In Partnership with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Initiative Aims to Increase the Number of High-Quality, Affordable Pre-K Programs Available in Underserved Communities

(CHICAGO) – Big Shoulders Fund is excited to announce that it has received a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to fund an early childhood education initiative aimed at improving access to high-quality prekindergarten (Pre-K) in the Englewood and Little Village communities.

The initiative will focus on five schools in the Big Shoulders Fund network – Academy of St. Benedict the African and Visitation Catholic School in Englewood and Epiphany Catholic School, Our Lady of Tepeyac Elementary School, and St. Agnes of Bohemia School in Little Village – due to the significant enrollment declines in Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 classrooms these schools experienced as a result of the loss of Pre-School for All Funding (PFA) in 2019.

“We’re extremely grateful for the consideration and generosity the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Board of Directors has demonstrated in awarding us this important grant,” said Josh Hale, President and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund. “Preschool is the gateway to a child’s academic journey, and this initiative is an important step towards increasing capacity, enhancing the quality of programming, and ensuring that parents and guardians in these under-resourced communities have access to the best academic option for their children.”

The initiative will include measures to increase Pre-K access for children and families, including a renewable scholarship, resources for staffing and classroom expansion, and academic and operational support provided by Big Shoulders Fund. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation First Steps Scholarship will be provided to Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 students in the amount of $2,000 per year, renewable for up to two years. Through these efforts, Big Shoulders Fund hopes to add 110 children to Pre-K programs at these schools by the 2024-25 school year, doubling current PreK enrollment.

“The mission of Big Shoulders Fund is very much in line with our work at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, where we invest in organizations in Chicago working to build thriving communities where all individuals have the resources and opportunities to succeed without regard to ZIP Code,” said Tim Knight, President and CEO of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. “Early childhood education is a critical building block that sets students up for success throughout their academic journey and personal development. We’re thrilled to provide this grant to help enhance the quality of early childhood education in communities that have historically suffered from underinvestment and help put students on a path to lifelong success.”

The expansion model will also include measures to minimize risk for schools as they increase staffing and open classrooms to accommodate new student enrollment, including annual grants to schools to cover the cost of opening additional classrooms, maintaining student-to-teacher ratios as the number of students enrolled grows and ensuring the successful recruitment and retention of quality educators and staff members. Over the course of three school years, the focus schools are projected to expand Pre-K programming by adding staff in all five schools and adding classrooms in four of the five schools.

“Thanks to this exciting and impactful grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, we are afforded an opportunity in this uncertain economic environment to guarantee a quality early childhood education for our youngest students,” said Jennifer Farrand, Principal of Academy of St. Benedict the African (ASBA). “This money will be used to change children’s lives. Of note, we have enrolled twenty-five new preschoolers and have opened a new classroom and we hope to welcome at least ten more preschoolers this school year. I know our school makes a difference, and we cannot do it alone!”

Families that are interested in learning more about this initiative and applying for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation First Steps Scholarship can visit: (English) or (Spanish).