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).


Commitment Protects the Long-Term Vitality of 32 Chicago Schools, Collectively Serving Nearly 6,000 Students

August 30, 2022 (CHICAGO) – Big Shoulders Fund today announced the addition of two schools from its network, St. Francis de Sales High School and St. Sabina Academy, to the Big Shoulders Fund Plus initiative. As Big Shoulders Fund Plus schools, St. Francis de Sales High School and St. Sabina Academy will join 30 other high-need schools in receiving additional academic and operational support, aimed at preserving their long-term vitality.

In 2020, Big Shoulders Fund made an unprecedented 10-year, $70M commitment to 30 of its highest-need schools, enabling these schools to remain open and viable and to continue enriching the local communities that they serve. In just over one year, Big Shoulders Fund has raised more than $58M of that commitment, and is now inviting the broader public to join in this vision and invest in Chicago’s children and communities.

“Big Shoulders Fund Plus schools, including recently added St. Francis de Sales and St. Sabina Academy, are located in neighborhoods and communities that have suffered from years of underinvestment,” said Josh Hale, President and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund. “Despite this, the children in these neighborhoods are rich in talent, passion, hard work and hope. Ensuring that these students continue to have access to a high-quality education in a safe and supportive environment is critical to providing a path that will enable these children to grow up to be productive, positive forces in their communities and in the world.”

As part of this agreement, which was made with the Archdiocese of Chicago, Big Shoulders Fund assumed a 51 percent financial stake in these schools and has taken on more direct management, working closely with principals and school leaders to help them to manage their schools, plan strategically and work towards specific academic, enrollment, developmental and financial goals, as well as create new professional development opportunities and an extended career path for school leaders. This increased operational management support has already translated into significant outcomes. In just the last year alone, the 30 Big Shoulders Fund Plus schools saw an enrollment increase of 8%, with pre-kindergarten enrollment increasing 28%.

“Working hand in hand with Big Shoulders Fund, I have seen what a difference their commitment to our school, staff, students and families makes to both St. Francis de Sales High School and the Southeast Side community,” said Roni-Nicole Facen, Principal and CEO of St. Francis de Sales High School. “Through the launch of our work study program, professional development for staff, grants for academic initiatives, scholarship support, marketing and development resources and more, Big Shoulders Fund is a true partner. We are excited for our future and to formalize our work together by joining the cadre of Big Shoulders Fund Plus schools!”

Principal Tiffany Brown of St. Sabina Academy said, “We are thrilled to have become a part of the exceptional Big Shoulder Fund Plus network and we look forward to our partnership and the support that we will receive as we work together to provide a rich educational experience for children. St. Sabina Academy has been in the Auburn Gresham community for over 100 years, providing a family atmosphere where students and families are known, safe, loved, and nurtured. This partnership not only helps to ensure that we can continue that work, it will also enable us to make an even bigger impact on the families who call this neighborhood home.”

“Big Shoulders Fund Plus not only ensures that these schools remain open for the students and families they serve, but allows for the schools to continue to provide critical stability and support to the broader community,” added Hale. “Our vision is that the Big Shoulders Fund Plus initiative is the model for the future, with capacity to incorporate more schools and impact more children.”

Individuals interested in learning more or donating can visit

ComEd Announces $450,000 to Launch Skilled Trades Program in Partnership with Four Chicago Catholic High Schools

Set to launch in fall, Powering Our Future program will expand STEM and skilled trades training for up to 1,000 Chicago students

CHICAGO (April 6, 2022) – ComEd, in collaboration with Big Shoulders Fund and United Way Metro Chicago, today launched Powering Our Future – a new initiative that will expand skilled trades and STEM training at four Chicago Catholic high schools. To remove barriers to entry to energy and skilled trades careers, a new $450,000 investment by ComEd and parent company Exelon will pilot the program in schools located in historically underserved communities.

Building on expansive STEM programming ComEd supports at Chicago Public Schools, this initiative will expand career pathways for women and minorities, who are underrepresented in STEM industries. Thanks to ComEd’s investment and support from local philanthropy, the new Powering Our Future program is set to reach up to 1,000 students over the next three years.

“Women and people of color continue to be vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, but though our investments in workforce training and STEM education, we are looking to change that,” said Terence Donnelly, president and COO at ComEd. “At ComEd, our goal is to ensure our workforce matches the diversity of the communities we are privileged to serve, and that our ongoing and critical infrastructure investment serves as a catalyst to create jobs for local residents.”

Powering Our Future will combine in-classroom and hands-on technical experience to help more students explore possibilities and build skills to work in key skilled trades in the energy/utilities, advanced manufacturing, and technology sectors. Powering Our Future is set to launch at four Chicago Catholic high schools in the Big Shoulders Fund network this fall:

  1. Josephinum Academy in Wicker Park
  2. Leo High School in Auburn Gresham
  3. Our Lady of Tepeyac High School, serving Lawndale
  4. St. Francis de Sales High School, serving East Side and South Chicago

“Big Shoulders Fund is thrilled to partner with ComEd and United Way Metro Chicago to not only build students’ knowledge of skilled trade fields, but also provide pathways to a wide variety of college, training, and career opportunities,” said Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale. “The four Big Shoulders Fund high schools participating prepare students to go on to become our city’s future workforce and leaders, and this program provides an important new tool to enhance that work and expand potential career paths for them to pursue.”

The program will introduce students to career pathways in the energy, utility and related sectors. Big Shoulders Fund will work with school staff to implement a new curriculum this fall – with in-classroom instruction led by current STEM teachers and staff, and ComEd supporting hands-on experiences including field trips, work-based learning, mentoring and technical classes. The program will serve as a steppingstone to advanced training by ComEd, including the CONSTRUCT Training Academy, and programs offered in partnership with Dawson Technical Institute of Kennedy-King College.

“United Way of Metro Chicago is excited to connect high school students in our Neighborhood Networks in Auburn Gresham and South Chicago with the Powering Our Future program,” said Sean Garrett, President and CEO of United Way of Metro Chicago. “Leveraging our coalitions in the Neighborhood Networks will help enroll more students in this vital program, providing pathways to future careers and ultimately building stronger, more equitable communities.”

The four schools are located in historically disadvantaged communities, within the Big Shoulders Fund network. With two of the pilot schools serving an all-girls population, this program also brings forward a first-of-its-kind opportunity to expand skilled trades-focused training for women.

“Building a skilled and diverse labor force to power our electrical needs today and tomorrow starts with investments in our young people,” said Terry McGoldrick, President of IBEW Local 15. “We applaud ComEd’s efforts to develop partnerships with local schools and community partners that will enhance skill building and expose more of our young people to the possibility of good paying jobs in the electric trades.”

Advancements in clean energy technology are expected to fuel new jobs for the future, with the Center for Energy Workforce Development estimating 2,000 new jobs in utilities in the Midwest region in the next three years alone. To ensure that future clean energy jobs go to diverse local residents – ComEd is taking steps to address inequities in STEM. As little as 9 percent of STEM jobs are occupied by Black Americans, with 7 percent by Latinos, and 28 percent by women.

Powering Our Future builds on the success of current ComEd education and job training programs, including: the Chicago Builds immersive skilled trades program for juniors and seniors; Create A Spark – a four-year STEM training and mentorship program for high school students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools (CPS); and STEM Home Labs, a leadership series designed to overcome barriers to STEM related careers. Last year alone, these programs helped reach over 1,000 students across the city of Chicago and involved participation by 174 ComEd mentors.

Over the next few months, Big Shoulders Fund will work with school communities to host virtual and community meetings where students can learn more about the program and how participating would enhance their own college and career plans. For more information about the Powering Our Future program and other STEM education initiatives, please visit ComEd’s website.

About ComEd

ComEd is a unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corporation (NASDAQ: EXC), a Fortune 200 energy company with approximately 10 million electricity and natural gas customers – the largest number of customers in the U.S. ComEd powers the lives of more than 4 million customers across northern Illinois, or 70 percent of the state’s population. For more information visit and connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.    


As many of us adjust to the new norm of working and learning from home, Big Shoulders Fund and our network of 72 schools have quickly shifted how we educate our students in the most effective, challenging, and creative ways. View weekly highlights below.


Big Shoulders Fund Joins Chicago Initiative to Bridge the Digital Divide for Students in Need with Support from Citadel Partners

New $1 Million Commitment from Citadel CEO Ken Griffin and COO Gerald Beeson Expands Access to Free High-Speed Internet for Thousands of Catholic School Students

(CHICAGO) November 17, 2020 – Big Shoulders Fund, an independent charitable organization that serves more than 70 under-resourced Catholic schools in Chicago, today announced a contribution from Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin and COO Gerald Beeson to fund participation in ‘Chicago Connected.’ Launched earlier this year by public, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders, ‘Chicago Connected’ is one of the largest and longest-term efforts in the nation focused on providing free, high-speed internet service to qualifying students in their households.

With today’s announcement, nearly 3,000 additional K-12 students are eligible to participate in the program developed to dramatically increase internet access for students in need. The four-year broadband access initiative aims to address the digital equity gap and help build a permanent public support system for families in Chicago. 

Ken Griffin, the lead convener and funder of ‘Chicago Connected,’ and Gerald Beeson, a board and executive committee member of Big Shoulders Fund, came together to provide the $1 million in funding required to extend the reach of the ‘Chicago Connected’ program. As a result of their commitment, qualifying families will receive access to high-speed internet at home enabling students to access online learning, submit college applications, build career skills, apply for jobs and stay up-to-date on current events.

“For more than three decades, Big Shoulders Fund has worked to ensure inner city students have access to quality education regardless of economic circumstance – and in today’s world, access to internet is integral to student success,” said Mr. Beeson. “Expanding the ‘Chicago Connected’ program will open opportunities for these students far beyond their studies.”

Josh Hale, President and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund, added, “While the digital divide has persisted for some time, the pandemic has brought it into sharp focus. We know that internet access improves the educational and economic outcomes for our students and I’m grateful that more of them will have the tools they need to succeed during the pandemic and beyond.”

The work of the Big Shoulders Fund to provide high-quality education to students has never been more important. Amid the pandemic, Big Shoulders Fund increased its efforts to support its nearly 20,000 students – nearly 80 percent of whom are Black and Latinx and 70 percent of whom are low-income – to ensure these students continue to have access to a high-quality academic experience. Its participation in the ‘Chicago Connected’ initiative represents the next step in providing students of all backgrounds equal access to high-quality education, regardless of socioeconomic circumstance.

According to a report released by education advocacy organization Kids First Chicago, an estimated 110,000 Chicago children under the age of 18 lack access to broadband. An estimated 3,000 of those students are served by Big Shoulders Fund.

Those students will now have access to this program, which will provide high-speed internet for households by directly paying for internet service for families that are most in need. The schools served by Big Shoulders Fund will use priority indicators including free and reduced lunch eligibility to identify qualifying students.

About Chicago Connected

Launched in June 2020 by Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, along with Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin and a variety of public, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders, Chicago Connected is a groundbreaking program that will provide free high-speed internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. This first-of-its-kind program will be one of the largest and longest-term efforts by any city to provide free, high-speed internet over the course of four years to increase internet access for students. For more information, visit