Gerald and Jennifer Beeson: The Beeson Scholarship

Gerald and Jennifer Beeson: The Beeson Scholarship

Every quarter, Gerald Beeson digs through a stack of progress reports, attendance records, and report cards to analyze the performance of some important individuals: the 80 students at Big Shoulders Fund schools who are part of the Beeson Scholarship program, established by Gerald and his wife, Jennifer.

If Gerald finds any student struggling, he and Jennifer develop a plan to boost the student’s performance. The plan may entail extra tutoring or perhaps a one-on-one talk. “We want to make sure these kids stay on the right path,” said Jennifer, who regularly visits the scholars. “If we see a math grade drop, we go right in. Is the student able to improve it on his or her own? Or is tutoring needed?”

The Beesons’ approach is hands-on and proactive because they’ve set big goals for the middle schoolers who enter the program. “We’re really eager to see where these kids end up in college,” commented Jennifer.

The Beeson family has strong connections to Catholic schools. Gerald is a product of Chicago Catholic schools, having graduated from St. Gall on the city’s Southwest Side before moving on to Marist High School, then earning a four-year full academic scholarship to DePaul University. Jennifer is a former Catholic school teacher, and their four children now attend Catholic schools.

“I strongly believe you’re a product of the people who have helped you along the way,” said Gerald, now chief operating officer at Citadel. For that reason, he and Jennifer wanted to find ways to give back to the programs and schools that led them to success in life. The couple started with a scholarship program at Marist in honor of Gerald’s late father, a longtime Chicago police officer who passed away in 2004.

BSF Besson_0101The couple turned to Big Shoulders to expand their efforts, creating the Beeson Scholarship for students at five Big Shoulders Fund schools where they also had personal connections, such as St. Symphorosa, where Jennifer taught. The scholarship starts with students in fifth grade and is renewable through high school for those who maintain a B average and attend a high school in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The Beesons provide additional funding to students who attend Marist due to their family’s history with the school.

The scholars come together around a service project each year to teach them the importance of contributing to the community. One recent project involved making blankets and cards to decorate the NICU at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. “We are trying to show them a lot of simple ways you can pay it forward,” Jennifer explained.

Faith Gilliam, now a junior at Marist, started as a Beeson Scholar at St. Walter. One year, Jennifer organized an event where the scholars volunteered at another school. The experience stuck with Gilliam and motivated her to collect school supplies to share with needy students. “The fact that (the Beesons) are so nice and generous and involved with the community really inspired me to become successful and help out other people who need it,” said Gilliam, who is looking at colleges with hopes of becoming a nurse practitioner.

The couple also created a code of conduct which they expect the scholars to follow, emphasizing the importance of discipline, focus, and always trying your best. A celebration at the end of the year unites all the scholars from the various schools. Jennifer wants the students to leave knowing they have been chosen for something special and “are going to do great things.”

Richard Guerin, former principal of St. Bede the Venerable, one of the Beeson Scholarship schools, said Jennifer quickly became “one of us” through her regular visits to the school. With the children, she is generous with hugs and serious about asking how they are doing. “The Beeson Scholarships made such a difference to the families and the students. It was so much more than just the financial support. It was an honor,” he stated.

Gerald said the personal approach to the scholarship program works for the couple, so it is not “just this credit on their tuition statement once a year,” he said. “There is a name and a face to it. Hopefully, as they go on to bigger and better things, they’ll have the opportunity to go back and do the same thing for someone else because it was made available to them at a time when their families needed it.”

As Jennifer sees it: “I always say to the kids, ‘Our journey doesn’t end after you graduate. We’re always here. We’re the people you’ve got in your back pocket. You need advice, we’re here to help you achieve the goals you want to achieve.’”


Glenn and Christine Kelly

Glenn and Christine Kelly

Maternity BVM Patrons, Members of the Joseph Society, and Scholarship Sponsors

As he drove to Maternity BVM School for his regular visits, Glenn Kelly couldn’t help but notice the large broken clock in front of the school, perpetually freezing the time at 3:30.

The clock, which broke sometime in the 1960s, became a symbol to Glenn of some of the challenges the school and its supporters, including himself and wife Christine, faced in trying to reinvigorate the Humboldt Park school that was once on the verge of closing.

But through their dedication to the Big Shoulders Fund’s Patrons Program and a solid partnership with Maternity BVM, the broken clock is gone, enrollment is up, work is underway to create a new science lab, and the school has a clear mission and vision with the Kellys’ full support.

The Kellys became Patrons at Maternity BVM initially with Ken and Amy Viellieu more than a decade ago, hoping to have a more direct relationship with a school and its families. Soon, they found themselves wanting to do even more. The Kellys established their own scholarship program to help Maternity BVM students and pledged to make a planned gift to Big Shoulders to support the organization long into the future.

The Kellys’ involvement with Big Shoulders stretches back to the organization’s early years, with Christine serving on the Board of Directors and chairing the board’s Patrons Program. “What I liked about Cardinal Bernardin’s thinking at the inception, and what Big Shoulders has carried on since then, is the idea that the schools are open to anybody, whether they’re Catholic or not,” noted Christine, who retired as a principal with William Blair & Co. The couple began contributing because they both felt strongly that education was a critical door to open in helping change the opportunities available to children in poverty, and the graduation rates and success evidenced at the inner-city schools was exceptional.

The appeal of the Patrons Program was that it allowed Christine and Glenn to become more engaged with a specific school, assisting the principal and Maternity BVM to improve its marketing efforts, establish a computer lab, and bring in new resources. The Kellys said they’ve been excited to engage at the school level.

The Kellys see the different initiatives of Big Shoulders coming together at Maternity BVM with positive results. “You link them all together like we’re trying to do at Maternity BVM, and the impact is phenomenal,” said Christine. They’re working to bring a new science lab to the school, an effort further inspired after a trip to Big Shoulder’s Brush Creek Ranch summer camp in Wyoming.

“We had a couple of our students go out there, and we were amazed at the change when they came back,” Christine commented. She recalled one student in particular, a tall young man with an imposing presence who was actually quite shy. He had barely left his neighborhood, let alone been on a plane. When they talked to him beforehand, he was quite nervous at the thought of it all. But, after a week of riding horses in the wilderness, conducting science experiments, and being pushed out of his comfort zone, “he came back a changed, confident young man,” she said.

Through their scholarship program, the Kellys take on four new sixth graders each year, providing financial support through the students’ eighth grade year. The couple visits with the students throughout the year to talk about their future and to work with them on interview skills. They also take the scholarship recipients on an annual field trip. “It’s wonderful to watch the kids grow,” she said.

The Kellys became members of the Joseph Society, a group of people who have made planned gifts to further the special mission of the Big Shoulders Fund for years to come. Glenn, a retired R.R. Donnelley executive, said the couple established a planned gift to Big Shoulders because the organization’s impressive results evidenced by strong statistics don’t lie. Christine added, “When you walk into these schools and you feel the safety and care and the love these children get, it’s incredibly compelling. This is a great investment for the future of Chicago, and a wonderful opportunity to both provide a path for a child and invest in Chicago’s future workforce.”

The Gallagher Scholarship

The Gallagher Scholarship

Each year since 1994, the Gallagher Family and Big Shoulders Fund have randomly selected 10 elementary schools to each nominate five rising fifth graders for the Gallagher Scholarship, which is renewable through 12th grade. To date, the Gallagher Scholarship Program has sponsored more than 1,100 students.

Principals at Big Shoulders schools are thrilled when they are selected, knowing the difference this scholarship can make for families at their schools.

The Gallagher Scholarship is one of Big Shoulders’ longest running scholarship programs and has contributed to a number of great outcomes for students. Approximately three out of four Gallagher Eighth Grade Scholars choose to continue on to college-prep, Catholic high schools annually, which helps set them up for long-term success. In the class of 2014, 88 percent of Gallagher Scholars enrolled in college this past fall, at a rate well ahead of their local and national peers. Scholars enrolled at institutions such as DePaul University, Holy Cross College, University of Illinois, and Swarthmore College.

“I think the ‘secret weapon’ of the program is the Code of Conduct for Gallagher Scholars written by my father,” said Bob Gallagher, Jr. “It’s an 11-point program for success in school, but also applies to whatever the students choose to pursue after graduation.”

Originally nominated for the Gallagher Scholarship as a fifth grader at St. Helen Elementary School, Erik Almazan graduated from St. Ignatius College Prep in 2013. He continued on to the University of Chicago, class of 2017.

Almazan explained, “The Gallagher Scholarship was very important because it allowed me to go to Catholic school and grow not only socially and intellectually, but also spiritually. Growing spiritually is important and unique to Catholic education and is part of what the Gallagher Scholarship provided to me.”

The Gallagher Scholarship Program continues on in perpetuity thanks to the generosity of the late Mr. and Mrs. Robert E. Gallagher and the leadership of their children Bob and Jane Gallagher, Richard O’Malley and Anne Gallagher O’Malley, Bill and Cissy Glading, and Dan Goese and Kate Gallagher. The impact of this family is affecting students’ lives every day.

Preparing Students for the Global Market Through Science

Preparing Students for the Global Market Through Science

Big Shoulders Fund schools have some of the most passionate and innovative teachers in the city. Ms. Melissa Talaber is the middle grade science teacher at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood and the winner of the prestigious Golden Apple Award in 2014. We sat down to talk to her about science education in Chicago’s inner-city Catholic schools.

Science, technology, engineering,and mathematics (STEM) education has been pushed to the forefront in education in recent years and has become extremely important. Why do you think that is?

Children today need a different set of skills than I or my parents did growing up.  In current society, our children need to be able to compete in an ever growing and changing global market unlike previous generations.

Today our students need to be able to perform on the same level as students in Tokyo, Japan, Hamburg, Germany, and Oslo, Norway.  Individuals need to be adaptable and engaged in continuous learning.  Science lends itself to modeling the kind of thought processes that will allow today’s children to be successful and able to compete with individuals worldwide.  Science is the path to the acquisition of the skills needed to be analytical and competitive.

How is science education evolving in your school?

Over the past four years with support from the Big Shoulders Fund, we have been implementing the Science Education for Public Understanding Program (SEPUP) curriculum in the middle grades.  I participate in ongoing training with Loyola University and for the last year and a half I have been training to be a teacher leader for science.  I participate in the Loyola Teacher Leadership Institute (TLI).  This year we have expanded our science program to include Full Option Science System (FOSS) inquiry-based science kits within the middle grades (starting with third grade).

Since the implementation of the SEPUP program, my instruction has developed into more collaborative, experiential work with higher levels of critical thinking.  Students are no longer focused on memorizing a series of vocabulary words, science concepts and reading about science.  My students are now developing skills necessary to be critical thinkers and are experiencing science through collaborative work.

Big Shoulders Fund schools’ partnership with Loyola (Center for Math and Science Education) and DePaul (Department of Math and Science Education) is vital to helping teachers develop the skills necessary to making science education successful.  This partnership has provided necessary teacher training and classroom support with not only the use of SEPUP and FOSS, but also in better understanding and implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards.

My students’ enthusiasm towards science and technology has definitely increased.  My students that have been in the program for three years now are making amazing connections to personal experiences, past academic lessons, and thinking about the future and global impacts.  Students are now excited about science even if it is not their favorite or strongest subject.  I have seen not only improvement in their science content knowledge, but also improvement in their communication (oral and written) skills.

For the past two years you and your school have participated in Staddle Camp at the Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming. Please tell us about that experience as a teacher leader on the trip with your students.

Brush Creek is absolutely an amazing opportunity for inner-city students to experience our nation’s beautiful country side while meeting other students from around the city.  This program does so much more than offer science enrichmentOur students develop leadership skills, build confidence, and expand their life experiences.

It also benefits the adults who share in the experience developing their own leadership skills.  This program provides teachers an opportunity to teach and work with children in an alternative setting.

How and why did you become so committed to teaching Science education in Catholic schools?

I have always enjoyed science and appreciate the beauty of natural phenomena.  I strongly believe in the value of a strong science program.  A strong inquiry science program develops fundamental skills students need to be successful in their continuing education and beyond.  All students should be given access to scientific experiences and exploration and challenged to think critically about the world around them.

Big Shoulders Fund would like to take the opportunity to than the following supporters that make possible the programs mentioned by Ms. Talaber:

Wendy and Dave Dury

Anne and Pat Gallagher

Robert E. Gallagher, Jr.

Robert E. Gallagher Charitable Trust

Motorola Solutions Foundation

Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust

Tengelsen Family Foundation

Beth and Bruce White

Big Shoulders Fund Middle Grades Science Initiative

And thank you for your special support of St. Nicholas Cathedral School:

Selfreliance Ukrainian American Federal Credit Union


Big Shoulders Fund School Leaders Transform Schools

Last year, Big Shoulders Fund employed four graduates of our Leadership Development Program to be principals at our schools. We asked them to share with us what it’s like being a principal with one year under their belt and what they are excited about for their school this year.

Principal Kevin Powers of St. Margaret of Scotland School in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside shares his experience as his first year as a principal.

Powers SMOSHow long were you a teacher before you became a principal at St. Margaret of Scotland?

I did the ACE program and taught 2nd grade for two years in Los Angeles.  I then taught 3rd grade for two years in the archdiocese of Chicago at Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts.  I then taught middle school reading and religion at Our Lady of Charity for 1 year. I taught for five years before becoming a principal.

What was an interesting and new challenge you faced for the first time as a principal?

St. Margaret of Scotland embarked on creating a “blended learning” curriculum and school. Blended learning combines the traditional classroom experience and infuses technology to help differentiate and individualize instruction to meet all the students’ needs.  It has been a challenging yet exciting process to find the best programs and software that will help our students learn along with helping our teachers maximize their instruction.  Moving forward we will have 40 iPad, 30 Chromebooks and two computer labs to help us better use blended learning

How does it feel to be out of the classroom and behind the principal’s desk?

Most days I really enjoy being the principal and don’t miss being a teacher. I enjoy the behind the scenes, big picture conversations and planning that go into running a school.  However, I do miss the close relationship you build with the students you teach on a daily basis.  I do feel that I have gotten to know more of the students as a principal than I would have as a teacher, but it is a challenge to get to know them as deeply as I did as a teacher.

What are some new and exciting things happening at your school?

We are excited for our enrollment growth, last year we ended with 155 and right now we have 230 students registered.  We are also adding a second preschool classroom, which will help us sustain the growth we need in older grades.  We had 90 percent of students return and over 90 percent of teachers and administrative staff return as well. We are very excited to continue with all the positive momentum we have built in the past year.