Informed by a new study and supported by CFF partners, Chicago Public Schools’ Opportunity Schools Initiative is expanding to provide dedicated teacher recruitment and retention support to more schools
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.
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.
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!
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.