Impact: Mazza Foundation High School Support Program

It isn’t hard to realize that graduation season is upon us. The air is warmer and the helium shortage indicates that overjoyed parents, friends, and family are ready to congratulate their graduates. To many, this day is a culmination of hard work, sweat, and tears. A celebration of the overcoming of obstacles and adversities that previously seemed impossible. The great thing, I think, about graduations is that even though they signify the completion of an academic journey, they are really the start to a lifetime of learning.

With all graduations comes a moment when a choice was made that led to here. A moment that is often filled with uncertainty. Is this the right school? Can I afford this? How do I apply? These are all questions students and their families ask themselves when choosing a high school, often making the transition from eighth grade to high school feel overwhelming and daunting. In partnership with the Mazza Foundation, which has supported Big Shoulders Fund for nearly 30 years, we recognized the need to help families alleviate the challenges of this transition. Currently, 84 percent of Big Shoulders Fund eighth graders enroll at a Catholic, selective enrollment, or quality CPS high school. 94 percent of Big Shoulders Fund students graduate from high school and 85 percent continue to enroll in college. However, with an overwhelming number of school options, each with varying admissions processes and requirements, it has become increasingly difficult for students and families to make a choice.

Big Shoulders Fund Director of Leadership and Scholarship Support Dan Bennett conducted focus groups with elementary and high school administrators as well as teachers, students, and families to learn more about the challenges this transition brings. This led to the creation of the Mazza Foundation High School Support Program. This Program aims to educate and provide resources to not only parents and guardians, but also students themselves so that they can take ownership of their future.

As part of this initiative, Big Shoulders Fund held its first Early High School Bridge Program designed for rising eighth graders last June. Twenty-three students from four different grade schools participated in a busy week of activities, workshops, and trips. The weeklong program offered students workshops on how to identify and research high school options including Catholic and other high quality, selective schools, how to apply, how to get financial aid and scholarships, and how to successfully transition into ninth grade.

Throughout the week, students met and learned from Admission Directors from Josephinum Academy of the Sacred HeartHoly Trinity High SchoolCristo Rey Jesuit High SchoolDe La Salle Institute, and St. Ignatius College Prep as well as students from Leo High SchoolOur Lady of Tepeyac High School, and De La Salle. Big Shoulders Fund staff led one-on-one mock scholarship interviews, essay writing practice, and entrance exam practice. Some of the other rich opportunities for students included a visual note-taking workshop from Ink Factory, a fun class on meeting new people and personal creativity from improv actors, as well as lessons on using the CTA to get to high school with follow-up field trips on buses and trains to visit different high schools in the area. Transportation for students to attend the program and meals were all included making this accessible to all families. In a survey provided to participants at the end of the program, 100 percent reported being more knowledgeable about how to apply to different schools and scholarship programs and feeling more confident about the high school transition and succeeding once in high school. 

This year, two weeks will be added to the Early Bridge Program due to high demand. It will take place in June and July with a new group of students. Currently, there are 75 students enrolled from 25 plus Big Shoulders Fund schools!

From featured school visits, parent meetings, and the creation of a new interactive website to help students, families, and teachers, the Mazza Foundation High School Support Program is significantly enhancing the way families and students navigate through the high school admissions process. We are thrilled to be able to collaborate with the Mazza Foundation and continue to create a brighter future #paralosniños

Written by: Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale

Impact: Big Shoulders Fund at NCEA

NCEA made it to the City of Big Shoulders! As with previous years, Big Shoulders Fund led the way with several members of our academic programs team presenting to educators from across the country on various topics including teacher and leadership development, community outreach, technology in the classroom, and data driven instruction.

The Big Shoulders Fund academic programs team is made up of former principals, teachers, school administrators, and educators alike, who have experienced first-hand being in the front of the classroom. The goal of the academic programs team is to provide high-quality curricular materials and resources to schools, offer comprehensive professional development to teachers and administrators, and help establish structures to improve and sustain academic standards within schools and across the network.

This past week, these fearless leaders took their cutting-edge research and experience to the NCEA 2019 Convention and Expo in four engaging presentations that demonstrated the Big Shoulders Fund difference.

Big Shoulders Fund Teacher Induction Coaches Antoinette Greengard and Amy Treadwell presented on Building Community, Excellence, and Leadership Through New Teacher Induction.

Through the Big Shoulders Fund Teacher Development Program, Antoinette and Amy provide individualized instructional coaching to educators using the Danielson Framework for Teaching, school-based mentoring, quarterly professional development sessions, inquiry groups, and peer collaboration. The structure of this program has proven that through community, excellence, and leadership, schools are able to recruit, train, and retain new teachers more effectively and successfully. Participants were able to use this framework to identify what they can do in their own schools and districts to support their teachers. This is fundamental to the growth of our schools. When teachers feel valued and are given the resources they need to succeed, the possibilities are endless. Teachers participating in the Big Shoulders Fund Teacher Development Program are staying in their schools at rates higher than their peers.

Big Shoulders Fund Senior Director of Academic Programs and External Affairs Rebecca Lindsay-Ryan, Big Shoulders Fund Innovation Leader Kristin Ziemke, and Freelance Journalist and Big Shoulders Fund collaborator Bill Healy, presented on News, Media, and YOU(th): Fueling Empathy Through Evaluation and Action.

More than ever, it is important for students to know and understand from where the media they are consuming is coming. With social media taking over their screens, the number of messages youth are presented with today can be overwhelming. More so, deciphering truth from fiction can be a struggle when through today’s technology, news stories are all around them at all times. This session provided educators with digital resources to help students build media literacy skills that will empower them to become informed and engaged citizens. This transformative program developed with support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation has influenced over 200 educators in Chicago reaching the lives of more than 1,000 students. 

Big Shoulders Fund Lead Instructional Coach for Data Analysis Liz Bartley talked data and how it can be used for school improvement processes in Data Driven Instruction in Action.

Through Big Shoulders Fund’s Data Driven Instruction Initiative, with founding support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Liz has taught Big Shoulders Fund teachers and administrators how to analyze student data for specific areas of strength in order to implement effective teaching strategies and actions. This initiative has proven to help Big Shoulders Fund schools improve academic achievement through purposeful and professional collaboration. Liz helps staff get excited about data and build a community of teachers that feel empowered to implement data driven instruction.

Big Shoulders Fund Director of Leadership and Scholarship Support Dan Bennett led Entrepreneurship Program for Middle Schoolers. He shared with attendees his experience implementing special programming in Big Shoulders Fund schools in which teams of middle school students learn about business and entrepreneurship from field professionals leveraging the Defined STEM platform. Participants explored the successes of the program and were able to consider how more schools and districts can create their own programs. 

His workshop highlighted our unique partnership with EY to bring entrepreneurship programs to our schools. In collaboration with EY, Big Shoulders Fund has brought the EY Entrepreneurship Competition to Big Shoulders schools for three years. This year, the showcase event, where 20 teams present their projects to a panel of business leaders and entrepreneurs, will take place at 1871. Lee Henderson, partner at EY and 1871 and Big Shoulders Fund Board Member, Michelle Vondrasek, CEO and Founder of Von Technologies, Ram Ramanan, Partner at EY, Johnjoe Farragher, CEO and Founder of Defined Learning, and Kevin Willer, Partner at Chicago Ventures and 1871 and Big Shoulders Fund Board Member, will judge the competition.

Finally, I am happy to share that President of Our Lady of Tepeyac (OLT) High School and Elementary School Joni Thompson received the 2019 NCEA Conference with the Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award! Joni is celebrating 29 years at OLT and has contributed to the OLT school community as an English teacher, Assistant Principal, Principal, and current President. Her commitment to the children, young women, and community of OLT is immeasurable. I am thrilled for Joni and the entire OLT community.

This is the third year in a row in which a Big Shoulders Fund school Principal or President is honored with this prestigious award. I am in awe of these individuals and of all Big Shoulders Fund staff, who day in and day out put their all in their work to create a brighter future for our City and most importantly, #paralosniños.

Click here to learn more about the Big Shoulders Fund difference.

Written by: Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale