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.

GEMS students get lessons in fashion, music and literature

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

Sixth graders strutted their stuff on Jan. 17 at the annual GEMS World Academy fashion show.

The show is in its fifth year. The students wrote music and then designed a clothing ensemble and wrote a poem based on that music.

The interdisciplinary exercise was the brainchild of Elysia Sheehan, the school’s art and design teacher. The project is a fun way to kick off the school year and it also combines several subjects into a participatory, interactive learning assignment.

“It started from a conversation I had with a new student in our first year while we were doing some team building activities during the first week of school,” she explained. “She was expressing that at the time she felt more nervous than excited about starting at a new school. We began talking about what we could do to help ease her transition into GEMS and about the things she enjoys most. She spoke about how much she enjoys drawing and making fashion designs. The whole idea evolved from there with input from students and teachers who were excited to build out our curriculum for the year.”

The project starts with a design. This year, students had to pick a genre of music and design an outfit that would represent that. To build their wardrobe, students are given $10 and taken to a thrift store.

“Students learn to sew, have weekly visits with a fashion designer, keep a process journal to document their personal growth and goals, and build on their foundation for constructing fashion,” said Sheehan.

Besides designing and sewing original clothing, the students also got a musical education. Music teacher Chris Roebuck and language and literature teacher Melissa Cuclich helped students discover new genres of music and understand poetry, respectively.

“In previous years, their fashions have reflected technology, humanities inquiries, science, et cetera,” said Sheehan. “After designing the garments, the students model them on the ‘runway’ during a fashion show event in our gym.”

Parents, teachers and other students packed the place in support of the sixth graders who walked, strutted and, in one case, skateboarded down the aisle.

GEMS sixth grade student Max Robertson skates his way down the runway for a fashion show in January. Photo by Jesse Wright

GEMS World Academy is a private school in the New Eastside. To find out more about the school, visit them online at gemsworldacademy-chicago.com.

Meet the new head of GEMS school

By Tom Conroy | Staff Writer

Tom Cangiano began in July as the newest head of school for GEMS World Academy Chicago.

Cangiano is the fourth head since the school opened in September 2014, but said he will stay a while. “I don’t take a job if I’m not completely committed to it,” said Cangiano, who has over 25 years of combined experience as an educator and leader.

“It is crucial to have leadership stability at a newer school and the only way to get things done is to stay long-term.”

Prior to arriving at GEMS, Cangiano led the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh for eight years. That experience will serve him well as GEMS prepares to add more high school classes and new facilities in its Upper School building by the 2019–2020 academic year.

Cangiano said he and his wife were happy to move to Chicago. Cangiano, a native of Massachusetts, said he enjoys living in the city and the school’s proximity to everything in New Eastside. He has two children in high school and a third in college.

Cangiano has lived overseas, teaching in Budapest and serving as the president of the American College of Sofia in Bulgaria. He said his international experience fits with GEMS and its global network of schools as well as its International Baccalaureate curriculum.

“The school is both inward and outward looking, as we encourage students to understand what is going on not just around the world, but also here in Chicago.”
– Tom Cangiano

“GEMS’ genuine commitment to global citizenship attracted me,” he explained. “The school is both inward and outward looking, as we encourage students to un- derstand what is going on not just around the world, but also here in Chicago.” He added that the school teaches students to explore and research Chicago.”

“The history person in me comes out when I encourage the kids to be part of the community so they can understand the context of what they are learning,” said Cangiano, who has a background in the humanities. Cangiano added that he hopes to strengthen the school’s global network.

He recently attended strategic planning meetings in Dubai and hopes to increase the number of joint service programs and exchanges, allowing students to collaborate with their peers at other GEMS schools.

Domestically, he will work toward growing enrollment to 100 students per grade level for a total enrolment of 1,500 students.

GEMS World Academy Chicago
350 E. South Water St.
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 809-8900
gemsworldacademy-chicago.com

Published August 1, 2018