A coeducational day school serving students JK-12

The deafening roar of students wildly cheering for their school. A fierce competition with confident displays of skill and mastery. Teammates huddled up, strategizing to achieve victory. Is it a Latin basketball or soccer tournament?

No! This is the annual middle school math competition, which celebrated its 20th year in January. Latin took over hosting duties from another school in 2000 and hasn’t looked back since. This half-day competition pits middle school students from nearly 20 schools in both individual and team contests. Each school can bring two teams of four people for each grade (fifth through eighth). The Saturday morning contest begins with a 50-minute individual round of nine questions. After a short break, the 45-minute team test begins, with students working together to answer eight questions. After a pizza lunch where the students kibbutz about the correct answers — and sometimes slap their foreheads when they realize their mistakes — everyone assembles in the theater for the awards ceremony, where medals, trophies, and plaques are presented.

Mathletes image 1

The event is the culmination of months of work by many people. “The administration certainly supports it in any way it can,” said Warren Hawley, a former math teacher and department chair at Latin, now retired, who spearheaded efforts in 2000 for Latin to host the competition. “There is total buy-in from the math department. They really see the value of it.”

Planning gets underway in November, when the math teachers attend a math retreat where they spend the entire day writing the individual test questions for each grade. “The process is very inter-divisionary,” said Eve Bonneau, middle school Math Department chair. “For example, the team working on the fifth grade contest may consist of teachers from all three divisions.” Bonneau said that each question needs to be grade-appropriate and sufficiently challenging for the students. The teachers write the problems in the morning, then spend the afternoon collaboratively solving and refining the problems, and tinkering with the language.

Even before the math retreat, Tom Canright, a seventh grade math teacher, writes the team questions during summer break, a task he took on in 2013 when Hawley retired. “It takes me about four or five hours a day for a full week to write those,” said Canright. “Then I send them to each grade’s math team for feedback. They have a month to critique the questions. Sometimes they fine tune them, but sometimes they don’t like what I’ve done and they throw out a question and substitute their own.” Canright also puts together an opening video with a medley of songs with math as a theme, proofreads all the questions during winter break, creates an answer key, runs the grading room and serves as master of ceremonies during the awards ceremony. Bonneau handles registration, classroom testing assignments, coordinates day-of-contest responsibilities for the math faculty, and obtains volunteer scorers and proctors.

Mathletes image 2

Students from Latin are selected based upon a number of factors. From November to March, students can participate
in Math Olympiad, where they take a monthly Olympiad test. Each teacher also gives a qualifying test. In addition, teachers look at student’s attendance during the weekly Math Club that meets for a half hour before school on Wednesday mornings. Bonneau and Canright select the sixth and seventh graders, respectively, based on a cumulative assessment of Olympiad test scores, Math Club attendance and qualifying test results, while Daley Chan, lower school math teacher, and Jessie Shorr, middle school math teacher, select the fifth and eighth graders, respectively.

The competition has evolved from its humble beginnings in 2000 when it hosted six other schools and used 10 classrooms to administer the contest. With the building of the middle school in 2007, Latin can now physically host more students. Since then, the event has filled to capacity and has a waiting list of 10 to 12 schools. “We’ve also had to up our game to make the questions more difficult,” said Bonneau, explaining that many more students do math as an extracurricular than in years past.

“The caliber of students has improved.” Canright agrees. “Every year I think the eighth grade questions are too hard, and every year the students rise to the occasion. Some students get perfect or near-perfect scores.”

What has made the math competition successful for so many years? Canright thinks the team component sets it apart.
“The team event makes it special. It’s unique to have teams from each grade rather than just the top eighth graders,” he said. “And the students have to learn to cooperate and learn to be quiet. They can’t just blurt out the answer, or the other teams will hear.”

Mathletes image 3

Bonneau likes that the competition is something that focuses on academics rather than athletics, which is readily and easily celebrated in most schools. “This gives an opportunity for students who enjoy math to experience an adrenaline rush,” she said. “It is really fun to see the kids get excited about an academic subject.”

Latin had one of its most successful outcomes for this year’s competition. With 275 students competing, Latin took first place in the fifth and sixth grade divisions. Bonneau was particularly pleased, especially given that many of the students who compete are from academically rigorous schools. “Most kids at Latin have a variety of interests. Our success this year shows that we can be successful in this type of competition as well,” she said.

Hawley still attends the event every year but now as a spectator. “It is amazing to see how it all comes together,” he said. “The teachers make it look seamless, but I know how much work goes into putting it together.”

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Mathletes Compete at Latin

The deafening roar of students wildly cheering for their school. A fierce competition with confident displays of skill and mastery. Teammates huddled up, strategizing to achieve victory. Is it a Latin basketball or soccer tournament?

No! This is the annual middle school math competition, which celebrated its 20th year in January. Latin took over hosting duties from another school in 2000 and hasn’t looked back since. This half-day competition pits middle school students from nearly 20 schools in both individual and team contests. Each school can bring two teams of four people for each grade (fifth through eighth). The Saturday morning contest begins with a 50-minute individual round of nine questions. After a short break, the 45-minute team test begins, with students working together to answer eight questions. After a pizza lunch where the students kibbutz about the correct answers — and sometimes slap their foreheads when they realize their mistakes — everyone assembles in the theater for the awards ceremony, where medals, trophies, and plaques are presented.

Mathletes image 1

The event is the culmination of months of work by many people. “The administration certainly supports it in any way it can,” said Warren Hawley, a former math teacher and department chair at Latin, now retired, who spearheaded efforts in 2000 for Latin to host the competition. “There is total buy-in from the math department. They really see the value of it.”

Planning gets underway in November, when the math teachers attend a math retreat where they spend the entire day writing the individual test questions for each grade. “The process is very inter-divisionary,” said Eve Bonneau, middle school Math Department chair. “For example, the team working on the fifth grade contest may consist of teachers from all three divisions.” Bonneau said that each question needs to be grade-appropriate and sufficiently challenging for the students. The teachers write the problems in the morning, then spend the afternoon collaboratively solving and refining the problems, and tinkering with the language.

Even before the math retreat, Tom Canright, a seventh grade math teacher, writes the team questions during summer break, a task he took on in 2013 when Hawley retired. “It takes me about four or five hours a day for a full week to write those,” said Canright. “Then I send them to each grade’s math team for feedback. They have a month to critique the questions. Sometimes they fine tune them, but sometimes they don’t like what I’ve done and they throw out a question and substitute their own.” Canright also puts together an opening video with a medley of songs with math as a theme, proofreads all the questions during winter break, creates an answer key, runs the grading room and serves as master of ceremonies during the awards ceremony. Bonneau handles registration, classroom testing assignments, coordinates day-of-contest responsibilities for the math faculty, and obtains volunteer scorers and proctors.

Mathletes image 2

Students from Latin are selected based upon a number of factors. From November to March, students can participate
in Math Olympiad, where they take a monthly Olympiad test. Each teacher also gives a qualifying test. In addition, teachers look at student’s attendance during the weekly Math Club that meets for a half hour before school on Wednesday mornings. Bonneau and Canright select the sixth and seventh graders, respectively, based on a cumulative assessment of Olympiad test scores, Math Club attendance and qualifying test results, while Daley Chan, lower school math teacher, and Jessie Shorr, middle school math teacher, select the fifth and eighth graders, respectively.

The competition has evolved from its humble beginnings in 2000 when it hosted six other schools and used 10 classrooms to administer the contest. With the building of the middle school in 2007, Latin can now physically host more students. Since then, the event has filled to capacity and has a waiting list of 10 to 12 schools. “We’ve also had to up our game to make the questions more difficult,” said Bonneau, explaining that many more students do math as an extracurricular than in years past.

“The caliber of students has improved.” Canright agrees. “Every year I think the eighth grade questions are too hard, and every year the students rise to the occasion. Some students get perfect or near-perfect scores.”

What has made the math competition successful for so many years? Canright thinks the team component sets it apart.
“The team event makes it special. It’s unique to have teams from each grade rather than just the top eighth graders,” he said. “And the students have to learn to cooperate and learn to be quiet. They can’t just blurt out the answer, or the other teams will hear.”

Mathletes image 3

Bonneau likes that the competition is something that focuses on academics rather than athletics, which is readily and easily celebrated in most schools. “This gives an opportunity for students who enjoy math to experience an adrenaline rush,” she said. “It is really fun to see the kids get excited about an academic subject.”

Latin had one of its most successful outcomes for this year’s competition. With 275 students competing, Latin took first place in the fifth and sixth grade divisions. Bonneau was particularly pleased, especially given that many of the students who compete are from academically rigorous schools. “Most kids at Latin have a variety of interests. Our success this year shows that we can be successful in this type of competition as well,” she said.

Hawley still attends the event every year but now as a spectator. “It is amazing to see how it all comes together,” he said. “The teachers make it look seamless, but I know how much work goes into putting it together.”

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Books collected for book drive

Donations to the "Upside Down Book Fair" were near an all-time high, with over 1,500 books collected. These books are being given to students through Latin's partnerships with Asian Youth Services, McCutcheon School, Cradles to Crayons and Open Books. This was an amazing outpouring from the Latin community to help get books to those who might not receive them otherwise.

Check out the photos!

 
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scrabble pieces spelling anxiety | Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels


Dr. Gabrielle Roberts is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children, adolescents and young adults at Advocate Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn. Previously, she worked in residential treatment and in the child welfare system with youth who had experienced extreme trauma. She is also the parent of a lower school student at Latin. 

TRANSCRIPT

How can parents encourage children to talk to them about their emotions surrounding school and COVID-19?

First and foremost, check in with your children. If you know your child is already anxious, then I would say check in more frequently. If not, I would say check in from time to time. Ask open ended questions. How are you feeling about the coronavirus? How are you feeling about going to back to school? Listen. That’s most important. Validate their emotions. Let them know that you hear what they’re saying and that you understand it’s important to them. Be careful not to minimize their feelings. As adults, we have the beautiful wisdom of knowing that something your child feels is the end of the world or will forever alter their life is not really the case, but you can honor and validate that’s how they feel right now. Remind them that they can talk to you anytime about anything and that you’re here for them.

How important is it for parents to model the calm behavior asked of their students?

Very… as we're all going through this together. If you want a silver lining for this situation, which you may not, the situation is actually an excellent opportunity to teach your child coping skills. And these are skills that they're going to need for life beyond coronavirus. You can talk to your children about how you cope with stress and model that behavior, but we aren't perfect. We will make mistakes and modeling how we recover when we've failed to cope. How we problem solve when we're visibly anxious and not managing it well is really also an excellent modeling opportunity. So it's a win-win here.

Some students might experience separation anxiety from friends since they might be placed in different cohorts. How can a parent help with that change?

Again, start by listening, validating those feelings. Don't minimize those feelings. It is a big deal, even if, down the line, you know they'll be okay. It feels like a really big deal, especially when it comes to older children and teens, it's a big deal. The same goes for children who are maybe going to be remote and their peers are going to be in school, so help your child problem solve this. I know our children spend a lot of time on screens these days, but that social media connection, especially those apps that enable our children and teens to connect in real time, face-to-face has been really valuable right now for socialization and connection.

Every time I say this, I stutter because I'm usually so anti screen, but I've been promoting this because I think it's really helpful right now when it comes to that face-to-face connection. Also, remind your children and this isn't forever. That's something I find myself saying to myself and also to my daughter a lot. I tell her, “I cannot tell you when this is going to end, but I can promise you it will end.” And that's an important bottom line.

If a classmate contracts COVID-19, how should a parent explain it to their child? 

There's not one right answer. But as a general rule, I would start with a less is more approach. So in general, as adults, we tend to give more information than children are usually asking for. And so I would start by keeping it short and simple. Explain what happened and focus on the positive of the situation if you can.

“...David has COVID and is at home where his mom and dad are taking good care of him.” Depending upon the situation, how worried your child is, and is the child at home really sick, or are they hopefully at home and asymptomatic and just hanging out...? If it's the latter case, maybe arranging an opportunity for your child to virtually connect with that child would be a way to help reduce your child's worry. It also might be nice for the child who's stuck at home and disconnected from people too and maybe scared as well. 

How do you know when your child should talk to a professional about their anxiety? 

First of all, when in doubt, please consult a professional. I, as a professional, tell parents all the time to bring their child for a checkup. We get physical checkups every year, but we don't get mental health checkups every year. And obviously, I'm biased, but I think that's really important. And so I never mind when a parent schedules an appointment just to make sure their child is okay. That's wonderful. And I love telling parents, “Your child is doing great. Call me if you need something.” When your child's anxiety is persistent, they're having a lot of difficulties coping and that anxiety is interfering with their life, their school, home happiness, it's a good time to call a professional.

If a student is experiencing anxiety in the classroom or hallway, what coping skills could they try?

It's good for all children to have some coping skills that they already know and can use if needed. So I would say, first and foremost, these are things to practice beforehand. It's really hard to learn a new skill in the moment when we're really anxious. It's most helpful if children have a toolbox of different skills they can use because what works for me may not work for you. And what works for me on Tuesday might not work for me on Wednesday. So it's good to have a lot of options. Different children will do better with different skills. Some that might be helpful in the classroom or hallway includes knowing that they can go and talk to a teacher and ask for what they need. Do they need space? Do they need support? Knowing who else they can go talk to or ask for–who are the identified people, a counselor, a nurse, maybe there's a certain person in the school who they feel particularly comfortable with.

Deep breathing or belly breathing, it's really easy to learn. It's a really simple distraction. 

They can acknowledge that they're having this thought, but pull that thought away and focus on what’s safe around them and what they can do to be safe. So using self-talk to say, “Okay, I'm feeling worried, but let me go through my mental checklist. I'm wearing my mask. I just washed my hands. We're keeping our space. So I think I'm safe.” It's helpful to have a worry plan in advance. 

Parents are wearing so many different hats, parent/teacher, employee, child therapist, how can a guardian manage their own wellbeing while helping make sure their child's emotional needs are met? 

It is insanity for most of us, if not all of us. Professional me and mom me are definitely two separate entities. And while professional me can sit here and tell you all of these things and make them sound good. Mom me is freaking out all the time, bursting into tears with my friends on the phone, hyperventilating inside. I call my friends who are therapists often and let them talk me down. I say this because I think just exercising self-compassion and recognizing how difficult this is on all of us is just one of the most important things. Like our children, we need good sleep, good diet, exercise, fresh air. We can't sacrifice ourselves for them. We need all of those things too. And the better we take care of ourselves, we're better for them. Exercise the same compassion to yourself that you offer to your children. You're going to have good days and bad days, and try not to beat yourself up. We, especially moms, are so programmed to beat ourselves up. It doesn't help and we don't deserve it. We're all just doing our best.

What resources are out there?

If you go to PBS.org/parents, there's some good information on there, mostly for younger kids, but really I think the tips can be applied broadly as well. They have a section in there just on COVID and going back to school. The American Psychological Association, APA.org, has a lot of good information right now, too. There's a lot of good self-help workbooks for children and teens out there. A couple that I'll mention for children, there's one called “The Worry Workbook for Kids” by Deborah Ledley and Muniya Khanna. There's one out there called “Anxiety Relief for Teens” by Regine Galanti. These are just books that have exercises that your teen or child can do or you can do with them to help teach coping skills for anxiety. Also, reaching out to the school counselor is an excellent, excellent idea and a wonderful resource. They can help support your child in school and connect you with outside resources.

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Latin School vintage sign on wall

When Linda Cohn '69 was shown a picture of a Latin School of Chicago sign for sale on eBay, she thought it looked very familiar. This wasn't just any sign, this was the sign that greeted Linda and her classmates each day as they entered 59 E. Scott Street, Latin's home for upper and middle school from the mid-50s - 1969. Linda's class, the Class of 1969, was the last class to graduate from the Scott Street building; seeing the sign again felt like finding a long lost old friend. And finding the sign on the heels of her class' 50th reunion seemed like more than a coincidence. Perhaps it was time for sign to return home?

Linda decided to reach out to class rep Ron Pen '69 and a plan soon formed. Linda and Ron contacted their classmates asking who would be interested in helping to purchase the sign so it could be donated to Latin. Riding high on a wave of nostalgia following their 50th reunion, classmates eagerly and generously pitched in.

This summer, the Latin School of Chicago sign made its way to the current upper school at North and Clark. While a permanent spot and plaque are in the works, the sign temporarily hangs in the Alumni Office, where it will greet alumni visiting the school and inspire conversation with students when we can once again welcome visitors. Thanks, Class of 1969. And welcome home, old friend.

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