As Chicago Public Schools kicked off the 2021-22 school year, CFF and our partners were on the ground across Chicago, supporting back-to-school efforts, providing resources from the Compassion Fund to remove barriers to students reengaging with learning, and bringing additional enthusiasm and energy to the exciting back-to-school season.
Joy and Generosity in Action
Here are just a few examples of our school communities’ enthusiasm and the impact of our partners’ generosity as CPS students headed back to school:
Students at Arnold Mireles Elementary started their school year off proud, with brand new backpacks and school supplies provided by Office Depot and Boise Papers. These partners’ Start Proud! initiative equipped 1,000 students at 3 elementary schools to thrive this year.
Students and families entering CPS Back to School Bashes were greeted with cheerful faces and ample amounts of PPE, much of which was donated by CFF partners. Partners providing essential PPE to supplement CPS’ substantial investments included Bank of America, Grainger, Home Depot, SC Johnson, along with many more.
Cradles to Crayons donated 10,000 backpacks and a trove of other school supplies, making sure every student at 22 different CPS schools started the year with new materials and increased confidence.
Uber Freight‘s Chicago team donated and delivered essential school supplies to Piccolo Elementary.
Team members from Office Depot, CPS Network 12, Mireles Elementary, and CFF confer on preparations for the StartProud! back to school event.
The International WeLoveU Foundation brought backpacks, supplies, and tons of enthusiasm to Spencer Elementary’s back-to-school cookout where students had the opportunity to meet their new teachers before the start of the school year.
Section 8 Chicago – the Independent Supporters’ Association (ISA) for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club – activated their supporter community’s enthusiasm to collect and distribute school supplies for Dr Martin Luther King Jr Academy of Social Justice in Englewood.
This summer, an all-girls team (new to #MinecraftEDU) won 1st place at the #Chitown Showdown, an esports competition hosted by CPS’ Early College and Career Office and the Department of Computer Science. CME Group Foundation supported this event and 5 others like it, funding an esports pilot for our CPS students as they reengaged with STEM learning and readied themselves for the school year.
Principal Randle-Robbins of Mireles Elementary in South Chicago, with Mica from CFF.
CFF at Daley Elementary‘s back-to-school event, visiting a longtime partner and helping with distribution of Cradles to Crayons’ backpack donation.
CFF visited schools to help with back to school efforts. Here’s Sadie, our ED, at Hitch Elementary in Jefferson Park.
CFF visited Ravenswood Elementary and saw students and teachers finding creative ways to collaborate and interact while maintaining social distance.
CFF team members Hutton and Luke organize school supplies at a donation distribution event during the first week of school.
Ravenswood students enjoy lunch outdoors.
In partnership with the Chicago Sun Times, WCIU, and CW26, CPS and CFF initiated a campaign to raise awareness for COVID-19 vaccinations, emphasizing the availability of the vaccine for students ages 12 and older.
To continue to support CPS school communities, please consider donating in these ways:
To honor our students and educators as they continue to return to school, we’re asking those who are able to support the CFF Compassion Fund and help ensure students have the resources needed in and outside of the classroom.
For those looking to build a 1:1 lasting relationship within a specific school, learn more about CFF’s School Partnership Program.
Select “Children First Fund” as your charitable organization of choice with smile.amazon.com, or explore other ways to Give Through Partners on our website.
Back to School 2021: Meet CPS’ StartProud! All Star Teacher
While we can’t predict what this new year has in store, we know students look to schools for far more than academics –– and that our schools rely on the Compassion Fund to address unexpected circumstances.
Our partners’ generosity helps equip our schools to weather the challenges of tomorrow. As students and families encounter various needs, thanks to the support of our community, we’re able to provide resources to help our students and schools succeed.
In Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, Saray spent the 2020-21 school year navigating the everyday challenges of a first-year college student: balancing studies and social interactions, learning how to manage her time with greater independence, and tackling initial courses in her chosen discipline (for her: pursuing a Nursing degree).
But she also had a whole slate of challenges that many college students experience but many others do not: figuring out the complexities of a university and parsing financial aid policies as the first in her family to attend college, and helping care for four younger siblings while her parents juggled work schedules and financial stressors. All this in a global pandemic, which made even “everyday” challenges much more daunting. Through it all, she persevered – and excelled.
Growth in postsecondary education for CPS graduates
Saray isn’t alone in her determination or success. In steadily increasing numbers, Chicago Public Schools students are planning for, pursuing, and succeeding in postsecondary education.
At the same time, students face complicated and unfamiliar challenges to obtaining their desired postsecondary credentials and careers. Chief among them: rising educational and personal costs, multi-faceted family responsibilities, and the continued fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Resources for seniors graduating during the pandemic
In response, CFF developed the Compassion Fund’s postsecondary access program, partnering with CPS Office of College and Career Success (OCCS) to provide resources supporting graduating seniors (and those recently graduated) beginning in spring 2020 and throughout the 2020-21 school year. The power of timely, targeted emergency aid is well-documented, especially for students from backgrounds of limited financial means. Oftentimes, a few hundred dollars can mean the difference between a student matriculating directly to a postsecondary institution or stalling (and, more often than not, permanently discontinuing) their educational journey.
Students and the school communities who support them have navigated an array of challenges, meeting COVID-era transitions to postsecondary education with resilience, flexibility, and determination. Educators and CPS leaders responded to student needs identifying and expanding the needed, targeted supports. Philanthropic partners including Crown Family Philanthropies, PepsiCo, and Fifth Third Bank Foundation contributed college success funding – emphasizing equity, empathy, and rapid-responsiveness in their generosity.
CPS Counselors, College & Career Specialists, and Network and Central Office staff worked nimbly, building a nomination system and aid application review process from scratch. CFF contributed fundraising, project management, and financial expertise to assemble necessary resources and get them to the students who needed them most.
The results were remarkable – at a macro level, 338 students received an average of $432 in emergency financial relief. These funds provided laptops for students who suddenly had to learn remotely when they’d planned to utilize on-campus resources, bus tickets for student transportation to orientations and move-in days, and covered mandatory enrollment fees or other financial hurdles to students’ education.
Saray was one of these students. Graduating in 2020 with a successful high school record, she’d been admitted to her first choice school – North Park University, located only a few short blocks from her family’s home. But then the pandemic hit, and money became even more scarce in her household. A relatively small balance (at least compared to the overall cost of attendance) of $1,008 remained after her financial aid package. Even with a monthly payment plan, this burden felt nearly insurmountable.
Throughout her summer before college and into her freshman year, Saray maintained contact with staff at her CPS high school, and with “Ms. Jenny,” the College & Career Specialist supporting postsecondary efforts at her school. Hearing of the financial obstacles to Saray’s postsecondary plans, this team encouraged her to apply for CFF’s postsecondary success funds, and then connected her with the additional resources from the Continued Transition program. It’s hard to say who smiled widest – Saray, her mother, or Ms. Jenny – when they saw her bursar balance’s updated total: $0. A few weeks later, Saray even received a refund of the payment they’d already cobbled together for their original installment plan. With these funds, she covered the cost of a textbook and online fees for another class – yet another expense she had yet to figure out how to pay.
OCCS devoted significant time and resources to these efforts, and simultaneously collaborated with CFF to get additional funds to students, creating an initiative directing additional advising and financial support to a cohort of schools, thanks to the generous donation of another longtime CFF partner. OCCS’ Continued Transition program also garnered positive results, especially in re-engaging students who’d indicated plans to attend college but hadn’t immediately matriculated in the fall of 2020.
Addressing the details for success at scale
Meeting diverse and specific needs is messy, complicated work. Making this large-scale postsecondary success a reality for students involved educators and administrators tracking packages across Chicagoland to help students locate their pre-loaded debit cards, problem-solving for families with unstable and shifting financial circumstances, and anticipating unique needs of transient populations such as Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS). In more than one instance, someone had to meet or reroute USPS deliveries.
Impact on postsecondary options and experiences
All of this labor and dedication provided invaluable support, advising, and personal connection points — vital to encouraging students, caring for their social and emotional well-being, and helping them navigate a complicated life-transition in an unfamiliar landscape. But the impact went beyond advice and encouragement thanks to the generosity of our philanthropic partners. Meeting needs both social-emotional and practical/financial has the potential to dramatically improve students’ educational and professional trajectories. For hundreds of CPS ’20 graduates, our philanthropic partners recognized and supported that transformative potential firsthand.
Thanks to our partners’ continued generosity, these enhanced supports are again available to CPS students graduating in 2021. Having seen the immense impact of these postsecondary success funds for our alumni, we hope to replicate and expand this initiative in years to come.
Interested in supporting CPS students’ continued success?
In unique circumstances, our community has responded with extraordinary support. Throughout this tumultuous year, partners and supporters have rallied around CPS students. As part of CFF’s broader work on behalf of Chicago Public Schools, our Compassion Fund has raised over $11M for COVID-19 Crisis Response, plus millions more from in-kind donations. Resources contributed to the Compassion Fund provide direct emergency relief for schools and families.
An outpouring of generosity
An immense network has united in partnership, helping ensure CPS families are safe and supported – and that students are equipped to succeed despite changes to their learning environment. Since January 2020, Children First Fund has received support from over 1,200 individual and organizational donors. Donations reflect the diversity of our community of supporters, with contributions ranging from $5 to over $1M.
Support that extends beyond the classroom
Students and families have long looked to CPS for support that extends beyond the classroom, particularly in times of crisis. That’s apparent this year more than ever. Amidst skyrocketing unemployment and a daunting public health emergency, CPS students have shouldered immense personal and family responsibilities – all while pursuing their own educations and adapting to dramatic changes in their learning environments.
Each day, Chicago’s dedicated school leaders and educators help their school communities process and deal with the pandemic’s sweeping impact. Alongside COVID-19, students have confronted numerous other crises, including increased national awareness about racial violence, civil disobedience, and waves of civic unrest. Innovative and empathetic as ever, Chicago’s educators offer their communities practical, mental, and emotional support.
To meet acute, unpredictable needs with responsive, flexible funding, Children First Fund has collaborated with CPS principals throughout the pandemic to equitably distribute resources to hundreds of CPS schools. Established relationships with principals paved the way for school leaders to request support from the Compassion Fund throughout the crisis.
Laura Lemone, EdD and Chief of Schools for CPS’ Network 14, says she “appreciates the simplicity of the process” created for the Compassion Fund’s COVID-19 Response efforts, which she describes as a “godsend” for families in Network 14 experiencing “sudden — and, unfortunately, often multiple — challenges” throughout the extended crisis. She underscores the importance of leveraging school leaders’ strong and trusting relationships with families in their communities: “when hardship comes, the schools know and try to quickly connect the family” with the resources they need. And turnaround time is crucial, as families’ needs and situations can shift rapidly.
“We are very quickly able to gather referrals from schools and approve and distribute resources quickly,” continues Lemone. “A quick response of flexible aid can ensure families have groceries that week or their utilities stay on.”
Emergency relief: widespread and individualized
With emergency relief that is both widespread and individualized, the Compassion Fund aims to help meet and ease the divergent, unpredictable challenges of our present moment. Distribution has prioritized support that empowers families to address their most pressing needs and meeting these needs in a responsive, equitable manner requires constant collaboration with school communities and their leaders. All along the way, it’s been resourced by an outpouring of generosity from our community of friends and supporters.
“The staff is going to be so excited and you better believe I will pull out all the stops. It is wonderful to know that someone is truly listening. In my 30 years of doing this work, this feels so refreshing and gives me something to look forward to as each new day presents its challenges. You guys are truly family.”
Principal Freeney, Kellman Corporate School, sharing about a staff appreciation grant to boost morale for essential workers
CFF Compassion Fund support for CPS students during 2020
Through donations to the Compassion Fund, Children First Fund has been able to equitably distribute resources directly to hundreds of CPS school communities, including over 12,000 technology devices, 30,000 culturally relevant books, and 4,500 pre-K-2nd literacy kits. District-wide investments in Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) aim to help students process trauma and grief. Our partners’ support has brought Rainbows’ “Silver Linings” program into over 300 schools and trained 750+ educators, with additional trainings scheduled for early in 2021.
“Receiving this Chromebook will truly help my child to finish his 8th-grade year strong! I am very happy and pleased that Chicago Public Schools was able to make this happen.”
Parent, Ellington Elementary School
Aid has reached families and communities as well, with emergency financial relief of $100-$500 for over 1,000 families facing extenuating circumstances and microgrants given to 350 graduates from the Class of 2020 to ease their post-secondary transitions.
Back-to-School: Equipping Students for Remote Learning
In preparation for the school year, our community of supporters united to equip CPS school communities for a year unlike any other. CFF equitably distributed resources, ensuring our students and schools had the resources to meet this historic moment.
Partners working with CFF through the Compassion Fund’s Back-to-School initiative supported CPS students in novel ways. They helped furnish dedicated home learning spaces with desks, tables, lamps, and other essentials. In addition to CPS’ massive distribution of learning technology, hundreds of students received new headphones to help them focus and engage while learning at home.
The monumental Chicago Connected effort endeavors to empower over 100,000 of our neighbors with internet access. Partner initiatives have supported Child Learning Hubs for families of essential workers. Through aid to the District’s meal distribution efforts, our supporters have provided tens of millions of meals for Chicago families.
Tangible donations like these have been critically important. But it is impossible to overstate the power of intangible support from our community. CPS students, teachers, and staff know that their neighbors and their city is supporting them through this difficult time. We are truly grateful to the companies, foundations, institutions, and individuals who have rallied together to lift up our school communities.
Bringing practical support and encouragement to CPS school communities
During the pandemic, the Compassion Fund has helped bring practical support and encouragement to thousands of students and families across our city. Flexible emergency relief has empowered CPS schools and principals to the heightened needs of their student body–fostering community, boosting morale, and helping students continue learning. And, although they’ve often been concealed behind face masks (including in-kind donations of more than 2.5 million cloth face coverings from CFF partners), we’ve seen an inspiring growth in another essential resource: smiles.
What is the CFF Compassion Fund?
The Compassion Fund supports CPS students by allowing Children First Fund to act immediately when CPS families need us the most. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to move to remote learning, our community responded with an outpouring of generosity. Record numbers of support went to students for computers and headphones connectivity, remote work desks and early reading kits, multicultural books, meal distribution and food delivery, SEL wrap-around services, direct family relief and more.
Moving forward, immense needs persist in our school communities. Whether students move to in-person learning or remain in remote learning, the pandemic continues to have a pronounced impact on the life circumstances and educational needs of our students. While exacerbated by the current public health crisis, most of the needs addressed by the Compassion Fund existed long before the pandemic.
We’ve seen this past year how rapidly our circumstances can shift. In an unpredictable environment, flexibility is crucial for rapid responses to emergent needs. Through our partners continued investments in the Compassion Fund, CFF is positioned to provide precisely this kind of support to Chicago’s students.
To those in the Chicagoland area and beyond who have given with such enthusiasm and compassion, thank you for joining us! Your continued partnership is vital to addressing systemic, local, and individual issues and fulfilling CPS’ Mission, providing a high-quality public education for every child, in every neighborhood, that prepares each for success in college, career, and civic life.
Hundreds of people and organizations joined our holiday-giving campaign to support Chicago’s students.
In November of 2019, Children First Fund introduced a new holiday tradition called CPS Santas: Gifts That Make a Difference. The campaign, which called on people, businesses, and organizations across Chicago to become CPS Santas, brought together both new and longtime CPS supporters to provide gifts and support that directly impacted Chicago Public School students over the holiday season.
CPS Santas offered four giving options, including both in-kind and monetary donation options for both groups and individuals. Each of those giving options was designed to provide direct supports to CPS students in need.
The Compassion Fund option raised money to support CPS families experiencing deaths or other crises, the Warm Winter Coats option collected winter items for students in need, the Multicultural Books option collected books and funding for books that highlight diverse characters and experiences for classroom libraries, and the Toys for the Holidays option asked teams and offices to buy gifts for students who might not otherwise receive any.
Word of the CPS Santas campaign spread quickly on social media thanks to donors who proudly posted pictures of their CPS Santa hats, sent to every donor who contributed $25 or more, which included the vast majority of donors.
CFF supporters required little convincing to get engaged. In just the first two weeks of the campaign, more than 100 donors, including both groups and individuals, had made contributions to one or more of the four giving options. By the campaign’s end on December 31, that number more than doubled.
In addition to CPS Santas’ four giving options, Children First Fund also celebrated Giving Tuesday on December 3 by encouraging donors to support CPS teacher fundraising projects through DonorsChoose. Thanks to an anonymous supporter who matched every donation made to CPS donation pages that day, our supporters raised more than $130,000, fully funding 214 separate CPS teacher projects in a single day.
Among the hundreds of donors who participated in CPS Santas this year were a number of office teams and community organizations who pooled their resources to make larger gifts to CPS classrooms.
A team at Morgan Stanley provided personalized gifts for every student in the 2nd grade at Langford Elementary.
A team at Hilton Worldwide provided winter clothing items for students at Dett Elementary.
Chicago architecture firm Lamar Johnson Collaborative provided personalized gifts and multicultural books for the entire kindergarten at Langford Elementary.
Glamd4Good, BlackEdge Capital, and The Wing all contributed to a coat drive organized by our partners at Chicago Beyond to collect winter clothing items for students at Daley Elementary.
A team at Mars Global provided personalized gifts for the 1st grade at DuBois Elementary.
The Church of the Good Shephard in Hyde Park collected winter clothing items for students at Tilden High School.
A team at Lurie Children’s Hospital provided personalized gifts for a cluster classroom of autistic and non-verbal students at Nash Elementary.
Home Depot donated $100,000 worth of furniture to five schools in need.
Of course, teams and individuals within CPS participated as well, including the Talent team, who provided personalized gifts for the 1st grade at Neil Elementary, and the Grant Funded Programs team, who provided 115 $25 Target gift cards for every student at two CPS alternative schools.
But numbers only tell part of the story. The real impact is best expressed by the people affected by these generous donations.
Dr. Heather Hampton, the principal at Dett, invoked one of the greats to help express her gratitude toward her donor: “Maya Angelou said ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ You really made our students feel cared for and loved. Thank you!”
“We are so appreciative of the generous donations,” said Kamilah Hampton, principal at Daley. “My kids are extremely appreciative of the support.”
“[You provided] a magical Christmas for my students at Nash,” principal Marcie Byrd told her donors. “They received many wonderful gifts, and you blessed many children who may not have otherwise received any gifts this Christmas.”
“I wish you could see the joy on their faces,” said DuBois principal Vanessa Williams-Johnson. “Your kindness if what the world needs more of.”
These sentiments express just how vital every donation made through CPS Santas was. Each and every one of them directly affected students, either by providing crucial supports or gifts to lift their spirits over the holidays. These were gifts that truly made a difference.
To the hundreds of people who became CPS Santas this year, we thank you. Each of you should feel immense pride in the impact you made. We can’t wait to work with all of you and many more new CPS Santas next year to provide more gifts, more books, more coats, hats, gloves, and scarves, and more support to more students across the district.
From all of us at CFF to every CPS Santa across Chicago, thank you!
People and businesses across Chicago donated supplies, sponsored events, and volunteered at schools to welcome students back for SY2019-2020.
In the weeks leading up to the first day of the 2019–2020 schoolyear, Chicago Public Schools revealed key statistics from the 2018–2019 schoolyear, including a record-high graduation rate, the most-ever college and career credentials earned, the most-ever scholarship dollars earned, and a record-low drop-out rate. This year, principals opened the doors to their schools with the wind at their backs, enjoying an unprecedented momentum to kickstart the new schoolyear.
But those historic gains were not likely on the minds of the 361,000 students returning to 644 schools across Chicago just after Labor Day. As always, the first day of school carried with it a range of emotions for students. For all the excitement of seeing old friends and favorite teachers, there’s also the anxiety of taking on challenging new courses and assignments.
Students hold up their “CPS B2S” shirts at a Back to School celebration.
Confidence, of course, is key to combating that anxiety, and CPS has developed a robust suite of services designed to instill confidence in its students. From social-emotional learning supports to no-cut sports programming to supervised, safe passageways to school, every aspect of the school experience has been honed to ensure that students know they have the support and resources they need to succeed.
In the first week of classes, students were greeted with tickets to the Museum of Science and Industry, Monster Jam, and Jurassic World Live. Many returned to schools that had been freshly painted by volunteers. One group of students was even treated to a shopping spree at H&M courtesy of Glam4Good.
In the second week of classes, 150 local Starbucks employees visited Langston Hughes Elementary to help out with a variety of back-to-school beautification projects. Hughes principal Kimbreana Taylor-Goode says she was blown away by the results.
Local Starbucks employees tend to the garden at Langston Hughes Elementary School.
“The nook spaces are now more inviting,” said Goode. “The Learning Garden has been given a complete makeover. The library shelves are now organized and ready for check-out. The gymnasium has new inspirational quotes and accessible closet space. The Starbucks Team truly blessed Langston Hughes Elementary School in an amazing way.”
The most common partner activations were school supply drives. Children First Fund helped businesses identify the most needed school supplies so they could set up in-office drives to collect those items, which CFF then matched with schools that could put them to use.
A handful of partners took their supply drives a step further, packing school supplies into backpacks that were gifted to students who need them. The National Association of Concessionaires leveraged their annual expo in Chicago to collect 500 brand new backpacks filled with school supplies, which were then distributed to students at schools across the district.
NAC Expo attendees collected 500 backpacks, each filled with school supplies, for CPS students.
Pepsi, too, collected backpacks full of school supplies, which we matched with W.E.B. Du Bois Elementary School, a school in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side that has a particularly high percentage of low-income students.
Upon delivery of the backpacks, Du Bois principal Vanessa Williams-Johnson met with members of Pepsi’s team to tell them about her school. Inspired by what they heard, Pepsi’s team decided to donate an additional 175 backpacks and notebooks so the school, so that every single student would start the year with a new backpack and supplies.
“I don’t even know what to say. I am overwhelmed at your kindness,” principal Williams-Johnson wrote in an email to Pepsi. “How exciting this will be for students to start off with what they need.”
Students at Richards Career Academy show off their partner-donated backpacks.
Beyond the utility of a new backpack and supplies, these donations equipped students with the sense of pride and confidence that kids feel when they can walk into school with a brand-new backpack and top-of-the-line supplies on the first day of school.
All of our partners’ Back to School efforts provided CPS students a leg up as they embark on the new school year, and just as important, each of those efforts provided a stark reminder to students that they are part of a huge, vibrant community that is dedicated to their success. With the support of the entire city of Chicago behind them, CPS students are poised to do great things this year.
CFF would like to thank all of our Back to School support partners, including the Great Clips, Monster Jam, National Association of Concessionaires, the Museum of Science and Industry, Feld Entertainment, Back 2 School Illinois, People’s Gas, Project Swish, Support Group Inc., Office Depot, Adtalem Global Education, Comcast, Relativity, Pepsi, The Ritz-Carlton, Transwestern, C2 Imaging, Glam4Good, H&M, the Regal Foundation, Showpad, Conversant, Freeway Insurance, Starbucks, and Omni Group.
Mars Food's VP of Corporate Affairs reflects on a recent visit with CPS high-school students.
by Caroline Sherman
In January of 2019, organic seed and food company Seeds of Change™ partnered with the Children Fund to award $500,000 to Chicago Public Schools. Since then, the grant has helped CPS schools across Chicago develop lush learning gardens, innovative farm-to-table education programs, substantive professional-development opportunities, farmers markets, and summer gardening jobs for high school students.
Over the summer, Mars Food—parent company to Seeds of Change™—hosted 15 CPS student interns for a botanical/horticultural program that was funded by the same grant. That program culminated in a student visit to the Mars Food North America headquarters here in Chicago, where students got an in-depth look at jobs in the food industry.
Caroline Sherman, VP of Corporate Affairs for Mars Food North America, offered the following reflections on the visit.
As a native Chicagoan, I’m incredibly passionate about ensuring every citizen in our city has the same access to opportunities, especially our children. That’s why I’m so proud to have been a part of the Seeds of Change™ team that granted $500,000 to Chicago Public Schools through the Children First Fund for school gardens and educational programs.
Caroline Sherman and members of Seeds of Change™ pose after their garden build at Walter Dyett High School.
Since the partnership began in January 2019, I’ve been honored to play a direct role in supporting those grants, first by helping to build a new vegetable garden at Walter Dyett High School, and most recently by hosting a group of bright summer interns at the Mars Food North America headquarters.
During the students’ visit to our office, Mars Associates from a range of departments got to spend time and speak directly with these future titans of the food and agricultural industries, offering them glimpses into many of the career options related to growing, cooking, and enjoying healthy food.
CPS student interns interviewed Mars employees about their lives and careers.
While the students got a lot of value from their time with Mars Associates, I have no doubt that it’s our Associates who benefitted the most. It was truly a joy to get to know this group of ambition, curious, and highly capable young adults.
CPS student interns prepared their own lunch in Mars’s fully equipped office kitchen.
The greatest part of the day, at least for me, though I’m sure the students would agree, was lunch. Cooking and eating together can be an incredibly powerful way to learn about and bond with people. Together, we made a delicious, four-course vegetarian meal, featuring plenty of fresh veggies, herbs, and Seeds of Change™ food products. And the interns left with some healthy recipe inspirations to bring back to their families.
The day ended with a game designed to emphasize the importance of sustainability. This was a perfect way to close out a mentorship day. Through the game, the students could clearly see how everything they are learning about horticulture and botany, including how to sustainably grow and harvest food, relates directly to the broader food industry.
Sustainability is something Mars has prioritized for years. We are adamant about creating a better world tomorrow through better food today, and sustainability is at the core of that pursuit. Sustainable growing practices and nutritious food are critical to ensuring the future health of people and the planet for generations to come.
My reflections on the day would not be complete without mentioning the infectious enthusiasm of these students. Their drive and energy make me proud and optimistic about the future of Chicago. I returned to my day-to-day activities with a renewed inspiration because of the time I got to spend with those 15 CPS students.
Before I end, I’d like to address our student interns directly and say thanks. Thanks for taking an interest in what we do, and thanks for giving us back as much as (or more than) than we gave. I am so excited to see what the future holds for each of you.
Caroline Sherman (center), CPS student interns, and members of the Seeds of Change™ team celebrate the meal they’ve prepared together.
The first-year Randolph Elementary School teacher used her grant to build a library in her classroom.
by the Chicago Foundation for Education
When the Children First Fund celebrates our partner-supported programs, we often focus on the big picture—how many schools adopted the program, how many scholarships were awarded, dollar-value of resources contributed, and other quantifiable metrics. But, while important, statistics don’t always show the personal impact of the investments. CFF Case Studies provide a more intimate look at how partnerships and high-impact philanthropy affect CPS students.
This Case Study, looking at a recipient of the Opportunity Schools Classroom Grant, was provided by our partners at the Chicago Foundation for Education, who awarded more than 500 grants and fellowships to CPS teachers in 2018.
In the summer of 2017, Megan Horan prepared for her first year of teaching, by collecting and purchasing books for her classroom at Randolph Elementary, a PK–8 school in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood. Ms. Horan stocked her room with Junie B Jones and the Captain Underpants series, as well as many other books she knew would interest her students. Unfortunately, Horan soon discovered that only 16 of the 51 students in her two classes were currently reading at a second- or third- grade level, so the majority of the books she acquired were too difficult.
On top of that, Ms. Horan found that several of her students experienced severe emotional and behavioral issues that often distracted them from the learning environment. To help those students calm down, away from others, she would often send them out of the classroom, but she preferred to direct them to a private area within the room. That approach helped to normalize their emotions and prevent anyone from feeling ostracized. Using hand-me-down rugs and pillows gathered from friends, Ms. Horan created a sort of calming area in her classroom, but the space was small and not ideal for soothing an overwhelmed child.
Then Ms. Horan learned about the Chicago Foundation for Education’s (CFE) Opportunity Schools Classroom Grants, and she immediately applied to the program. CFE recognizes that as new teachers begin their career, they need resources to enhance both the classroom environment and student experiences. Through the Classroom Grants program, new teachers at CPS’ Opportunity Schools, including Randolph, were eligible for $500 grants to purchase resources and materials ranging from general classroom supplies to books to cultural and historical artifacts.
In her grant application, Ms. Horan outlined how she would use the funds to purchase more age-appropriate books as well as tools and comfortable seating for a secluded calming corner, where students could take a break and refocus without having to fully miss out of the classroom environment.
“My students are excited about reading, even those who are reading at a lower level, and they tend to be supportive and non-judgmental of each other,” wrote Ms. Horan in her application. “I encourage independent reading and want to offer options to further build their interest and their confidence, but to do this I need to expand our classroom library.”
In January of 2018, Ms. Horan learned she was among the 21 teachers to receive a CFE Classroom Grant that year. With her grant money, Ms. Horan was able to build her new classroom library and calming corner, and the results were all she had hoped for and more.
“I continually see improvements in their maturity-levels and their abilities,” said Ms. Horan. “With the new books and a calming corner, I’m certain they will be set up for success and will soar.”
After the public release of Success Starts Here, The Children First Fund invited many of the district’s closest partners—businesses, philanthropic organizations, hospitals, cultural and higher-education institutions—to hear directly from CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson about how their continued partnership will help us execute on the tenets of Success Starts Here.
CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson outlined “Success Starts Here” at the event.
While the event itself featured a number of surprises, including CPS alumni speakers, graphic artists capturing the evening’s message in real time, and musical performances by CPS students, the Vision document itself, introduced and detailed by Dr. Jackson, was more than a little familiar to the majority of attendees.
A visual artist interpreted the event’s themes in real-time.
Indeed, most of our partners played a substantial role in shaping Success Starts Here. Back in December 2018, the Children First Fund hosted a partner forum, part of a nearly year-long listening tour, to ask CPS’s most-engaged supporters what priorities they wanted to see in the CPS Five-Year Vision.
CPS partners provided input for the Five-Year Vision at a CFF partner forum in December.
We received a wealth of valuable, actionable feedback from that event as well as from hundreds of principals and thousands of parents, teachers, students, and community members. But two themes in particular stuck out:
Our partners want a more clearly defined role in their capacity to support CPS.
Our partners want a better understanding of what CPS means by equity and how they can support it.
Success Starts Here addresses both of those issues directly. Throughout the Vision document, a number of initiatives are flagged with the CFF logo, indicating where partner support will play a crucial role in helping CPS reach its goals. Similarly, equity strategies are clarified in blue text throughout the document, demonstrating specifically how we will promote equity at every level throughout the district.
Throughout the Vision document, the CFF logo indicates opportunities for partner engagement.
The business and philanthropic communities have long played a crucial role in supporting Chicago Public Schools, sponsoring and spearheading initiatives that have provided some of the most successful programs in our district. Our partners have helped CPS introduce rigorous computer-science courses, allowing it to become the first district in the nation to have a computer-science graduation requirement. They have helped expand arts-education programs and access to social and emotional learning. They have created no-cut afterschool sports programs, work-readiness opportunities, STEM-learning field trips, and countless other vital programs that shape the CPS student experience.
Those programs are deeply meaningful to the students and schools who reap the benefits every day, but historically, the work our partners have done for CPS has not always been visible to the city, or even to the district at large. CPS had not done everything possible to identify and celebrate the contributions of our partners, and it had not provided a framework to ensure that all partnerships are aligned with our priorities for maximum impact.
That changes with Success Starts Here. The new district agenda has been developed with explicit input from our partners, and it is designed to encourage engagement from new partners of all kinds, from individuals to businesses and foundations and everything in between.
CPS listened to students, educators, parents, and community members to build the Five-Year Vision.
By providing our partners with unprecedented insight into our goals and planning, we will maximize the impact of our partners’ support and ensure a seamless experience for our partners.
And Success Starts Here is just the beginning. We welcome our partners to continue engaging with CPS leadership through a new event series called Visionary Voices, in which we will provide policy and initiative deep-dives and hear from partners directly about how we might collaborate to achieve our vision for students.
For these efforts and all partner-engagement, the Children First Fund will be a hub for information about CPS. We will help our partners understand exactly what CPS’s priorities are and where support is needed most.
Chicago is one of the most diverse, vibrant, and innovative cities in the world, and with your support and the support of our partners across the city, we’re unlocking all of its resources to support our students and schools. Thank you!
The Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy science teacher is developing a unique climate-literacy program.
by the Chicago Foundation for Education
When Chicago Public Schools and the Children First Fund celebrate our most successful partner-supported programs, we often focus on the big picture—how many schools adopted the program, how many scholarships were awarded, dollar-value of resources contributed, etc. While those statistics are important, they don’t always show the personal impact of the investments. CFF Case Studies provide a more intimate look at how a partnership or program affects CPS students and teachers.
This Case Study, looking at a recipient of the Fund for Teachers fellowship, was provided by our partners at the Chicago Foundation for Education, who awarded more than 500 grants and fellowships to CPS teachers in 2018 alone.
Fund for Teachers (FFT), one of the nation’s largest investors in teacher learning and leadership, offers PreK–12th-grade teachers from across the country the opportunity for self-designed fellowships to support student success, enrich their practice, and strengthen their schools and communities.
For Will Reed, a science teacher at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy on Chicago’s far south side, the FFT Fellowship experience was a game changer.
“I feel more committed than ever to teaching young people; implementing innovative ways to help my students learn to love science, analysis, and design; and imparting a global perspective.” Explained Mr. Reed after returning from Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands this summer. “I also feel much closer to the excitement-filled learning experience that I hope to give my students than I have in years, and am more confident in my skill set and knowledge base.”
Mr. Reed was awarded an FFT Fellowship to research strategies for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change in Northern Europe in order to develop a problem-based learning unit that facilitates climate literacy and empowers students to understand and solve global problems through a local context.
With the program Mr. Reed developed, his students present their designs for a less greenhouse-gas-emitting, more resilient Chicago at a public showcase competition at their school. Community judges give honors to the best projects and acknowledgments to all participating students.
While abroad, Mr. Reed says he gained a deeper understanding of climate change science, activism, politics, and education, both internationally and in terms of climate-related work happening in Chicago. He better understands the history of global energy use and its relation to climate change. Furthermore, he says his fellowship afforded him much more familiarity with the ever-growing set of media and educational resources related to climate change.
In December, the Children First Fund hosted CPS’s first-ever partner forum to help shape the future of Chicago’s public school system.
On December 17, 2018, representatives from businesses, philanthropic organizations, health-care providers, colleges and universities, cultural institutions, and a host of other local and national organizations gathered at 1871, a technology and entrepreneurship center in River North, to discuss the future of Chicago Public Schools.
The CPS 5-Year Vision Donor and Partner Engagement Event was not the first time the district had looked to its community partners for guidance—the majority of attendees were invited because of their existing relationships with and previous contributions to CPS—but it was the first event hosted by the newly re-launched Children First Fund, which is inviting more direct participation from CPS’s external partners into the district’s planning and programming.
The Children First Fund is the Chicago Public Schools’ charitable foundation, and it has spent much of the past year restructuring in an effort to maximize the impact of CPS’s partnerships. That effort has included the consolidation of previously disparate partner-facing teams within CPS, a new digital strategy (including this blog), and a listening tour that engaged more than 100 CPS partners and culminated in December’s event.
In February, the Children First Fund published a summary report of the engagement event, and there is no shortage of feedback to inform the 5-Year Vision. For each district priority, CPS’s partners identified actionable goals for improvement based on their experiences working with the district.
For Teacher Talent and Development, the report notes, “Partners can help CPS develop teacher pipelines through PreK–12 programs and supporting practicums.” For Parent and Community Engagement, “Bring parents into contact with counselors and other supports to help prepare them for all the steps involved in getting their children into and through college.” And for STEM, “Offering partners more information about what STEM programs and activities exist at various locations would help them better align efforts, reduce redundancies, and attract new efforts.”
That guidance, as well as feedback from students, parents, CPS staff, and Chicago community members, will act as a roadmap for the CPS 5-Year Vision, which itself will guide a range of district growth efforts.
December’s event will not be the last opportunity for community members—public and private organizations as well as individuals—to help shape and support the district’s priorities and programming. The Children First Fund is already preparing a follow-up engagement event in March to preview the 5-Year Vision, and it is encouraging new and existing partners to contact the Children First Fund to help support or initiate programs that align with CPS’s mission.
Through the Children First Fund, Chicago Public Schools is asking everyone in Chicago to lend a hand in supporting our city’s students. And if the results of December’s events are any indication, Chicagoans are more than up to the task.
For more information on how you or your business can help support CPS, contact Ben Warren at email@example.com or (773) 553-2109.