Honor, Success, and Pride at Rowe Elementary

My name is Catalina Willarson. My younger daughter, Salome, is a current kindergarten scholar at Rowe Elementary School. My older daughter, Summer, was a member of Rowe Elementary’s first graduating class. She is currently a sophomore at Jones College Prep, a selective enrollment high school in the City of Chicago. We are so grateful that Salome is attending Rowe, like Summer did, so that she can have the same great opportunities to attend an excellent high school and eventually the college of her choice.

Many years ago, before we knew about charter schools and Rowe Elementary, Summer attended pre-k and kindergarten in a traditional public school. Just before first grade, my uncle, who works at the Northwest Settlement, told us about Rowe Elementary, which just opened that year. We did a bit of research and visited the school. There wasn’t even a main building! It was attached to a local high school. While there wasn’t anything fancy to look at, we spent our visit learning about their plans for the school and fell in love. We loved the enthusiasm of the teachers and the staff. We loved the way that they treated the scholars and the parents. We loved the fact that they discussed values that our family also held dear – honor, success, and pride. So despite the fact that Rowe lacked a building, we put our daughter on the waiting list, hoping for the chance make a real difference in our daughter’s future. Two weeks later, Summer got in. We left her private school the very next day and never looked back.

The transition was a bit challenging for Summer. Both of our daughters were involved in educational programs from the age of two. But, the private school hours were only until 2:30. Summer’s new days at Rowe lasted until 4:30. It was one week of exhaustion! But by week two, there was no complaining – just enthusiasm. Her teachers had so much enthusiasm that she had it too!

Another challenging aspect of the transition was the academic structure and rigor. Rowe has incredibly high expectations for learning. Both of my daughters were above average in their pre-k programs, but when they went to Rowe, we were informed that both were performing below average. The girls were upset, but didn’t stop working hard. Their teachers found ways to push each scholar to their potential without slowing down or speeding up the other scholars. They found meaningful ways to both motivate my daughters and help me to help them with their work. We even used our 45-minute commute for extra studies! We can now proudly say that both girls are reading ahead of their grade level.

For Summer, her teachers were so impressed at her hard work and quick improvement and she was soon at the top of her first grade class in reading. It didn’t stop there. In second grade, her teachers noticed that her work ethic could propel her to higher levels. She started to take a few classes with third graders. Finally, she skipped fourth grade. Before making that decision, teachers made sure she was OK academically and socially. No one skipped a beat. Every single scholar treated the new, younger scholar as a friend. Teachers inspired this culture to make everyone feel special, to make everyone feel as if they have something to give to the world.

Rowe Elementary is like a second home for my daughters. They are both so comfortable there. Summer enjoys coming back to Rowe to visit her old teachers, even though she is in high school. The system here is different than other traditional schools, and my girls are gaining even more skills to follow their dreams. Summer wants to grow up to be an engineer. While Salome does not have a career path picked out yet, I know she can achieve her goals because of her time at Rowe.