Impact: Big Shoulders Fund at NCEA

NCEA made it to the City of Big Shoulders! As with previous years, Big Shoulders Fund led the way with several members of our academic programs team presenting to educators from across the country on various topics including teacher and leadership development, community outreach, technology in the classroom, and data driven instruction.

The Big Shoulders Fund academic programs team is made up of former principals, teachers, school administrators, and educators alike, who have experienced first-hand being in the front of the classroom. The goal of the academic programs team is to provide high-quality curricular materials and resources to schools, offer comprehensive professional development to teachers and administrators, and help establish structures to improve and sustain academic standards within schools and across the network.

This past week, these fearless leaders took their cutting-edge research and experience to the NCEA 2019 Convention and Expo in four engaging presentations that demonstrated the Big Shoulders Fund difference.

Big Shoulders Fund Teacher Induction Coaches Antoinette Greengard and Amy Treadwell presented on Building Community, Excellence, and Leadership Through New Teacher Induction.

Through the Big Shoulders Fund Teacher Development Program, Antoinette and Amy provide individualized instructional coaching to educators using the Danielson Framework for Teaching, school-based mentoring, quarterly professional development sessions, inquiry groups, and peer collaboration. The structure of this program has proven that through community, excellence, and leadership, schools are able to recruit, train, and retain new teachers more effectively and successfully. Participants were able to use this framework to identify what they can do in their own schools and districts to support their teachers. This is fundamental to the growth of our schools. When teachers feel valued and are given the resources they need to succeed, the possibilities are endless. Teachers participating in the Big Shoulders Fund Teacher Development Program are staying in their schools at rates higher than their peers.

Big Shoulders Fund Senior Director of Academic Programs and External Affairs Rebecca Lindsay-Ryan, Big Shoulders Fund Innovation Leader Kristin Ziemke, and Freelance Journalist and Big Shoulders Fund collaborator Bill Healy, presented on News, Media, and YOU(th): Fueling Empathy Through Evaluation and Action.

More than ever, it is important for students to know and understand from where the media they are consuming is coming. With social media taking over their screens, the number of messages youth are presented with today can be overwhelming. More so, deciphering truth from fiction can be a struggle when through today’s technology, news stories are all around them at all times. This session provided educators with digital resources to help students build media literacy skills that will empower them to become informed and engaged citizens. This transformative program developed with support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation has influenced over 200 educators in Chicago reaching the lives of more than 1,000 students. 

Big Shoulders Fund Lead Instructional Coach for Data Analysis Liz Bartley talked data and how it can be used for school improvement processes in Data Driven Instruction in Action.

Through Big Shoulders Fund’s Data Driven Instruction Initiative, with founding support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Liz has taught Big Shoulders Fund teachers and administrators how to analyze student data for specific areas of strength in order to implement effective teaching strategies and actions. This initiative has proven to help Big Shoulders Fund schools improve academic achievement through purposeful and professional collaboration. Liz helps staff get excited about data and build a community of teachers that feel empowered to implement data driven instruction.

Big Shoulders Fund Director of Leadership and Scholarship Support Dan Bennett led Entrepreneurship Program for Middle Schoolers. He shared with attendees his experience implementing special programming in Big Shoulders Fund schools in which teams of middle school students learn about business and entrepreneurship from field professionals leveraging the Defined STEM platform. Participants explored the successes of the program and were able to consider how more schools and districts can create their own programs. 

His workshop highlighted our unique partnership with EY to bring entrepreneurship programs to our schools. In collaboration with EY, Big Shoulders Fund has brought the EY Entrepreneurship Competition to Big Shoulders schools for three years. This year, the showcase event, where 20 teams present their projects to a panel of business leaders and entrepreneurs, will take place at 1871. Lee Henderson, partner at EY and 1871 and Big Shoulders Fund Board Member, Michelle Vondrasek, CEO and Founder of Von Technologies, Ram Ramanan, Partner at EY, Johnjoe Farragher, CEO and Founder of Defined Learning, and Kevin Willer, Partner at Chicago Ventures and 1871 and Big Shoulders Fund Board Member, will judge the competition.

Finally, I am happy to share that President of Our Lady of Tepeyac (OLT) High School and Elementary School Joni Thompson received the 2019 NCEA Conference with the Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award! Joni is celebrating 29 years at OLT and has contributed to the OLT school community as an English teacher, Assistant Principal, Principal, and current President. Her commitment to the children, young women, and community of OLT is immeasurable. I am thrilled for Joni and the entire OLT community.

This is the third year in a row in which a Big Shoulders Fund school Principal or President is honored with this prestigious award. I am in awe of these individuals and of all Big Shoulders Fund staff, who day in and day out put their all in their work to create a brighter future for our City and most importantly, #paralosniños.

Click here to learn more about the Big Shoulders Fund difference.

Written by: Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale

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

Impact: Big Shoulders Fund Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Since inception, Big Shoulders Fund’s mission has been grounded on the fact that we are for the children. When the opportunity presented itself to expand our reach and help to serve a greater population of students through the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, made possible by the Illinois Invest in Kids Act, we knew that it was something we had to be a part of.

In January of last year, Big Shoulders Fund opened its Tax Credit Scholarship Program application for the first time. From our conversations with school administrators and families, we learned that this initiative would have a positive impact in the lives of many but when the count came in of more than 12,000 applications in two days, we were in awe of the demand for the program. In year one, Big Shoulders awarded nearly $8M in scholarships to more than 1,300 students attending 110 schools. The median household income of our awardees was $22,500, with an average of four family members per household.

To help measure the impact of the program, it was important to us to hear from recipients themselves. An anonymous survey was sent to all recipients of a Big Shoulders Fund Tax Credit Scholarship for the 2018-2019 school year. 473 respondents completed the survey totaling to a response rate of 54 percent.

Here is what we found: 

“The Illinois Tax Credit Scholarship has made a difference in my son’s life, my life, and has made it possible for a lot of families to afford private education. In light of the violence being plagued by the city of Chicago, it is a true blessing to know I can afford to send my son to a school that is not only safe, but teaching him to be a productive citizen. I am forever grateful. Thank you!”

“I would like to thank you for supporting this amazing initiative. Many children, including my son, are able to benefit from an exceptional educational opportunity because of your support. I am extremely grateful and hope that you continue to make a positive impact in children’s educational endeavors.”

On January 22, Big Shoulders Fund reopened its Tax Credit Scholarship application for families to apply for scholarships for the 2019-2020 school year. Given the first-come, first-served nature of the program and the limited funding, we knew this could be a stressful process for families. From Facebook Live Q&A’s to hosting informational seminars, the Big Shoulders Fund team collaborated to make this a positive experience for applicants. The day the application opened, we set-up a call center in our offices so that parents/guardians could get real-time support on the phone while applying, and hosted five application sites across the City. We received more than 12,000 applications on the first day the application opened, once again reflecting tremendous demand. As of today, 13,100 applicants are on our waitlist.  As we receive contributions, we will award scholarships to as many eligible families as possible.

We continue to support and raise funds for this program, because we know the impact. This program expands access to educational options for students. Survey results show that alumni of Big Shoulders Fund schools graduate, work, and donate to charity at a much higher rate than their peers thereby, strengthening their communities and the City as a whole. We here at Big Shoulders Fund, are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish and continue to achieve through the Tax Credit Scholarship Program as well as through our traditional privately funded scholarship program.

The Tax Credit Scholarship Program has added to the support we give the schools. Many of our supporters have stepped up to help us continue to expand. The program has truly been additive and not taken away from funding and support of our private scholarships and the other services we provide our schools each year. We thank you, the supporters, for your continued commitment to our students and our mission. You are truly #paralosniños. 

Donors to the Big Shoulders Fund Tax Credit Scholarship Program receive a 75 percent credit, of the total contributed, toward their Illinois income tax. To learn more on how you can participate and make a difference in a child’s life this year, please visit and/or contact Amy Drozda or at 312.751.3850. 

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.