Impact: Big Shoulders Fund Summer Fellowship Program

For more than a decade, the Big Shoulders Fund Fellowship Program has helped to flip the story of enrollment at our schools. With aggregate enrollment across our elementary schools largely steady or increasing, this narrative runs counter to national trends of decline.  

As a key component of the Big Shoulders Fund School Marketing Team, the Fellowship Program brings marketing resources directly to schools, helping them with strategy and staffing during the critical summer months when schools recruit and onboard new students. In collaboration with school administrators, the Fellowship Program has evolved to become a leading form of support for Big Shoulders Fund schools’ marketing efforts.

In 2015, the Fellowship converted to a paid internship program. It attracts top candidates to support the Big Shoulders Fund schools, recruiting college students and recent graduates. Thus far, applicants have come from 25 plus universities. Skillsets range in videography, graphic design, web design, communications, and community organizing. In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of applicants who are graduates of Big Shoulders Fund schools, which really speaks volumes of the role a values-based education plays in the lives of our students and how they decide to give back to their communities. One-third of the Fellows from the class of 2018 attended Big Shoulders Fund schools or were Big Shoulders Fund scholars and fifty percent represent minorities. Since 2015, eight Fellows have joined the Big Shoulders Fund staff or continued their work with our schools as Marketing Directors or consultants.

2018 Summer Fellowship Program

The numbers speak for themselves on the success of this program, making it clear that this initiative provides schools with the support needed to improve enrollment.

Fellows play an active role in schools’ marketing efforts working hand in hand with school administration and parents in an effort to increase overall visibility through community engagement and digital and print marketing. They gain hands on experience in their field while working directly in our schools, instead of in our Big Shoulders office, to maximize their impact. They also get the opportunity to collaborate with Big Shoulders Fund staff and expand their knowledge of the nonprofit world.

In their own words, some of our past Fellows’ favorite projects were:

“Consistently posting quality images to both schools social media pages helped gain some buzz and interest.”

“Implementing an electronic marketing campaign which informed 63 new potential families about the school’s opportunities.”

“Updating a school website’s style and organization.”

In the summer of 2018, Big Shoulders Fund introduced the Opportunity Scholarship. This scholarship was created to help more families have access to a quality, values-based education. It ultimately helped recruit more than 600 new students into Big Shoulders Fund schools. To help schools promote this new resource, the school marketing team enlisted the help of the Fellows. Fellows canvassed, held open houses, attended fairs and festivals, and promoted online via various platforms to help maximize exposure of this new opportunity. Big Shoulders Fund schools saw a tremendous response from these efforts. In fact, in 2018, schools who had support from Fellows during the summer had a five percent higher enrollment at the end of the program versus all Big Shoulders Fund elementary schools. With the help of these young professionals, not only are we helping these community institutions to grow and flourish, we are creating the next generation of civic leaders and school administrators that will help improve the state of our education system thus strengthening our communities and City as a whole. 

The Big Shoulders Fund Fellowship Program is currently recruiting for the summer class of 2019. Click here to view the internship description. If you want more information or have questions about the program, please contact Elizabeth Tracy (312.374.5671).

Data Drives School Improvement at Covered Schools


From ensuring students have the educational opportunities they need to reach their potential to planning strategically for the future of 100-year old community institutions, it takes a lot to run a school. Big Shoulders Fund’s Covered Schools Initiative steps in to support schools’ efforts in enrollment marketing, financial planning, scholarships, academics, and more to help them thrive for years to come. Now in its fifth year, the Initiative includes nine schools and has generated more than $1 million in operating savings. More importantly, this year alone, nearly 2,000 students continue to receive a quality education at the schools of their choice. Each of these schools is one more node in a bright network.

Each Covered School also participates in the 5Essentials Survey, a tool developed by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research (UChicago CCSR) that aims to drive improvement in schools. With three decades of strong research behind it, the survey assesses five key effectiveness factors that reflect the culture and climate of schools, which then correlate with overall school success. Schools that rate strongly in at least three of these five factors are 10 times more likely to improve student learning.

“Using this research-based third-party tool, Big Shoulders is able to deepen its vantage point when looking at schools and tailor the nature of our support accordingly,” said Rebecca Lindsay-Ryan, senior director of academic programs and external affairs. “During the past several years, our team has used survey reports to identify a focus on increasing the use of collaborative practices among teachers. In the last four years, we have seen performance on this measure nearly triple. This data has provided an opportunity to make actionable plans and monitor progress over time to ultimately benefit students.”

One of the Covered Schools, Holy Angels Catholic School, serves the Bronzeville community under the leadership of veteran educator and Holy Angels alumnus Sean Stalling. In that time, the school has used data from the 5Essentials to determine areas of focus with the goal of improving the school’s culture and climate. These whole-school efforts have led to significant increases in “academic press,” which is a measure of how challenged students feel in class, and in the level of trust between students and their teachers.

“The 5Essentials is a well-thought-out way to approach school improvement,” said Stalling. “It touches on the areas that matter most, involves the stakeholders that matter most, and measures the strongest levers to help transform a school. The key is to use the 5Essentials as a tool for change. One should embrace the data it provides and grow from it. The change that results from using this information will make you a better leader and your school a better place for children.”

Since 2015, through Big Shoulders Fund’s Data Analysis Initiative with support from the Data, Outcomes, and Research Committee, Big Shoulders has developed use of the 5Essentials survey into a core offering, with the number of participating schools steadily increasing to 20 and plans to expand to 24 schools this year.

The Gift of Time: Volunteering Through Big Shoulders Fund

Big Shoulders Fund volunteers work on math skills with a St. Sylvester student during the Saturday morning tutoring program.

Volunteers are often the lifeblood of a school, providing skills, dedication, and time that otherwise would not be available. In turn, volunteers join in strengthening school communities across Chicago, broadening their own experience with the city.

Big Shoulders Fund offers a range of volunteer opportunities, with individuals serving as mentors, tutors, sports coaches, guest instructors, school board members, and more. The “Next Generation” of leaders who will guide Big Shoulders into the future includes two groups: the Auxiliary Board and the Chairmen’s Advisory Council.

The Auxiliary Board is now in its 12th year, with 200 (and growing) members who volunteer, fundraise, and publicize the Big Shoulders mission. This fall, the board is sharing its expertise through tutoring, test prep, essay review, and mock interviews across the Big Shoulders Fund network.

“St. Sylvester has benefitted from the generosity of numerous Big Shoulders Fund volunteers,” commented Principal Allyn Doyle. “From tutoring students in math and assisting teachers to landscaping, painting, and reorganizing classrooms, Big Shoulders volunteers have made a big difference in the quality of the education we offer to our students.”

Jeff Apel joined the Auxiliary Board in 2007 after seeking a charity focused on early education. “Big Shoulders stood out with its amazing leadership, impressive supporters, and great families,” he said. Apel joined the Epiphany Catholic School board in 2008 and is now its chair.

“My favorite thing about volunteering on the school board is being part of a team—the principal, teachers, parents, and other volunteers from the business community. Epiphany is in the top 10 schools for enrollment growth. One of the biggest drivers of that success is annual support from Big Shoulders.”

GATX employees, led by CEO Brian Kenney, installed new furniture at a school during a recent service day. GATX employees also mentor and tutor at their two Patron schools, Academy of St. Benedict the African and St. Margaret of Scotland.

Corporate Service Days offer companies a dedicated opportunity for a positive collective volunteering experience. Terry Donnelley, president and COO of ComEd and Big Shoulders Fund board member, recently brought 30 employees to Maternity BVM School for a day of service. Donnelley embraced the spirit of his surroundings by assuming the role of “principal” for the day, with the promise of a gold star or the threat of a detention based on effort.

The Chairmen’s Advisory Council (CAC) has grown to 160 members and aims to increase support for Big Shoulders and involvement of prospective board members. The CAC also supports the Chairmen’s Emergency Scholarship, which provides tuition assistance for families in crisis. In a new endeavor this summer, CAC hosted a Night at Wrigley. For each of the 225 tickets sold, the Chicago Cubs donated $5 to support the scholarship.

A fun program that benefits schools with financial support and the volunteers with some outdoor exercise is the Big Shoulders Fund Racing Team, which last year raised more than $100,000 at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and the Chicago Half Marathon. This fall, 69 individuals were part of the Racing Team, up from 31 members in 2013.

Auxiliary Board member and engineer Chris Goebbert shares his love of the markets with St. Agnes School through the Big Shoulders Fund Stock Market Program, which brings business professionals into eighth grade classrooms to teach basic concepts related to the financial markets, personal savings and investing concepts, and careers in the financial industry. “I took an economics class in high school that taught me the basics of investing, and it forever changed my life financially,” noted Goebbert.

“I owe that teacher a lot and wish he knew the difference he made on my future. I hope some of the lessons in this program resonate with the kids. If I can make an impact on even one kid’s future the way my teacher did with me, my mission will be fulfilled.”

Goebbert also served as 2018 Big Shoulders Fund Ball Co-Chair.

For information about volunteer opportunities, contact Kevin Pitts, Assistant Director, Volunteerism and Engagement.

First STEM Scholars Class Heads Off to College!

Big Shoulders Fund STEM Scholar Natalie Nieves attends a Saturday workshop in 2013. Today, she is a freshman at Wellesley College, where she plans to combine her STEM education with policy-making through a political science major.

Eight years ago, longtime Big Shoulders Fund supporters Wendy and Dave Dury grasped the necessity of improving children’s skills in science, technology, engineering, and math and funded a new scholarship, the Big Shoulders Fund STEM Scholars Program. Students receive scholarship support from fifth through eighth grades and participate in enrichment activities, including Saturday morning classes, science experiments, and museum visits.

This fall, the first class of STEM Scholars is heading to college. Many have realized the program’s original concept and are continuing to pursue an education in one or more STEM areas. Examples include Natalie Bucio, who is on a pre-med track at Loyola University Chicago, and Holy Trinity High School graduate Monika Romo, who is studying engineering at Saint Mary’s College. Big Shoulders continues to support Romo’s college education through a $3,000 grant, renewable for up to four years, from the Greer Foundation.

Jesus Zavala, who is studying engineering at the University of Illinois, served as an intern in the STEM Scholars program for multiple years and as a junior counselor in Big Shoulders Fund’s Brush Creek Ranch Science Enrichment Program. He attributes his intended college major and career path to his exposure to STEM in Saturday classes.

Natalie Nieves, a Holy Trinity graduate who plans to combine her STEM education with policy-making through a political science major at Wellesley College, recalled the program’s impact at a graduation ceremony for STEM Scholars:

“Fifth grade seems like such a long time ago. When I applied for the STEM program, I had no idea I was preparing to do something that would affect the rest of my life. …The Big Shoulders Fund STEM Scholars Program saw the budding geniuses in all of us and helped us evolve into well-grounded scholars who were better prepared for high school than most eighth graders. They want you to succeed!”

The Durys’ vision has inspired other programs, including the Exelon STEM Scholars and a $1 million endowment gift from the Grover Hermann Foundation to fund a significant portion of future programming.

Chicago Students Compete in First Annual Entrepreneurship Challenge

EY and the Big Shoulders Fund Launch a Partnership to Improve STEM Education and
Bring Entrepreneurship to Life

                                                                                                                         

CHICAGO May 12, 2017 – The Chicago office of EY and the Big Shoulders Fund celebrate the first year of a new partnership to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs in the Big Shoulders Fund schools through Defined STEM. The program is an expansion of their three year I-Pad support, but now brings specialized curriculum into all 77 Big Shoulders Fund schools while providing students basic lessons in entrepreneurship.

“EY is committed to helping students prepare for college, and investing in STEM education is critical to college readiness,” said Lee Henderson, Big Shoulders Fund board member and Assurance partner at EY.  “I’m thankful to work for a firm that recognizes the important role the business community plays in supporting education. I’m excited to see how this program will make a meaningful difference in these students’ lives while inspiring them to be the next generation of Chicago entrepreneurs,” he added.

During the school year students from nine schools have been working, with the help of an EY employee mentor, to develop a product or service that would improve the Chicago community. On, Friday, May 12th the program culminated with a competitive team entrepreneurship competition. The students developed pitches, answered questions and explained how their idea was the one worth investing in. The winning project was given $500 investment and the Big Shoulders Fund EY Entrepreneurship trophy. The students in all the classes are excited to find ways to launch their idea and become the next successful Chicago entrepreneur.

“EY has been a strong corporate partner with a clear focus on employee engagement and education especially for underserved children.” said Josh Hale, President and CEO of the Big Shoulders Fund. Hale added, “We are so grateful for EY’s tremendous support.  They enable us to improve the mathematics education available to our students and integrate technology which is so essential to developing the workforce of tomorrow, and now are inspiring students to become entrepreneurs.”

About Big Shoulders Fund

Big Shoulders Fund’s mission is to support inner-city Catholic schools which provide a quality, values-based education, thereby contributing to a stronger community. For more than 30 years, Big Shoulders’ commitment to serving children has been unwavering in its belief that every child deserves access to a safe, high-quality education. Big Shoulders serves students from a vast range of ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds and each child has access to a first-rate education while attending one of the 77 Big Shoulders Fund schools.

Students at Big Shoulders Fund schools excel with compelling academic results. On average, Big Shoulders Fund elementary students perform above the national average on standardized assessments in math and reading by seventh grade, despite often scoring below the national average as third graders. Big Shoulders Fund high schools have a 95 percent graduation rate. Graduates then go on to enroll in college at rates above their local and national peers, as verified by the National Student Clearinghouse. A recent survey of a sample of alumni of Big Shoulders Fund schools showed African-American alumni graduated from college at a rate more than twice the national average and Hispanic alumni graduated at a rate more than three times the national average.