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.

Big Impact From Big Shoulders:  Principal Shares Her Experience  with Valued Programs

Big Impact From Big Shoulders: Principal Shares Her Experience with Valued Programs

Big Shoulders Fund programs impact schools in a variety of ways. In 2015, St. Mary Star of the Sea (SMSS) School joined the Covered Schools Initiative, which provides a team of Big Shoulders staff and consultants to collaborate with the school on enrollment marketing, financial planning, scholarships, academics, and more. Enrollment has increased 49 percent since 2014–15, the deficit has decreased 42 percent, and 96 percent of 2016 graduates chose a Catholic or quality public high school.

Born and raised in the SMSS community, alumna, former teacher, and current Principal Candice Usauskas shares the ways Big Shoulders programs affect her day-to-day activities. “Having Big Shoulders Fund behind us is kind of like that breath of fresh air now. The overall culture of the school has changed, and people are coming back home.”

A participant in the Big Shoulders Fund Leadership Development Program, Usauskas receives financial support for pursuing her principal licensure and access to a network of mission-driven principals and mentors.

When dealing with financial, ethical, or legal issues, my confidence is strong due to the course work I have participated in through the Leadership Development Program. The network of fellow principals has been accessible in times of need. If I have a concern about discipline or a school policy, it is reassuring to have a support group. Keeping up to date on trends and research will help make our school strong. The entire Big Shoulders educational team is looking out for us as principals to ensure we are at the top of our game.

SMSS participates in the Big Shoulders Fund Math Initiative to bring rigorous curriculum and teaching practices to its students. 

Last summer we purchased new textbooks for grades six through eight. As part of the Math Initiative and its collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago, we receive the support of a math coach for the middle school teacher. The program allows us to work in a network of schools that have the same goal: improving math programs and test scores. The teacher receives professional development and collaboration and incorporates ideas she acquires into daily lessons. I am impressed to see the changes in her teaching style. She is more child-centered. The children own their lessons. The level of their math discussions has expanded.

The Big Shoulders Fund Data Analysis Initiative provides SMSS with coaching on how data can best inform instruction, including a value-added model and surveys that gauge school progress from year to year.

We have shifted to using the ACT ASPIRE to assess student learning. Thanks to the Data Analysis Initiative, we can use our professional development time to learn about the components of the test. We have begun to use data from the interim assessments to further drive student instruction and prioritized writing as an area for improvement. Through a partnership created by Big Shoulders, we gained access to the University of Chicago’s 5Essentials survey, which measures school culture and climate in effective leadership, collaborative teachers, ambitious instruction, supportive environment, and involved families. Last year SMSS was rated strong or very strong in all five areas. We surveyed teachers and students, and this year I hope to include parents. It is critical to have a strong school community with opportunities for interaction and feedback. I usually start my day by 6:30 a.m. to be available to speak to parents. I also walk through the school each morning for a quick assessment of the day, touching base with children struggling with assignments or specific subjects.

With the Big Shoulders Fund Summer Fellowship and Marketing Support, SMSS has access to a variety of resources to help with enrollment building, fundraising, and community awareness.

Monday evenings I often have planning meetings at school, and the marketing strategies I have acquired from Big Shoulders leadership have helped me more effectively get our name out to the public. Planning for fundraising is a large task, which takes time to build. I know that help is only a phone call away. Soon we will plan how best to use our Big Shoulders Fund Summer Fellow to help build enrollment and attract more community interest in our school.


This story first appeared in the Spring 2017 Edition of Shoulder to Shoulder

Frame the Future with Big Shoulders

Frame the Future with Big Shoulders

This school year Big Shoulders Fund will embark upon a campaign that highlights people who have rolled up their sleeves to support our scholars and schools. Every day individuals from around the city and all walks of life frame the future of Chicago’s inner-city Catholic schools by participating in our programs and volunteering. With this support, Big Shoulders Fund invests more than $20 million annually in 77 schools, reaching nearly 20,000 students— 66 percent living in poverty and 80 percent minorities— through scholarships, academic programs, professional development, volunteer programs, and more.

What does it mean to frame the future? By believing in our students, teachers, principals and the city itself we are building the framework for success of Chicago’s future leaders. Big Shoulders supporters understand the value of a quality education, which makes access to Big Shoulders Fund schools so vital to the future of Chicago.

Follow Big Shoulders Fund starting today through December on social media and visit our website to meet the faces who are doing their part to frame a successful future for Big Shoulders Fund schools. We invite you to be inspired by their actions as agents of change and learn that anyone can make a difference; all you have to do is choose to participate.

Want to share your story on how you help frame the future of Chicago schools? Or know someone who is setting students up for success? Just upload your story to social media using the hashtag #FrameTheFuture and tag Big Shoulders Fund.

Join us as we celebrate the future of Big Shoulders Fund schools!

Follow Big Shoulders Fund on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. 

Doubling Down on Mission

Doubling Down on Mission

Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale reflects on the struggles of Chicago and how they directly impact the schools Big Shoulders Fund supports. You can read the post in its entirety on HuffingtonPost.

Chicago is struggling to a heartbreaking degree.  The New York Times ran a series of articles on the violence in Chicago and sent a team of reporters to cover the violence over Memorial Day weekend.  The Chicago Tribune runs a summary every Monday of the number of shootings over the previous weekend. Alongside this violence come unprecedented fiscal challenges that are threatening our social service agencies and schools.  I am concerned as a parent, a CEO of a growing nonprofit that serves inner-city children, a property owner and taxpayer, and most of all as a human being who believes that every child deserves access to the opportunities and environment that will enable them to reach their potential.

Chicago saw the greatest population loss in 2015 of any urban area in the country.  It is the responsibility of city’s leaders and institutions to provide a reason to stay, and to eliminate reasons to leave.  Our future depends on all of us working together.

The conditions in Chicago and Illinois may make some of us want to pull the covers over our head.  And I am the first to admit that I read all the news coverage and often get bogged down questioning how we got here. But rather than shrink in fear, I think it’s time to double down on mission. Read more…

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.”