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).

Superheroes Have Big Shoulders

When we think about superheroes, we often picture capes, masks, and individuals who are strong beyond physical belief–those who defeat the bad guys and save the day time after time. Superheroes, to me, are more than that. They are the individuals who show up day in and day out even when the going gets tough. They lend a hand and sometimes a shoulder to those in need of a little bit of hope and guidance. I have been lucky to meet many heroes through my time at Big Shoulders Fund. Their superpowers may not be flashy but I believe they have the same, or dare I say an even bigger, impact on the fate of our City.

These heroes are principals, teachers, families, mentors, volunteers, community leaders, and students themselves who work hard to create a better tomorrow for all. The mission of Big Shoulders Fund calls loudly to many true, everyday heroes who work to summon the forces of good. Together, we form an unstoppable team that lifts schools and elevates entire communities thus, strengthening our City as a whole.

The Big Shoulders Fund 2018 year-end review highlights some of the superheroes who are helping to spread the mission of Big Shoulders Fund across the City’s limits such as:

Students like Luis and Alex who chose to spend their summer “free time” giving back. Big Shoulders Fund Beeson Scholar Luis ran a summer basketball camp for six-to-nine-year-olds from Saint Gall School. Dr. Scholl’s Scholar Alex helped lead the Boys and Girls Summer Basketball Camp at De La Salle Institute.

Big Shoulders Fund’s very own Senior Director of Academic Programs and External Affairs Rebecca Lindsay-Ryan is an Erikson Institute Barbara Bowman Leadership Fellow advocating for racial equity through early childhood policy and is part of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs Emerging Leaders program, which is helping to influence Chicago’s role as a global city.  

Principals Christine Boyd and Denise Spells lead by example. Boyd received Loyola University’s Justina Coffey Award presented at the Loyola Founders’ Award Night, which recognized her impact as principal at two Big Shoulders Fund schools, St. Mary of the Lake and St. Thomas of Canterbury. Her high expectations for all students leads them to success at some of Chicago’s top high schools and beyond. Spells received the NCEA Learn.Lead.Proclaim Award, in recognition of her work building the enrollment and academic rigor of St. Ethelreda School, which is also one of the top performers in our Covered Schools Initiative.

Holy Trinity High School rising Junior Susi is a Chicago Ideas Youth Ambassador. Susi is also a Junior Counselor at Big Shoulders Fund’s Staddle Camp in Wyoming, where she is sharing her knowledge as a former Big Shoulders Fund Staddle Camp participant to help ensure our campers this summer have the most positive experience possible.

It sometimes takes a team effort for superheroes’ dreams to take flight. At Big Shoulders Fund, we are thrilled to offer a variety of programs to students, teachers, and administrators that challenge them to take the next step into their future. 

The Big Shoulders Fund Stock Market Program exposes teams of inner-city eighth graders in our schools to the world of finance. Teaching them the basic skills of investing, managing stock portfolios, and financial career opportunities.  

The Early Elementary School Project (E2SP) opens the minds of students to the world of science through innovative teaching and focused field trips made possible by Rita and John Canning and in collaboration with The Field Museum, the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and 10 schools within the Big Shoulders Fund network. E2SP is supported in Big Shoulders Fund schools by a grant from PNC.  The Big Shoulders Fund All Are Welcome Program encourages students to embrace and use their superpowers to achieve their full potential. The Program provides critical services such as occupational and physical therapy to students at 22 Big Shoulders Fund schools and is made possible through founding and continuing support from Bill and Kathleen Lynch, with thanks also to P. Jay and Jenny Fortner.

The Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which was not repealed or amended in the recent state budget negotiations, is creating colossal opportunities for families while shrinking donors’ taxes. More than 1,200 students received crucial support through this program last year and, this year, we are hoping to create a greater impact. This new Program along with our traditional scholarship programs are helping more students prepare for lifelong success by receiving a quality education.

These are just some of the superheroes Big Shoulders Fund is lucky to have on its side. Click here to read our full annual report for more. As you can see, there are superheroes all around us. They don’t wear capes or masks. They come in all shapes and sizes and their deeds are both big and small, but their impact…their impact is BIG. I am lucky to share in this mission with these individuals and am excited to continue to use our superpowers #paralosniños. 

Written by: Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale

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

Students from 12 Big Shoulders Fund High Schools are Eligible to Receive City Colleges of Chicago’s STAR Scholarship

Statement from President and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund, Josh Hale.

Since 1986, the mission of Big Shoulders Fund has been to provide quality values-based educational opportunities to Chicago’s children, preparing them for life-long success and, thereby, strengthening our City as a whole. Over 80 percent of Big Shoulders Fund students represent minorities and nearly 70 percent live in low-income households and, most important, they always take on challenges and consistently beat the odds.

Big Shoulders Fund schools have a 94 percent high school graduation rate, from which 85 percent of students go on to enroll in college and alumni graduate at twice the national rate. These students keep me hopeful and show me that the future is bright.

Big Shoulders Fund’s new partnership with City Colleges of Chicago, with the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chancellor of City Colleges at Chicago Juan Salgado, is helping high-achieving and low-income students from 12 of our Big Shoulders Fund high schools see their hard-work come to fruition through the STAR Scholarship. I am thrilled that we are joining a partnership that is so clearly for the greater good of deserving children of our beloved City.

Read more about the Star Scholarship and this new partnership here:

Meet the Schreibers: A Family on a Mission

Meet the Schreibers: A Family on a Mission

The pastor of St. John Berchmans in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood knew his school could expect financial help when John and Kathy Schreiber signed on as Patrons through Big Shoulders Fund. But early on, it became clear the Schreiber family would bring much more to the relationship, especially one Saturday when John appeared with several of the couple’s eight adult children to paint the school.Schrieber Children

“All of the children have supported the work we’re doing here,” said Father Wayne Watts, pastor of the church. “I pick up my phone and I say I need X, and I can pretty much believe X will be delivered by the Schreibers—whether that be their time, their treasure, or their advice.”

With his long record of success in commercial real estate, John Schreiber has offered business advice and served as a sounding board to help Father Watts make strategic decisions about how to turn around the school. While the family didn’t finish all the painting work that first Saturday, one son later sent a crew to finish it up. Another daughter organized her alumni group to clean the school. One son helped with marketing; another became a mentor to a struggling student. Daughter Heather Sannes became head of St. John Berchmans’ school board, which also counted sons Michael and Nicholas Schreiber as members at one time or another.

In 2005, a year before the Schreibers became Patrons, St. John Berchmans made headlines—and not in a good way. It landed on the short list of schools slated for closure. Parishioners at the time rallied and convinced the Archdiocese to give the school a second chance. Father Watts and his newly hired principal, Peggy Roketenetz, knew they needed to hit the reset button to combat the negative buzz. But with a shoestring budget, they had few resources to improve the school grounds or add programming that would attract young families.

Kathy and John Schreiber

“The Schreibers came in and we did all of those things,” Father Watts said. After making physical improvements to the building and grounds, the family funded a part-time marketing person, who helped to change the school’s image. St. John Berchmans also was able to hire a full-time art teacher and a gym teacher.

“We couldn’t have dreamed of hiring an art teacher or putting new technology in the school,” remarked Roketenetz, whom Father Watts plucked from the congregation to help lead the school turnaround. “They allowed us to really enrich our academic and physical environment to attract new families and build who we were—and are.”

Enrollment nearly doubled, from 137 students to about 260. Though their official patron term is now over, the Schreibers maintain a close connection with the school and with Father Watts, who officiates at family weddings.

After seeing the impact they were able to make at St. John Berchmans, the Schreibers asked to extend the Big Shoulders Fund Patrons Program to a school closer to their home in Lake County, Most Blessed Trinity in Waukegan. Heather is now chairing the board there.

For John Schreiber, the reward for these efforts comes when he hears success stories like that of one scholar from Most Blessed Trinity, who then went on to Loyola Academy, which the family also supports. She seized the opportunities given her, emerging as a leader on both campuses. She earned a full scholarship to Saint Louis University. “She’s going to be a success at SLU like she was at Loyola, and like she was at Most Blessed Trinity. That’s hugely satisfying,” John said. “You open the first door, and there’s a chance to open a second, and a chance to open a third, which is awesome when you think of where the children came from.”

Daughter Heather agreed: “Big Shoulders Fund is helping open those doors.”