re thinking about, which is wonderful.
— Lauren, Amundsen Parent
Don’t just go along when a particular school has been labeled good or bad. Every school is good in some ways, and every school has flaws. We don’t need to put all this pressure on ourselves as parents or on our kids to think that these four years are everything. It’s high school—and it’s what you make of it. As long as you know your child is safe and comfortable and has an opportunity to flourish academically and socially, that’s all you really need to think about.
— Amy, Lake View Parent
I tell people all the time when they’re curious about a school, go visit. It’s sort of like when you walk into that home that you’re going to buy—you know it’s your home before you even get out of the first step. You’ll know it’s your school. The other thing is, challenge stereotypes. I have people still say, to this day, ‘Well, what about safety?’ And I question, ‘Well, what do you mean? What did you hear? What do you think?’ Don’t assume that everybody really knows what’s going on. And they’ll say things like, ‘Well, there’s a police car outside.’ My response is, there’s a police car outside of every high school in Chicago. A lot of people don’t realize these things.
— Beneen, Amundsen Parent
I think you guys already know this, but it just helps: Talk to other parents like us who have kids in neighborhood schools. Ask whatever questions. Reach out. Call the school if you want to talk to teachers at the school. At Lake View, our teachers are wonderful. They’ll sit down with you. They’ll meet with you if you have questions.
— Peggy, Lake View Parent

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