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:

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.