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 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.
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.