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: http://bit.ly/2DVLUdT

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).

Written by: Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale

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.

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.