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Garden Hills Academy in Champaign reopens for fall as pre-K-8

Taraji Davis and her dad, Ricky Davis, talk about her first day of sixth grade at Garden Hills Academy.

CHAMPAIGN — Taraji Davis ran to her dad for a hug after her first day of sixth grade on Monday.

Her dad, Ricky Davis, said he appreciates that she can stay at Garden Hills Academy for middle school.

“She’s been here for the first five years and gets to stay here. It’s pretty cool for her as far as comfort and being familiar with the staff and everybody,” Ricky Davis said.

Taraji said she learned a lot on her first day and is excited about her math class.

The Unit 4 School District decided to add grades to both Garden Hills and International Prep Academy last year. The rationale was to decrease pre-kindergarten and middle school overcrowding, as well as promote socioeconomic diversity.

It was one of the main outcomes of last fall’s months-long debate about how to further integrate elementary schools. Because of parent pushback, Unit 4 decided not to change its schools of choice system.

Garden Hills was previously K-5. IPA was already K-8.

Garden Hills PTA President Chris Jacobson brought music to welcome the new sixth graders to their first day. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

Garden Hills’ parent-teacher association president, Chris Jacobson, greeted the new sixth graders on Monday with music from a portable player.

“The Centennial football team was here to greet all the middle schoolers coming in. We had bumping music playing — like a little DJ situation — just to get them excited,” Jacobson said.

Seventh and eighth graders are starting school Tuesday. Preschoolers start on Aug. 21.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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