Quinn signs education bills

Illinois schoolchildren will get a lesson in peacekeeping as early as kindergarten starting this fall, under a suite of education bills that Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law today at a North Side school.

Students in kindergarten through third grade now will study how to resolve conflicts without violence during a unit that spans at least three weeks every year. The new law extends to the youngest students the lessons that now began in fourth grade and continue through senior year.

"It's hard to learn if you are worrying about your safety," Quinn said during a bill signing ceremony at Wells Community Academy High School on the Near North Side.

Two other laws were aimed at ensuring students who lag behind academically can get a boost in the core areas of reading and math.

The state school code already mandates remedial help for the most struggling students, listing as options everything from tutoring to added class time and repeating a grade, according to officials with the Illinois State Board of Education.

One of the new laws essentially requires that if struggling students enroll in summer school, then the school must emphasize reading and math during the classes. But that was  likely to happen anyway since students are tested and schools are measured based on reading and math test scores, under federal education law.

The third in the trio of bills requires schools to promote an hour of reading every day for students in kindergarten through third grade who test below grade level. The law does not specify, however, what exactly schools must do to promote reading.

"There is a focus on making sure everyone, including students who are a little behind maybe, get that push in reading and math," Quinn said.


Wells senior Tamara Mercado, 18, took a break from her summer trigonometry and contemporary history classes to attend the bill signing in the school's library. Mercado transferred to the school as a junior and was short the two final credits required before she can receive a high school diploma next month.

Mercado said she doesn't mind reporting to summer school if it means she can graduate on time.

Nearly 200 students enrolled in Wells' summer classes this year. Principal Ernesto Matias said he expects even more students would enroll if it means they can keep on pace to graduate with their classmates.

"The kids will come," Matias said. "We just keep after them to get to summer school."