Though upper building delayed, GEMS grows academically

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

While the new GEMS World Academy’s new upper school building will not be ready by the start of school, GEMS head Tom Cangiano said plenty of other new classes and programs will debut this school year.

The new building will add classes and gym space for students. Initially, the school planned to open the new facility this fall, in time for the 2019/2020 year, but Cangiano said the space will instead open later over the winter, in early 2020.

Nevertheless, the school’s high school program is getting underway with 40 students registered. While the building nears competition, GEMS students are attending courses in the Gleacher Center, at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, across the river.

With the high school program underway, the private school is on the cusp of achieving its International Baccalaureate certification as an IB World School, meaning the school will be able to offer a diploma program, the first private school in the state to offer such a program.

Matt Arado, the associate director of communications for GEMS, said the program encourages student creativity and collaboration and, increasingly, an IB diploma is seen as a boon among universities.

“More and more colleges look very well on IB diploma graduates as opposed to other non-IB kids of programs,” he said.

Cangiano said GEMS is also strengthening its curriculum. The school has always encouraged courses and students to explore the city and now he said those lessons are being formalized.

“Our whole idea is we talk a lot about global citizenship,” Cangiano said. “We’re trying to make sure our kids really understand the region of Chicago, its environmental concerns, the economy and how the city government works.”

The program will incorporate lessons from pre-kindergarten through the high school level and cover six topic areas.

“I hope students understand an urban system and all its complexity and I think that’s politics demographics, environmental concerns and other nominal issues like infrastructure, and that they have a good understanding of that,” Cangiano explained.

He added that by the time the students graduate, he expects they will understand the various challenges facing a city as well as some solutions for those challenges.

This year the school is on track to meet its goal of 450 students. By late August, Cangiano said the school had enrolled around 410 students, with several weeks to go before the year started. This is an increase over last year’s goal of 365 students.

The school is welcoming 15 new faculty to the campus and, this year, even Cangiano is teaching a course. Cangiano’s background is English, and he’ll be teaching ninth grade English this year.

Among the books on his reading list are standards like Romeo and Juliet, Antigone and the Odyssey, though he is also including “Trumbull Park,” a fictionalized account of the racial strife facing black people in Chicago during housing integration. Cangiano said the book choice is part of the school’s effort to teach Chicago.

The school is currently accepting applications for all grades through 12th grade for the 2020-2021 school year and there are limited seats available for the current year. The school’s public open house will be Oct. 26 and for more information, visit info.gemsworldacademy-chicago.com.

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