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Nettelhorst Elementary School

Nettelhorst Elementary School is an International Fine & Performing Arts Program site and one of the first community schools in the district. The school serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and received the state's Academic Improvement Award for exceptional improvement in student achievement. In 2008, Nettelhorst students met or exceeded state standards in all tested subjects. Through partnerships with the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, DePaul University and the Erickson Institute, Nettelhorst often acts as a training ground for student teachers and benefits from the latest university research in effective instruction and teacher development. A local school council governs Nettelhorst, and the Nettelhorst Community Group (the school’s fundraising and volunteer arm) supports the school. As a reflection of its community support, Nettelhorst was one of 10 schools receiving the most community votes in a U.S. Cellular competition and was awarded a $100,000 prize in March 2010.

At Nettelhorst, fine arts components are integrated into core subjects, and the school’s interior and exterior feature colorful installations by local artists. These include restored Works Progress Administration murals and the Solar Needle, a sculpture that traces a figure-eight of shadows throughout the year on the ground beneath it. The school's student population is highly diverse; every year, the school holds an International Festival for which each class puts together a performance to celebrate a different culture.

It’s "a very special school," says John Sullivan, a fifth-grade teacher who has worked there for 11 years. While the dedication of the teachers and the support of the administration contribute to Nettelhorst's success, Sullivan can’t seem to say enough about one crucial element of making any school great: parental involvement. "Parents do a lot of things from fundraising to keeping people informed," he says. Parents also coordinate a volunteer program in which they ask every parent to donate a minimum of 10 hours of community service to the school each year. For example, some parents choose to sort books in the library, help teachers with classroom newsletters or provide an extra pair of eyes on the playground.

Nettelhorst is also home to Jane’s Place, a community center offering early childhood education and after-school enrichment opportunities for students. The center includes a three-story art facility and offers classes taught by instructors from the Emerald City Theatre, Mad Science, Chess Wizards, Spanish Fantastico, H.M.D. Academy of Tae Kwon Do, the Lakeview Athletic Club, Lill Street and Hoops the Gym.

Recently, renowned interior designer Nate Berkus completely renovated Nettelhorst’s kitchen and equipped it with new appliances, cookware and utensils. Now, cooking instructors are considering whether to extend classes to adults in the neighborhood. Nettelhorst already hosts a Saturday farmers’ market and was among the first schools to add a salad bar to its cafeteria through the district’s Healthy Eating Program. In addition to local media, CBS, PBS, NPR, “60 Minutes” and the New York Times have featured stories about the school. And Jacqueline Edelberg, a parent active in Nettelhorst’s transformation, has published a book titled How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood chronicling the school’s journey.


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