Virtual classrooms at GEMS help students learn during coronavirus era

By Daniel Patton, April 1, 2020


GEMS World Academy temporarily shuttered its New Eastside campus on Friday, March 13, in accordance with Illinois Governor Pritzker’s order to close all of the state’s public and private schools to combat the spread of coronavirus. Classes resumed via online videoconferencing the following Monday.

Since then, GEMS hasn’t missed a beat. The school has been executing its remote learning plan every weekday while keeping pace with the teachers’ original lesson plans, which include lessons, individual work, and community and socializing time.

5th grader Shiven Kammula meeting via Zoom with his class and the school counselor discussing coping strategies

“We kind of sensed this was coming, so we already had this conversation with kids,” recalled Head of School Tom Cangiano. “They were prepared and had all the equipment they needed.”

The equipment includes iPad minis that students received when they were in junior kindergarten and MacBook Pros in fourth grade. The gear makes a fitting complement to the school’s tech-savvy methodology of its young scholars.

GEMS is an International Baccalaureate school that educates a diverse population of students from preschool through grade 12. With a strong focus on innovation, it incorporates emerging technology into the daily routine.

As a result, students made a rather easy transition from classroom to home.

Plugging into online applications like Zoom and Google Meet, they attend class, form breakout groups, learn from guest lecturers, and collaborate on digital versions of the traditional white board. Recently, the fourth graders studied immigration by listening to the personal stories of a Filipino archaeologist from National Geographic Explorer.

According to Director of Innovation Peg Keiner, it’s been more or less school as usual. “We had the infrastructure in place, and teachers were already doing this,” she explained. “We have a program that believes that children can learn everywhere. We just added Zoom.”

Cangiano, who teaches a literature class, said that replicating the dynamic of a group discussion with students “is not as challenging as you think.”

“Teachers are using all kinds of different strategies,” he added. “They might be sharing their screens and embedding videos.”


The Field Studies Program

A slightly modified version of the school’s unique Field Studies program also continues to thrive. As part of a commitment to inquiry-based learning, the program has traditionally encouraged students to explore their surroundings, engage with the community, and learn from their
experiences. It complements the school’s “Chicago curriculum,” which Cangiano summarized by saying, “you become a great global citizen if you are a great local citizen.”

4th grade students practice counting in French class via Zoom (photo: of Gems World Academy)

Now that students are studying remotely, instead of analyzing the food supply chain by visiting Mariano’s or observing symbiosis by watching dogs and their owners in the park, the students journey through their immediate surroundings.

“We’re encouraging kids to look at the things we can learn from home,” Keiner explained. “Normally, we would go to Mariano’s; but now we’re going to go to the fridge.”

Besides bringing lessons into bedrooms and kitchen tables (where preschoolers seem to prefer studying math), the virtual classrooms reinforce an essential component of education that cannot be learned through books or computers.


Creating communities

“People and interaction are the most important,” Keiner said. “In the absence of a physical, real-time community, we’ve had to create communities. From kindergarten up to 12th grade, we’ve had children on Zoom calls with each other, cultivating and retaining relationships we’ve built.”

Gems lower school team members have a virtual meeting on Zoom (photo: Gems World Academy)

Although Cangiano has noticed that some of the students appear to “miss being physically present,” he said that GEMS teachers and counselors offer one-on-one calls and online support, and the parents have been “incredible.”

“Our message to parents was that, in order for this to work, this had to be a team effort,” Cangiano said. The message was contained in a booklet that outlined GEMS remote learning plan and asked parents for feedback. “Everybody had helpful tips,” he added. “We couldn’t be happier.”

This connectivity fuels a larger effort that will help everyone move forward, according to Director of Admissions Adriana Mourgelas. “When you not only have wonderful administrators who are supportive of faculty but also parents, that’s something that helps,” she said. “We are a community and we’ll get through this together.”

In that spirit, GEMS sends a survey to parents every Friday to encourage communication and feedback on how things are going.

“We got a gauge on challenges so that we could adjust what we’re doing so that we could make those tweaks and fine tune those things,” explained Cangiano. “About 90% of our respondents said it was going pretty darn well.”

Live from your living room: new experiences to have at home

By Stephanie Racine


Virtual museum tours

Travel through the travel ban and visit some of the world’s most famous museums on a virtual tour. Some of the tours available include the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, which houses works from famous French artists such as Gauguin, Monet and Degas. Locally, virtually visit The Art Institute of Chicago, The Field Museum and The Adler Planetarium, available through Google’s Art and Culture Platform. Visit


Help out a local Library

The Newberry Library is looking for volunteers to help transcribe historical letters from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The process is simple and can be done on the Newberry’s website. Read letters and diaries from people who lived in the midwest and those expanding the West, including some Native American history. Click here to get started.


Livestream a zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo will be going live on Facebook every day at 2 p.m. through April 9. One of their animals will be highlighted each day and an activity will be shared. Those without Facebook can watch the daily video on The Cincinnati Zoo’s website, or YouTube.


Foster a pet

PAWS Chicago is always looking for foster homes for their pets. Apply to foster a pet online at the PAWS chicago website. Fostering of some pets have specific requirements. Other pet rescues organizations looking for fosterers include the Anti-Cruelty Society and ALIVE Rescue.


At-home meditation

Meditation apps can help for relaxation and mindfulness. Calm and Headspace are apps that offer free or paid options. Listen to calming sounds or guided meditations in soothing voices. Available on the Apple App store and Google Play. 


Social media concerts 

A number of famous artists have taken to social media to perform livestream concerts. John Legend, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Keith Urban have taken requests on Instagram. Stay tuned on social media for the next surprise live performance.

Universal Inclusivity in West Loop

by Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Universal Standard opened at 175 N. Ada Street on July 10th. Universal Standard is a 1:1 shopping experience, with inclusive sizing. 67% of women in the U.S. wear a size 14 and above, according to Universal Standard’s website, and most shopping experiences are not tailored to all sizes.

Opening a brick-and-mortar store in West Loop seemed like the ideal decision, according to co-founder and Chief Creative Office Alexandra Waldman. “It’s no secret that West Loop is one of Chicago’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, home to so many new and exciting business concepts,” said Waldman. Universal Standard is excited to be a part of a community of businesses who are making a difference in the city and in the world.

Universal Standard chooses to focus on style, not on size. While visiting the store, a stylist helps customers pick out options based on their personal likes and dislikes. They sell a variety of options, from casual to formal.

Beyond shopping, Universal Standard hosts events at their space that are open to the public. These include parties, panels, and dinners. They also encourage customers to just come hang out.

The shopping experience at Universal Standard is unique and tailored to the individual. “This space was conceived with our customers in mind – it’s a home away from home to stop by for midday coffee breaks, have friends over to discuss the latest book they’ve all read, get dressed with our stylists before that special event, and really feel free to build a community around the things that are important to them,” said Waldman.

Visit Universal Standard’s website for more information on events, to online shop, or to read more about their mission. 175 N. Ada St. 1-312-265-1846.

Chapter Two opens at immersive West Loop museum

(Published Aug. 1, 2019)

Elisa Shoenberger, Staff writer

An immersive art museum opened as a pop up in the fall with Chapter One. Visitors got to play with a variety of artistic installations and take selfies inside artist Yayoi Kusuma’s Infinity Room.

Now, Chapter Two has opened at the wndr museum, 1130 W. Monroe St.

The museum closed in April and Chapter Two opened in May. The company has decided that the museum will remain a permanent part of the neighborhood

Chapter One’s theme was finite/infinite, explained Joanie Faletto, social media and digital marketing manager at the wndr museum. The first chapter explored the relationship between art and science and installations allowed visitors to play with their sense of scale.

“Chapter Two highlights how we look at art and what we consider to be art,” Faletto said. 

Many people think about art as a tangible thing—paint on a canvas, she said. The museum challenges this and presents “digital, tech-based installations” and asks people to experience art in the 21st century. 

While the museum prioritizes the five senses, there are more audio installations. A sound shower in the wndr museum’s Music Cave allows viewers to touch emojis that represent their mood and at that point, music will play. Visitors are invited to sing along, a variation of singing in the shower. 

With Chapter Two, the museum will look to partner with organizations in Chicago, Faletto said. A planned after-dark event has the wndr museum partnering with Young Chicago Authors, a group that cultivates young voices through writing, publication and performance education. The group performs spoken word pieces. 

“We haven’t been around for a year, so we’re still a new company,” Faletto said. “Now that we’ve decided to be permanent, we want to see how we can give back to the community and become a part of the fabric in Chicago, like partnering with organizations like Young Chicago Authors.

Most of the museum is new for Chapter Two. Faletto said each chapter will be open for a limited time.

“If you’ve done it once, you haven’t seen it the whole thing. It’s a continuing narrative over the years. But Yayoi Kusuma fans can rest assured—the Infinity Room remains,” she said.

As its name implies, the museum aims to bring a little more wonder into the world. 

“We want people to leave wndr feeling more inspired than when they walked in,” Faletto said.

A guide for the best summer sippin’

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff Writer

Summer time is a great for trying new and invigorating cocktails made with  fresh ingredients and various liquors.

Eden, 1748 W. Lake St., a restaurant featuring American cuisine, is developing a selection of cocktails for the summer. Led by chef Devon Quinn, Eden has its own greenhouse, providing  herbs and vegetables. What they do not grow themselves, they get from local farms.

Eden mixologist Alex Rydzewski said they’ll be debuting a new liquor, Banhez Ensemble mezcal, made by a cooperative that prioritizes sustainable growing. A summer drink to be featured is Groovy Situation, made with  Banhez mezcal, Strega liqueur, pineapple, lime and tamarind demerara sugar. They’ll also have their popular Frose, containing rose wine, vodka and peach syrup.

Rydzewski said they will take advantage of the summer’s bounty from their own greenhouse. He plans to use lovage, a Mediterranean herb that he describes as “tasting like celery,” along with different types of mints including pineapple mint and chocolate mint.

Rydzewski explained the perfect summer cocktail should be “refreshing… something that isn’t going to be too strong, sour, or sweet. It’ll be balanced; something you’ll enjoy in the summer heat and the humidity we have in Chicago.”

Rydzewski notes Eden is working on non-alcoholic drinks. He said  non-alcoholic drinks “don’t need to take a backseat to the main cocktails. We are trying to make them as complex and unique as a regular drink without putting in the alcohol.”

Rydzewski said people should look for unique ingredients and fresh fruits and berries in their summer drinks. He recommends avoiding “a bunch of liqueurs and syrups that will crowd a cocktail.”

Eden has a patio, offering an outdoor space that pairs well with any drink.

For more information visit

West Loop Events June 2019

June 1

Fulton Market Expo (FMX)

Every first Saturday of the month through October, vendors at the Fulton Market Expo offer jewelry, flowers, baked goods, and more. Discover this historic district and its makers for yourself! 9 a.m.-1 p.m., free, Fulton Market block between Peoria and Green Streets, 312-666-1991,

June 2

S&K Camp Scoop


Parrillada Special


Free Wine Tasting

June 12 & 25

Movies in the Parks

As part of Movies in the Parks, “Black Panther” will be playing in Union Park (1501 W. Randolph St.) on June 12, and “Wayne’s World” will be playing in Mary Bartelme Park (115 S. Sangamon St.) on June 25. Bring a blanket and some snacks and enjoy your favorite films with friends and family. All movies begin at dusk (check your local weather site), free, see website for locations and full schedule, 312-742-1134,

June 8

Naked Bike Ride

6-11:55 p.m.,

June 8

Hunt the Row

This scavenger hunt takes you all along Madison Row. Hunt for clues and learn about the area! The grand prize will be gift cards to Madison Row businesses. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., free, register online, begins at Cat & Mouse Games at 1112 W. Madison St, 312-902-4922,

June 12

Toddler Play

Join Rachel Claire, Director of Soul City Kids Camp, for fun sensory play, songs, and exploring the world around us. Appropriate for children ages 2-5. 10 a.m.-noon, $12, Mary Bartelme Park, 115 S. Sangamon St.,

June 12

WCA Networking Event

Expand your professional network with this event at the lavish Metropolitan Club hosted by the West Central Association. 4:30-6:30 p.m., free, The Metropolitan, Willis Tower, 233 S. Wacker Dr., 67th Floor, 312-902-4922,

June 14-16

Taste of Randolph

Now in its 23rd year, this street festival features food from over 16 restaurants, live music, DJs and more. Friday 5-10 p.m., Saturday & Sunday 12-10 p.m., $10 suggested donation, 900 W. Randolph St., 312-666-1991,

June 15

Chicago Book & Paper Fair

This fair for bibliophiles is in its 58th year and will host booksellers from all over the Midwest and the country selling collectible, rare, and antiquarian books, paper items, photographs, vinyl records, and more! 10 a.m.-5 p.m., $6, $4 for students and seniors with ID, Chicago Journeyman Plumbers Union Hall, 1340 W. Washington Blvd.,

June 16

Vinyasa and Vino

Break a sweat with this 75-minute yoga class followed by a wine tasting! Weather permitting, it will take place in City Winery’s beautiful wine garden. 2-4 p.m., $35, City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., 312-733-9463,

June 21-22

Old St. Pat’s Block Party

Old St. Pat’s is hosting its 35th annual block party with music, food, and fun! Proceeds go to the church’s outreach programs. Buy tickets by June 10 and get a free drink. Friday 5-10:30 p.m., Saturday 2-10:30 p.m., general admission $10, entrance gates are at Monroe and DesPlaines St., Monroe and Jefferson, and Adams and DesPlaines St., 312-648-1021,

Wednesdays through Sundays, June 27–August 24

Chicago SummerDance

Get into the groove with 48 different live bands and DJs in this series of free events. Get there before the show for free dance lessons, then practice your moves when the music comes on! Free, Grant Park and other locations, see website for schedule and details,

June 22-23

Chicago Pride Fest

This two-day street festival takes place the weekend before the Chicago Pride Parade. Celebrate the LGBTQ+ community with live music, food and drink, drag shows, a pet parade, and more. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., $10 suggested donation, Boystown on Halsted Street from Addison to Grace St.,

June 23

Grilling with John

June 24


Jazz fusion quartet The JuJu Exchange will headline this 40th anniversary concert for the West Loop’s Merit School of Music. Other notable Merit alums will also perform. 7-9 p.m., doors open at 5 p.m., tickets from $30, City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., 312-733-9463,

June 24-28

Hamilton Summer Camp

Campers will learn about the Founding Fathers through the hit musical Hamilton. What’s more fun than learning history through hip-hop, R&B and rap? For ages 7-13. 9 a.m.-4 p.m., $450, Open Books, 651 W. Lake St., 312-475-1355,

June 29-30

Randolph Street Market

You never know what treasures you’ll find at the Randolph Street Market! This monthly indoor/outdoor event hosts vendors selling vintage fashion, furniture, home decor, specialty food items, and more. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., $10 online, $12 at the gate, Chicago Plumbers Union Hall, 1340 W. Washington Blvd., 312-666-1200,

June 30

Pride Parade

Chicago’s annual Pride Parade celebrating the LGBTQ+ community is back for its 50th year! The parade begins at noon and will step off from the corner of Broadway and Montrose, proceeding south on Broadway; then south on Halsted; then east on Belmont; then south on Broadway; then east on Diversey to Cannon Drive. This year’s international theme is “Millions of Moments of Pride.”

Jefferson Street remains closed after street rupture

Published May 2, 2019

Parts of Jefferson Street remain closed—and will remain closed—for an unknown length of time as city road crews repair a massive rupture between Adams and Monroe streets.

The rupture happened Tuesday afternoon, and the Chicago Department of Transportation will not confirm the cause of the rupture. However,

CDOT suggests drivers take an alternate northbound routes to avoid congestion and drivers should expect delays.

Get to know your community organizations

By Elizabeth Czapski, staff writer

The West Loop stays vibrant with the help of residents, business owners and community leaders who work together through the neighborhood’s many organizations. Here are four stand-outs:

West Central Association (WCA) Chamber of Commerce

This neighborhood association wears a couple of different hats as a chamber of commerce and a delegate agency of the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Economic Development. The Chamber was founded in 1918 to support businesses and the community in general. Benefits for Chamber members include networking opportunities, exposure through WCA’s marketing, access to city services and public officials, and more. Find out more at

West Loop Community Organization (WLCO)

This membership organization is a non-profit delegate agency of the City of Chicago that participates in public planning, economic development and community programming. WLCO’s committees include a Welcoming Committee, Safety Committee, Education Committee, Assorts & Culture Committee, and Development Committee, which works with the aldermen to review proposed developments and request zoning changes. Learn more at

Fulton Market Association

Fulton Market Association is a non-profit economic development agency working in Fulton Market, West Loop, Kinzie Industrial Corridor and the West Side. The association focuses on public safety, business, real estate and community solutions, infrastructure, neighborhood beautification, economic development, among other topics. Members receive free advertising to more than 1,000 business and community contacts. More information can be found at

Neighbors of West Loop (NoWL)

Neighbors of West Loop is a membership organization formed by residents who wanted to make a positive impact on the neighborhood. The organization is involved in all areas of community improvement: reviewing new developments, improving parks and green spaces, promoting local events, schools and businesses, ensuring public safety, and more. Get involved at

(Published March 18, 2019)

A look behind the dye

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Dyeing the Chicago River green is a downtown tradition that spans decades.

Plumbers with the Plumbers Local 130 union began using dye for spotting water leaks and river pollution in 1962, after Mayor Richard M. Daley sought attractions to draw crowds downtown and to the river—which at the time wasn’t developed.

Pat McCarthy, a recording secretary with the Plumbers Local 130 union and the boat coordinator, said volunteers still prepare the dye and sift it by hand into the water.

“We use about 50 pounds of dye,” he said. “It’s a powder and it starts off [as] an orange color. We sprinkle that into a quarter mile stretch of the river.”

The group dyes the same stretch of the river every year—the section separating Streeterville and the New Eastside starting at either Wabash or State Street and following Wacker to the lake. The exact portions of the river that will be dyed are announced closer to the day of.

The dye—whose exact formula remains a mystery—is harmless to fish and other living organisms in the river, and McCarthy said it only lasts a day or a day and a half.

It’s a messy job that leaves volunteers covered in color.

“There’s a lot of cleanup on the boats afterward,” he said.

McCarthy works to coordinate the St. Patrick’s Day parade in addition to his river duties. It’s a busy, dirty and long day for him, but he doesn’t mind.

McCarthy said he’s proud to be involved in the events because he’s a first-generation American. His parents emigrated from Ireland, so being involved with an Irish holiday in the city that adopted his family is a special experience for him.

Area businesses lend a hand to help Girls Scouts sell cookies

By Angela Gagnon, Staff Writer

Girl Scouts are busy selling their famous cookies all over downtown Chicago while partnering with local businesses that provide warm spaces where scouts can sell extra boxes through the end of March.

Troop 20461, from South Loop Elementary, recently sold cookies at Pinstripes in Streeterville on a blustery Saturday morning. Troop co-leader Angelica Prado helped set up, and fourth grade troop members Mia Prado and Katie Boone sold to Pinstripes customers.

“My favorite part of selling Girl Scout cookies is asking people to buy our cookies,” Mia said. “Even if they say no, they know who we are and they can tell more people about the cookies.”

“I like selling Girl Scout cookies because it teaches me to set a goal and try to complete that goal,” Katie added.

“The girls decide on a cookie goal and work to reach that goal,” Katie’s mom and troop co-leader Aimee Boone, said. Troop 20461 set their goal for each girl to sell 100 boxes of cookies.

At the end of cookie season, the troop can decide what to do with their share of the profits, which is about 90 cents per box.

A portion goes to a charitable donation of the troop’s choice. Troop 20461 will be donating to Mercy Home for Boys and Girls this year. They also vote on something fun to do as a troop, as a reward for all the hard work they do during cookie sales.

Girl Scouts will set up booths at select locations until the end of March. Troop 20461 will be back at Pinstripes, 435 E Illinois St., March 24 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

On March 2, they will be selling cookies at Sod Room, 1454 S Michigan Ave., from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

“Inviting them to sell at Sod Room helps shift the ownership back to the child,” Sod Room owner Cynthia Valenciana said. “That’s hard in today’s climate, and there’s so much power in that.”

For a list of cookie booth locations, dates and times, visit the Girl Scouts’ website,, and use the “cookie finder” to locate nearby booths.

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