It's a few minutes before 8am and for now; Ascension Catholic School's spacious new Ursuline Center is quiet. The school's motto: "Love, Kindness, Respect" is displayed nearby. Blending the traditional library and computer lab for innovative, project-based learning, this state-of-the-art resource center is where students and faculty gather to create and collaborate in groups or to work individually.
Soon, the space will be flooded with fourth and fifth graders completing a STEM project. Later, librarian Cathy Flowers will introduce a new story series to one of the kindergarten classes gathered on the carpet. After that, the seventh grade will arrive to work on research projects using books, computers, graphic organizers, writing and design.
This is all before lunch. In the evening, the center will host a seminar on "Positive Parenting" open to all interested parents.
The Ursuline Center, with its integration of old and new, is a fitting symbol for Ascension School itself. With its roots planted firmly in 107 years of tradition and excellence in education, Ascension is looking to the future, prepared to meet the needs of its twenty-first century students.
"Ascension School provides a challenging learning environment where children can grow academically, emotionally and spiritually in a safe, Catholic-centered environment. The excellent Ascension faculty and staff provide high-quality instruction, enabling students to develop an understanding of grade level material and develop communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. Ascension provides students and staff with quality resources to support and foster a lifelong love of learning," says Principal Mary Anne Polega.
One of the largest Pre-K - 8 Catholic schools in the area, Ascension's 430 students come from Oak Park, Berwyn, Forest Park, Cicero, Elmwood Park and Chicago, comprising a diverse student population. The school recently expanded its Early Childhood offerings to include a full-day preschool option, redesigned its Extended Day program for families needing before and after-school care, and increased its Student Services staff to include more education specialists. And while technology may be incorporated into the classroom with iPads and Chromebooks, so too is cursive handwriting still taught in third grade, weekly Mass attended by grades 3 through 8, and the Fine Arts, Music, Spanish and Physical Education standard components of the curriculum. Opportunities to participate in no-cut and co-ed sports programs starting in third grade promote inclusiveness and teamwork, while the Arts are flourishing with choir, drama, string orchestra and band.
With two homerooms per grade, the average class size K-8 is 20 students. It is often this small learning environment that draws parents to Ascension but find it's the community that keeps them there. The extensive network of faculty, staff, and other parents forms a net of support that's uniquely Ascension.
"One of the things we have loved about Ascension is having all of our four children in one place from pre-school through eighth grade," says Ascension parent Meg Nelligan. "The older kids understand their role as leaders for the younger students, especially with the Buddy Program," she says, referring to a long-standing tradition wherein older students adopt younger students as their "buddies" for the duration of the school year.
In standardized testing, Ascension students traditionally perform well above the national norm in all grade levels tested. Students perennially go on to excel at area high schools including OPRF, St. Ignatius, Fenwick, Trinity, and Nazareth Academy. In 2018 three Ascension alumni were named valedictorian of their graduating class at their respective high schools.
"Our fundamental belief lies in educating the whole child: cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual," says Polega. "We strive to help each student explore their unique gifts and strengths on a daily basis on every level."