The first-year Randolph Elementary School teacher used her grant to build a library in her classroom.

by the Chicago Foundation for Education

When the Children First Fund celebrates our partner-supported programs, we often focus on the big picture—how many schools adopted the program, how many scholarships were awarded, dollar-value of resources contributed, and other quantifiable metrics. But, while important, statistics don’t always show the personal impact of the investments. CFF Case Studies provide a more intimate look at how partnerships and high-impact philanthropy affect CPS students.

This Case Study, looking at a recipient of the Opportunity Schools Classroom Grant, was provided by our partners at the Chicago Foundation for Education, who awarded more than 500 grants and fellowships to CPS teachers in 2018.

In the summer of 2017, Megan Horan prepared for her first year of teaching, by collecting and purchasing books for her classroom at Randolph Elementary, a PK–8 school in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood. Ms. Horan stocked her room with Junie B Jones and the Captain Underpants series, as well as many other books she knew would interest her students. Unfortunately, Horan soon discovered that only 16 of the 51 students in her two classes were currently reading at a second- or third- grade level, so the majority of the books she acquired were too difficult.

Megan Horan

On top of that, Ms. Horan found that several of her students experienced severe emotional and behavioral issues that often distracted them from the learning environment. To help those students calm down, away from others, she would often send them out of the classroom, but she preferred to direct them to a private area within the room. That approach helped to normalize their emotions and prevent anyone from feeling ostracized. Using hand-me-down rugs and pillows gathered from friends, Ms. Horan created a sort of calming area in her classroom, but the space was small and not ideal for soothing an overwhelmed child.

Then Ms. Horan learned about the Chicago Foundation for Education’s (CFE) Opportunity Schools Classroom Grants, and she immediately applied to the program. CFE recognizes that as new teachers begin their career, they need resources to enhance both the classroom environment and student experiences. Through the Classroom Grants program, new teachers at CPS’ Opportunity Schools, including Randolph, were eligible for $500 grants to purchase resources and materials ranging from general classroom supplies to books to cultural and historical artifacts.

In her grant application, Ms. Horan outlined how she would use the funds to purchase more age-appropriate books as well as tools and comfortable seating for a secluded calming corner, where students could take a break and refocus without having to fully miss out of the classroom environment.

“My students are excited about reading, even those who are reading at a lower level, and they tend to be supportive and non-judgmental of each other,” wrote Ms. Horan in her application. “I encourage independent reading and want to offer options to further build their interest and their confidence, but to do this I need to expand our classroom library.”

In January of 2018, Ms. Horan learned she was among the 21 teachers to receive a CFE Classroom Grant that year. With her grant money, Ms. Horan was able to build her new classroom library and calming corner, and the results were all she had hoped for and more.

“I continually see improvements in their maturity-levels and their abilities,” said Ms. Horan. “With the new books and a calming corner, I’m certain they will be set up for success and will soar.”