It’s never an easy choice when seeking the perfect school — there are plenty of things to consider. Here are some of the top institutions available here in our region.
Our children are both typical and unique. While they possess many qualities in common with all children, each is an individual. Each has his or her own tastes, thoughts and spirit. Each has particular needs and goals – capabilities and strengths that must be nurtured, foibles and weaknesses that must be overcome.
We know that understanding and responding to this complex medley of characteristics is a challenge, even in daily parenting. So how do we, as parents, determine which school offers an environment that best suits our child’s specific combination of qualities? What instructional methods will most benefit our child’s learning style? What makes a certain school better for one child than another?
Among the most obvious factors is curriculum – mathematics, science, reading and writing programs. Next, of course, is faculty and staff, as well as available resources – research facilities, laboratories and up-to-the-minute technology.
Just as important as what children learn is how they learn. Does the school’s philosophy allow for different learning styles and incentives? Will each child be allowed to develop particular interests and work at an appropriate level for his or her ability?
Next to consider is the social aspect. School is a place to learn not only facts and dates, but how to get along in the world. What sorts of extracurricular activities are offered? What opportunities will your child have to develop independence, self-confidence and collaboration?
Families have a wealth of options for their children’s education, in both the public and private sectors. All of these schools are committed to providing academic excellence, as well a strong liberal arts education, to produce knowledgable, well-rounded students who are ready to step into the workplace of the 21st century and exact positive change in their communities.
Subjects such as philosophy, foreign language and current events encourage problem-solving and tolerance. Art, theater, music and dance stimulate self-expression and creativity. Exposure to classical literature, drama and music create an appreciation of the past. Opportunities for spiritual reflection and service to community develop citizenship and character.
The Rockford area boasts several high-quality schools that successfully combine college-preparatory academics and the liberal arts, with a focus on individual abilities and strengths, and commitment to development of the whole person.
Here, Northwest Quarterly profiles area schools to assist parents in making this all-important decision about their child’s education. All of the schools in this guide welcome inquiries and visits.
Aquin Catholic School System
1419 S. Galena Avenue, Freeport, (815) 235-3154, aquinschools.org
The Aquin Catholic School System is a faith community where all individuals are given the opportunity to develop both their moral character and learning potential. Two campuses serve students from Pre-K through 12th grade in a faith-filled academic setting.
“Aquin is a school system which truly embodies the word ‘family’,” says Rosemarie Brubaker, Superintendent and Jr./Sr. High School Principal. “Our students receive a faith-based education from a dedicated staff, who groom them to walk the path of Jesus Christ. Our teachers and staff work to know our students and build positive relationships with them.”
The Aquin Catholic School System is certified by the Illinois State Board of Education and accredited by AdvancED Accreditation Commission and members of the National Catholic Educational Association. The staff and faculty is expected to model the motto of God, Others, Self.
“Aquin stands together as a community united by Jesus Christ and works to bring positive student leadership and volunteerism to the Freeport Community,” Brubaker says. “Aquin students learn the meaning of humble generosity. They give their time and talents expecting nothing in return.”
Both of the Aquin campuses offer students a variety of classroom features. Pre-K through third grade students use tablets provided by the school, while children in grades 4-12 provide their own devices. Google Apps for Education are used daily in the classroom.
Aquin offers rigorous and real world applicable course work at all grade levels. At Aquin’s elementary campus, religion classes are taught every day, Spanish is taught as a foreign language, and students have the option to enroll in the ALEKS math program. Every classroom has a ceiling-mounted projector and Mimio Smartboard. The campus also has a computer lab and discovery classroom for STEM labs.
In addition to these features, the Aquin Junior-Senior high school campus offers student government, a National Honor Society chapter, as well as an abundance of service groups that are locally and nationally affiliated. Students can also take advantage of a leadership program offered through Highland Community College, as well as a dual credit partnership.
“Aquin graduates are prepared for life after high school,” Brubaker says. “To help them plan for the future and make wise decisions, Aquin students have been taught how to problem solve and critically think. Aquin students know the value of hard work.”
A variety of activities are available for students, from speech team, chess team, theater, chorus and yearbook to golf, football, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball.
“Every student in our system has at least one adult in our buildings they can trust and turn to for advice or help,” Brubaker says. “Our efforts are placed on educating the whole child. Aquin meets the needs of our students on the spiritual, academic, social and emotional level.”
Allegro Academy and Learning Center
6413 Forest Hills Road, Rockford, (815) 877-1489, allegroacademy.org
Allegro Academy is a non-denominational Christian school and childcare center, providing educational service to the Rockford area for more than 30 years. It is recognized Pre-K through eighth grade by the Illinois State Board of Education. While many schools focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Allegro Academy students’ educations are enriched with STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Allegro offers a unique combination of progressive and advanced academics and fine arts. Programs include visual arts, music, accelerated/gifted programs, athletics, after-school programs, clubs and extracurricular activities. Facilities include a science lab, gymnasium, dance studio and music room.
“What sets us apart is the way we’ve integrated fine arts instruction for all students,” says JeanMarie McCormack, principal. “Movement and music, art, and Bible curriculum is taught throughout the week, starting in preschool. We offer a classical education that is committed to teaching fine arts and facilitating academic mastery.”
“We tailor the educational experience to the child, to accommodate individual learning styles,” McCormack adds. “We are passionate about children progressing according to their abilities and not merely age. Each child is assessed and allowed to run on his or her strengths in language, arts and mathematics.”
The Allegro philosophy holds that each child is a unique creation of God, blessed with a special set of talents and gifts, who deserves to approach life with a sense of self-worth, respect for others, and a sense of his or her own personal relationship with God. Students are given multiple opportunities to explore all of their God-given talents.
A Christian perspective is part of the academic program, including daily prayer, Friday chapel and Bible curriculum taught four days of the week.
“We help parents to give their children a safe, enticing learning environment where their children develop to their personal level of academic, moral and artistic excellence,” McCormack says. “By setting high expectations and allowing students to progress at their own pace, Allegro creates young scholars who are excited about learning. Our students often progress faster. Our kindergarten reads at a second grade level. In fact, more than half of our students test two grade levels ahead of their age group.”
Allegro’s hands-on learning experiences involve computer-integrated classrooms and SMART Boards. Students utilize iPads and laptops to enhance the educational experience.
“We’re small, which allows us to be versatile and stay on top of current trends and technology,” McCormack says.
Also on-site is the Allegro Learning Center, a DCFS-licensed daycare facility for children ages six weeks to five years. It includes six classrooms and three fenced play areas.
Holy Family Catholic School
4407 Highcrest Road, Rockford, (815) 398-5331, holyfamilyrockford.org
Holy Family Catholic School is the largest Catholic elementary and middle school in Rockford. For more than 50 years, it has offered students a strong academic curriculum in a caring, safe environment at an affordable price.
Though Holy Family is a Catholic school, students of all religious faiths are welcome. The school has full Illinois State Board of Education recognition and Diocesan recognition.
“We offer a strong academic curriculum in a Christ-centered environment,” says Corine Gendron, principal. “Our students score, on average, one or more years above grade level on national standardized tests in all core subjects. We have a dedicated and experienced teaching and support staff, as well as a full-time school nurse and a school counselor available to students.”
Every classroom at Holy Family has an interactive smart board. The school has a computer center for student use, with wireless Internet throughout the campus. Students in preschool through grade 5 use iPads in the classroom, and Chromebooks are used in junior high classes. There’s also a large technology lab with 35 Apple computers and a 3D printer.
In addition to the core subjects of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and theology, Holy Family offers instruction in physical education and health, art, music, technology and Spanish. An extended care program is available for early morning and after-school hours.
“We have resource and enrichment programs available,” Gendron says. “We also have a variety of extracurricular activities including intramural athletics, student council, a scholastic bowl, drama club, chess club, book club, Lego club and science club.”
The Holy Family campus has a gymnasium, a cafeteria with hot lunch available daily, two areas of playground equipment and large, open fields for play. All classrooms, the gymnasium and the cafeteria are air-conditioned. The Holy Family Church and the Holy Family Adoration Chapel are also located on campus.
Holy Family Catholic School has the following goals:
-To maintain the Catholic atmosphere among the faculty and staff so the children may see Catholic Witness in action.
-To help the child select, acquire and develop moral values of the Catholic faith that give direction to his or her life.
-To help parents value the spiritual benefits of weekly Mass attendance and regular practice of the sacraments.
-To help the child developpositive self-concept.
-To help the child find satisfaction and joy in learning by providing an atmosphere where the child is free to explore his or her own ideas and the resources of their environment.
-To teach skills of each subject to be used for further learning.
-To provide a pattern of successful experiences for the child by meeting individual needs through a variety of teaching methods.
-To maintain a positive relationship between home and school through communication and cooperation.
-To help the child become self-directed and self-disciplined.
-To help the child recognize responsibilities by creating a group atmosphere characterized by kindness, acceptance and courtesy.
-To help the child recognize and accept responsibilities to society.
-To refine the use of technology both as a teaching/learning tool and as a communication tool.
-To refine the resource program structure in order to meet the increasing support needs of students.
Immanuel Lutheran School
1225 E. Second St., Belvidere, (815) 547-5346, immanuelknights.org
Immanuel Lutheran School (ILS) is committed to providing a Christ-centered education to children Pre-K through 8th grade.
Recognized by the State of Illinois and accredited through National Lutheran School Accreditation, ILS works with Immanuel Lutheran Church of Belvidere to make disciples of its students.
Immanuel’s tuition rate is one of the lowest in the area, while students’ test scores rank in the top tier of all area schools.
The eighth-grade class of 2015 scored 88 percent above the national average in science and 93 percent above the national average in math.
Classrooms are equipped with SMART boards and wireless Internet access, while the school additionally has a 25-Chromebook computer lab, Kuno tablets for every student in grades 1-5, Chromebooks on a cart for middle school use, a science lab, two gymnasiums (one of which is high school-sized), a playground, a soccer field, an outdoor basketball court, a music/choir/band room and a motor lab activities center for PreK-K students.
Athletic programs in volleyball, soccer, basketball, cheerleading and track are available to students, as well as an abundance of clubs, such as prayer warriors, guitar club, book club and chess club. In addition, students can take advantage of many service opportunities, such as preparing programs for area health centers, collecting school supplies for students in Liberia and collecting gifts for the Rockford Rescue Mission.
Immanuel offers unique programs, activities and field trips to its students. For example, the Big Friend/Little Friend program pairs older students with younger students for monthly activities to help students learn responsibility and care more for each other. In addition, students can interact with the school’s “on staff” comfort dogs, Kye and Bekah, who greet the students on school days, make hospital visits and aid in disaster response situations. Finally, field trips to Springfield, Ill., the team building camp in Potosi, Mo., and other unique places help students to grow in their knowledge outside the classroom.
-Immanuel Lutheran School achievement tests are among the highest in the region.
• 8th Grade Math: 93% above national average
• 8th Grade Science: 88% above national average
• 8th Grade Reading: 82% above national average
-Average teacher education & experience is 21 years with 53% having Master’s degrees.
-Tuition Rates are among the lowest in the region.
• $2,820 per student*
•$54 per week or $2.30 per hour of instruction
-Before School & After School Care
-SMART Boards & Wireless Internet
-Computer Lab with 25 Chrome Books
-Fully-Equipped Science Lab
-Music Program with Choir & Band
Immanuel Lutheran School offers one of the area’s best bargains with a combination of strong academics and reasonable tuition. Both Church and School work together to help parents bring up the next generation, and that generation will be prepared for tomorrow and eternity.
*Best Member Rate
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Academy
3218 11th St., Rockford, (815) 399-3021, olsha.org
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Academy is an independent, 5th through 12th grade preparatory school that passes on the Catholic and Western heritage through the classical liberal arts.
The Academy challenges its students to pursue excellence in academics and perfection in holiness. The school’s objectives are to impart a Catholic philosophy, to serve students in primary and secondary levels of education and to form model American citizens. Students learn to direct all their actions toward the honor and glory of God.
“Our mission is to direct our students to know, love and serve God in this life, and to give honor and glory to Him, achieving their full spiritual, moral and intellectual potential,” says Matt Adas, assistant principal. “We strive to cultivate a love for Jesus Christ and his church while inspiring a desire to follow his commands in service to others.”
In 2006, the Acton Institute named Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Academy one of the top 50 Catholic high schools in the nation. In 2009, the Academy earned the Salvatori Award for Teaching Excellence from Hillsdale College. The Academy is recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education, IHSA, and is accredited by the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools, by AdvancED, and by the NCAA.
High school courses at the Academy concentrate on theology, history, literature, science, math and Latin, in addition to physical education and choir requirements. Courses are offered at the regular, honors and advanced level, and include seven authorized Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The courses are designed to form students into future leaders and saints, prepare them for academic success in college, and most importantly, lead them to a knowledge and love of God. Students read the same works that formed the saints and instructed our founding fathers.
“We prepare the mind, body and soul of each student for their future,” Adas says. “Students are immersed in strong religious formation, classical education and patriotism, and are prepared to defend their freedoms. Our core values are life, liberty and the pursuit of holiness.”
Tuition at the Academy ranges from $3,300 to $3,800, with discounts offered for siblings. Financial aid is available based on economic need.
Students of all grade levels at the Academy can become involved in a variety of sports and clubs, from volleyball and soccer to chess club and rosary making. In addition, the school annually organizes a Christmas pageant, a golf outing and a priest-appreciation dinner.
At the end of the day, the Academy challenges students to rebuild the culture through truth, faith and service.
Rockford Christian Schools
Elementary Campus: 220 Hemlock Lane; Jr/Sr High: 1401 Bell School Road, Rockford, (815) 399-3465, rockfordchristian.org
Rockford Christian Schools provide a Christ-centered, college-preparatory education for students Pre-K (age 3) through grade 12. As the largest independent, non-denominational Christian school in the region, its student body represents nearly 130 area churches and 23 denominations.
It is accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International, AdvancED, and the Commission on International and Trans-Regional Accreditation, and is recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education.
State-certified faculty members have an average of 15 years of classroom experience, while 37 percent hold advanced degrees.
“Rockford Christian has a committed and caring group of teachers that want to make a difference in the lives of their students,” says Randy Taylor, superintendent. “Each one seeks to educate in body, soul, mind and spirit.”
Rockford Christian students routinely score well above grade level: elementary students, two to three levels above; middle schoolers, three to five above; and high schoolers test at post-high school levels in most learning disciplines. The average Rockford Christian Honors ACT score is 28.3 – well above both state and national averages. Of its graduates, 99 percent attend college.
Rockford Christian curriculum includes a college preparatory program, gifted enrichment and honors programs, 17 Advanced Placement courses, and many academic and extracurricular clubs and organizations.
Rockford Christian places a major emphasis on its college counseling program. “Beginning in middle school, we track our students’ academic progress, extra-curricular activities, community service and personality profile as part of a comprehensive college counseling program that will end in acceptance at the college or university of the students’ choice, as well as maximum scholarship offers,” says Taylor. “As a result of this focus on college preparedness, the 114 members of the class of 2015 received more than $6.5 million in scholarship offers.”
Students have access to cutting-edge tools, with a state-of-the-art Science and Technology Center; a distance learning auditorium; five computer labs and five science labs, including a special “dirty” lab for large-project construction and robotics; and integrated technology and SMART Boards in all classrooms.
The school also boasts two libraries, three art studios, a performance stage, three gymnasiums, a lighted football stadium and soccer field, an eight-lane all-weather track, a full-service weight training facility, and baseball and softball fields. Rockford Christian faculty and staff partner with students and their families in the educational process.
“Parents make a huge impact on our team-oriented environment,” says Taylor. “From the classroom to the playground, parents are on the scene.”
Rockford Christian teaches that biblical truths guide behavior and decision-making. Students take part in daily Bible classes, prayer time and weekly chapel, and they practice real-world applications of their spiritual lessons through community service projects, yearly mission trips and other service programs. Through Biblical integration in its Christ-centered academics and activities, Rockford Christian prepares students for responsibility to themselves, others and their community.
Rockford Lutheran School
3411 N. Alpine Road, Rockford, (815) 877-9551, rockfordlutheran.org
The field of education is cluttered with buzzwords. New trends based on the latest research come and go. Styles change as educators try to think of the best ways to inject the latest gadget into the instructional programs of their schools. And yet, there are things that are timeless.
Rockford Lutheran is a Pre-K through grade 12 school with a strong tradition driven by core values: excellence, service, harmony and christ-centered programs and interactions.
The school’s strategy starts with a bedrock of non-negotiable beliefs. Excellence is the standard in all things. The college prep program regularly earns acceptance for more than 95 percent of graduates. The graduating class of 2016 was offered more than $7 million in scholarships.
“We approach each student as an independent learner,” says Don Gillingham, executive director. “Beginning in the elementary school, we use leveled reading and individualized assistance in math to support and motivate students to do their best and reach for perfection. Every grade school student has a chance to build confidence through performance. Our music program is second to none in the stateline and begins in Pre-K then adds instrumental instruction in third grade. Our athletic program produces junior high and high school state champions. Our teams regularly compete with schools having more than seven times our enrollment and find success.”
At Rockford Lutheran, students are not only prepared to become community leaders, but they are also provided with opportunities to serve now. This year, high school students are expected to provide more than 7,000 hours of Christian service for their churches, neighbors and community organizations. Middle school students provide both individual service and team projects to benefit the community. Grade school students actively support outreach efforts to a variety of community groups and senior facilities.
Rockford Lutheran has families from a wide range of backgrounds who entrust their children to the school’s care.
“But simply having a kaleidoscope of individuals in a school is not enough,” Gillingham says. “Rockford Lutheran values taking the diverse perspectives and experiences and blending them together to create a harmony that enriches our lives and expands our horizons.”
Of course, as the community was reminded during last year’s 50th anniversary celebration, Rockford Lutheran was founded as a ministry for young people to grow socially, scholastically and spiritually. Daily interactions are rooted and built up in Christ. The active integration of a living faith into college prep studies provides a Christ-centered environment.
The Rockford Lutheran faculty works hard to bring the most creative and proven methods to its programs.
“We have worked intently to use the tools available to provide our students with the ability to craft their education with a focus on exploring and developing their skills and interests,” Gillingham says. “The latest expansion of the physical plant is an open academic facility that will help to engage students in research and exploration of topics that will shape their personal world view.”
In the coming years, the Rockford Lutheran commitment to being an active part of the growth of the stateline region is a priority.
“As we seek to become a top 25 city, a shared vision of the impact made by our educational institutions will certainly recognize Rockford Lutheran as a school where timeless values and 21st century opportunities come together in the growth of each of our students,” Gillingham says.
Rockford Public Schools
Administration Bldg., 501 Seventh St., Rockford (815) 966-3000, rps205.com
Rockford Public Schools educate about 29,000 students in 46 facilities. Families may choose one of the following special programs, each with a focus on a specific type of teaching and learning:
The Maria Montessori Program serves students Pre-K through grade 8. In the multi-aged Montessori classroom, children are encouraged to take responsibility for their own education. Students move freely around the room, selecting materials needed to carry out their individual plans. They work with a trained Montessori teacher, and older students serve as models for younger children. Students remain with the same teacher and classmates for two or three years, allowing the development of a strong sense of community with the classroom. The program moved to Marsh School in Fall 2016.
The Two-Way Language Immersion at Barbour, for grades K-8, is a dual-language immersion school. In kindergarten and first grades, students receive 90 percent of their daily instruction in Spanish, and instructional time in English increases by 10 percent each subsequent grade. By fifth grade, time is evenly balanced between Spanish and English. The academic standards and curriculum align with traditional RPS 205 schools. The program promotes bilingualism, biliteracy and positive cross-culture attitudes and behaviors.
The Gifted Academy, for grades 1-12, identifies and nurtures gifted students through specialized curriculum offerings, which are modified and adapted to meet students’ unique learning styles, interests, abilities and needs. Students must test into the program, which challenges students to accelerate their skills and infuse creative and analytical thinking into core subject areas. Students in first through fourth grade currently attend Marshall Elementary and they continue the program at Thurgood Marshall for sixth through eighth grades and Auburn High School for ninth through 12th grades.
At Haskell Year-Round Academy, elementary students in Pre-K through fifth grade receive the same number of instructional days as other RPS 205 schools, but they are spread throughout the calendar year. Students typically attend school for nine weeks and take two weeks off, which helps to avoid the “summer slide” – a loss of academic skills that typically occurs during the normal three-month summer break.
The Creative and Performing Arts program, or CAPA, provides grades sixth through 12th with a more in-depth arts experience. The program is housed at West Middle School and Auburn High School. After a successful audition, students may take part in dance, instrumental music, theater tech and media arts, vocal music and visual arts.
Partners in Success
Talented staff and community supporters are key to students’ growth and success. Of 1,996 RPS 205 teachers district wide, 80 percent hold advanced degrees. This academic success among faculty translates to academic success among RPS 205 students: Those who take one or more advanced placement courses score an average of 25 on their ACT. In addition, more than 120 area businesses provide support that connects students’ classroom work with real-world experience.
RPS 205 has many strong community partnerships. The district thrives because of the support from area organizations, businesses and a battalion of committed volunteers to produce students ready for college and careers.
Alpine Academy of Rockford
A5001 Forest View Ave., Rockford, (815) 227-8894, alpineacademyofrockford.com
Tucked in a quiet neighborhood in Southeast Rockford, Alpine Academy provides a quality education in a nurturing, family-focused Christian school. Its mission is to enrich and deepen students’ academic knowledge and spiritual faith. Teachers strive to create an environment where students grow intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Alpine Academy is accredited, is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Education Association (ELEA), and is registered with the Illinois State Board of Education. Its strong curriculum in reading, mathematics, science, language arts, social studies and religion provides students with a solid academic foundation. Students receive Spanish, computer and performing arts instruction beginning in pre-school and continuing through sixth grade. An in-house speech pathologist provides additional special-needs support. Three theatrical programs spotlighting students’ talents and skills are presented in the gym during the year. Art, band and orchestra instruction begin in third grade. Regular physical education class is provided to all students, with upper grade students participating in unique activities such as cross-country skiing, roller skating, bowling and canoeing at Pierce Lake. Numerous field trips provide students with off-campus learning experiences. Each class takes part in monthly community service projects, and the Academy is active in many charitable programs and organizations.
Alpine Academy has a fenced athletic area with a baseball field and a soccer field. It also has a protected and completely enclosed play area with slides, monkey bars, tricycles and climbing areas for all grades. Students compete interscholastically in a variety of sports and scholastic events.
At Alpine Academy, educators and parents work as a family to promote each student’s self-esteem, academic skills and Christian knowledge and values, to create children who are enriched spiritually and academically, who have a dedication to lifelong learning and are well prepared for their journey toward a successful adulthood.
Berean Baptist Christian School
5626 Safford Road, Rockford (815) 962-4841, bereanschool.com
Berean Baptist School continues to produce students who are mentally alert, emotionally stable, morally straight, physically active and spiritually in tune with God. Dr. Melvin Swanson was the Senior Pastor of the Berean Baptist Church in 1977 when he founded Berean Baptist Christian School (BBCS). The school strives to develop the maximum potential in each student, both spiritually and academically, according to individual strengths.
BBCS is a member of the Illinois Association of Christian Schools and the American Association of Christian Schools. Across grade levels, the core academic curriculum focuses on chapel/Bible study, music and fine arts, foreign language, art and physical education. Additional school features include learning centers, a library and computer access. In middle school, students learn to be more responsible for their time, work and belongings. They have an hourly change of location to prepare for high school.
Each student is required to carry a minimum core class schedule of English, literature, history, math, science, physical education and Bible studies. Students participate in choir, have the opportunity to be in band and compete in interscholastic athletics.
In high school, Berean’s core curriculum provides students with a solid educational foundation. In addition, students have access to a computer lab for classes and completion of homework assignments. The Berean Learning Center offers students one-on-one tutoring in a safe classroom environment. The center also follows a special reading curriculum for those with dyslexia, or others who experience difficulty in reading. Tutoring is by appointment weekdays after school.