Q: Is Chicago Free School a private, public, or charter school?

A: The Chicago Free School is an independent, not-for-profit private school.  This allows us the independence to maintain a student-driven curriculum without standardized testing.

Q: Where is the school located?

A: We are located in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. We meet inside the school building at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd (51st and Greenwood Ave.).

Q: How much does CFS cost?

A: The Chicago Free School has sliding scale tuition based on family income.  Our goal is to be affordable to all families who share our “free school” educational vision, regardless of their ability to pay.  In 2019-20, the maximum tuition is $13,500, and the minimum is $1600 for K-8 and $3500 for Pre-K. Please see our Tuition Estimator tool for more information.

Q: Will you accept any type of voucher for PreK?

A: We are in the process of becoming certified to accept Illinois Action for Children vouches for low-income families with PreK children.

Q: Is there a discount for families with multiple children?

A: Yes! Please see our Tuition Estimator tool for more information.

Q: How can I enroll?  What is the registration deadline?

A: Go to the admissions page for information and our application. Our priority admissions deadline is February 28. Registration will continue on a rolling basis pending available space.

Q: Is there still space available for 2018-2019?

A: We have a few spaces in grades 2-8. Our other classes have a short waiting list.

Q: What does a typical student’s day look like?

A: Each student follows an individualized curriculum based on their interests, so each student’s day is different. See our “day in the life” page for examples of what a school day can look like at CFS.

Q: Is there aftercare or an extended-day program?

A: Yes. We offer an after-school program that runs until 6pm on M-Th and 5pm on Fridays for an additional fee.

Q: What classes are offered?

A: Reading and math happen every day — each child has an individualized curriculum in those subjects that will include small-group classes and independent projects.  Homeroom teachers and guest teachers offer afternoon elective classes in subjects like art, history, science, cooking, dance, yoga, gardening, filmmaking, and computer programming.  Students can also request classes on topics they are interested in.

Q: If students get to choose what they want to learn, how will families know what they are learning?  How will families know if they are making progress?

A: All students learn the core subjects of literacy and math, but these will look different for each student based on their goals and interests.  Twice a year, teachers prepare narrative reports of what each child has been learning to share with families.  Teachers track each student’s progress through a mix of regular observation and formal assessment such as quizzes and projects as appropriate.  Teachers also work to help students track their own progress.

Q: If there are no required classes or topics, won’t some students just do nothing?

A: We believe that children are naturally curious, and when students are free to follow their own interests in a safe and caring environment, they are enthusiastic and joyful about learning across a variety of subjects.  The Free Schools in Albany and Brooklyn have found that in their schools, students’ curiosity often only gets deeper over time.

Q: What happens to students after they leave a Free School?  Do they succeed in more traditional academic settings?  Do they go on to college?

A: The Albany Free School and the Brooklyn Free School have found that their students leave with a love of learning, excellent critical thinking skills, and a high level of motivation.  They do well in their later schooling and many choose to go on to college.

Q: How does your school prepare children for the real world?  Will they be prepared for adult life?

A: Free School students develop their intrinsic motivation, so when they enter adult life, they are ready to pursue their own goals.  They are given many opportunities to learn in authentic settings in school, to make mistakes, and to resolve their own conflicts. Free School students tend to develop maturity beyond their years and are ready to tackle adult life with enthusiasm.

Q: Do you serve hot lunch or do students bring their lunches?

A: Currently, students bring their own lunches from home. In the future, we may revisit the process of getting a contract for food service.

Q: Can parents volunteer?  I am not a parent, can I volunteer?

A: Yes and yes. Our school welcomes volunteers in a variety of capacities – from story readers to field trip chaperones to building upkeep.  In certain cases volunteers are asked to complete a name-based background check. Please contact Joe Ochiltree about volunteer opportunities or fill out our volunteer form.

Q: What does the Free School look like for pre-schoolers and Kindergarteners?

A: The youngest students at our school are not expected to participate in all-school meetings.  They have their own separate classroom with close supervision.  Students still make choices to direct their own learning and spend the majority of their time in free play.  We incorporate constructive play activities, arts and crafts, outdoor exploration, and dramatic play into the choices available for young children.

Q: Can I send my 3- or 4-year-old part time?

A: Sorry, we aren’t offering part-time enrollment at this time.

Q: Does my preschool child need to be toilet-trained?

A: Yes.

Q: Will my 4-year-old be in classes with 14-year-olds?

A: No. Pre-K students spend the day with their class, which includes 3, 4, and 5 year olds, though older students may at times help out in the classroom (under supervision).  Mixed-age learning is a hallmark of a Free School environment and enriches the school community. Starting in Kindergarten, some elective classes are open for all ages, while others are geared toward the social, developmental, and academic needs of older or younger students.

Q: Can your school accommodate students with special learning needs?

A: We do not have any Special-Ed certified staff, nor are we equipped to provide specialized services such as speech-language or occupational therapy.  However, all students have an individualized curriculum at the Chicago Free School, and the low student-to-teacher ratio means students can have a lot of individual attention.  Many families find that a free school is a good environment for their child with special needs.  Please contact admissions@chicagofreeschool.org if you would like to ask more detailed questions about your child’s needs.