THE LOOP — Mayor Rahm Emanuel loves to frame Chicago as "a world-class city" with international appeal — and construction on the first U.S. GEMS World Academy set to open Downtown next year suggests that he's not the only one.
The GEMS World Academy program operates private schools in China, Egypt, India, Kenya and beyond, with sites opening this year in Egypt, Uganda, Switzerland and United Arab Emirates.
In the fall of next year, it will open an elementary school currently under construction at 350 E. South Water St., just east of Aqua Tower. The following September, in 2015, it will open a junior high school and high school building around the corner at Lower Wacker Drive, ultimately enrolling more than 2,000 students in the K-12 program by the end of a planned four-year buildout.
The international education promised at GEMS comes at a world-class price: Kindergarten tuition is $32,000 a year, and a fifth-grader at the school opening in fall 2014 would pay $37,000, though first-year families get a 10 percent discount. By comparison, yearly tuition for a fifth-grader at Latin School of Chicago is $29,985, $27,210 at Francis W. Parker School and $25,296 at University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.
The school will offer need-based financial aid, all in the form of grants, according to Emily Hampsten, a spokeswoman for the school. Students and families can apply through the Financial Aid for School Tuition (FAST) application posted online.
The Chicago school's literature boasts "an entrepreneurial focus" that includes projects and mentorships with "leading businesses and organizations," as well as opportunities to collaborate with students and faculty from the 151 countries in the school's network.
Geoff Jones, former principal and president of the U. of C. Lab Schools and GEMS World Academy Chicago's new chief, said the decision to debut the International Baccalaureate-accredited school in Chicago was an easy one to make.
"It's a city rich in diversity and the history of the American dream of bringing the world together," Jones said. "There are wonderful cultural institutions. There are universities that have excelled in doing research and studies on the various aspects of internationalism, and of course there are the businesses in the private sector that have been very helpful in that area. It's a city that has embraced the idea of learning internationally."
"The Loop in particular offers that kind of connectivity," Jones said, adding that he's already in touch with local universities and private-sector partners about developing learning opportunities outside the Downtown classrooms.
Payton College Prep and Ogden International on the Near North Side are the closest public high school options.
Plans for Magellan to build the "shell" of a public school near its Lakeshore East development were put on hold last year when Chicago Public Schools found it didn't have the budget to open a new program, even with developer's investment.
Ryan Hannon, director of admissions, said GEMS will recruit "a blend of both" local faculty and international teachers and staff who have experience with the GEMS network.
GEMS World Academy Chicago is hosting weekly info sessions on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for interested parents from its recruitment office in suite 205 at 333 E. Benton Place, next to the Loop Mariano's grocery.
Hannon said there's already a great deal of interest in the 350 seats available in the first building for its inaugural year.
Little ones interested in pursuing the GEMS education track can get an early start at Lincoln Park's Little GEMS International, which opened last fall at 2301 N. Clark St. Little GEMS graduates will get a leg up on admission to GEMS World Academy.
That early start might come in handy: Applying requires a $100 application fee, recommendation letters, interviews or observations, depending on student age, and Independent School Entrance Exam score submission for prospective fifth-graders.
One of Dubai's several GEMS schools is ranked as one of the city's two most expensive private schools.