People and businesses across Chicago donated supplies, sponsored events, and volunteered at schools to welcome students back for SY2019-2020.
In the weeks leading up to the first day of the 2019–2020 schoolyear, Chicago Public Schools revealed key statistics from the 2018–2019 schoolyear, including a record-high graduation rate, the most-ever college and career credentials earned, the most-ever scholarship dollars earned, and a record-low drop-out rate. This year, principals opened the doors to their schools with the wind at their backs, enjoying an unprecedented momentum to kickstart the new schoolyear.
But those historic gains were not likely on the minds of the 361,000 students returning to 644 schools across Chicago just after Labor Day. As always, the first day of school carried with it a range of emotions for students. For all the excitement of seeing old friends and favorite teachers, there’s also the anxiety of taking on challenging new courses and assignments.
Confidence, of course, is key to combating that anxiety, and CPS has developed a robust suite of services designed to instill confidence in its students. From social-emotional learning supports to no-cut sports programming to supervised, safe passageways to school, every aspect of the school experience has been honed to ensure that students know they have the support and resources they need to succeed.
Over the summer, the Children First Fund rolled out a suite Back to School engagement options to help our partners show their support for CPS schools and students on Day One. The results were inspiring. More than 30 Chicago organizations donated time, dollars, and resources to CPS Back to School.
In the first week of classes, students were greeted with tickets to the Museum of Science and Industry, Monster Jam, and Jurassic World Live. Many returned to schools that had been freshly painted by volunteers. One group of students was even treated to a shopping spree at H&M courtesy of Glam4Good.
In the second week of classes, 150 local Starbucks employees visited Langston Hughes Elementary to help out with a variety of back-to-school beautification projects. Hughes principal Kimbreana Taylor-Goode says she was blown away by the results.
“The nook spaces are now more inviting,” said Goode. “The Learning Garden has been given a complete makeover. The library shelves are now organized and ready for check-out. The gymnasium has new inspirational quotes and accessible closet space. The Starbucks Team truly blessed Langston Hughes Elementary School in an amazing way.”
The most common partner activations were school supply drives. Children First Fund helped businesses identify the most needed school supplies so they could set up in-office drives to collect those items, which CFF then matched with schools that could put them to use.
A handful of partners took their supply drives a step further, packing school supplies into backpacks that were gifted to students who need them. The National Association of Concessionaires leveraged their annual expo in Chicago to collect 500 brand new backpacks filled with school supplies, which were then distributed to students at schools across the district.
Pepsi, too, collected backpacks full of school supplies, which we matched with W.E.B. Du Bois Elementary School, a school in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side that has a particularly high percentage of low-income students.
Upon delivery of the backpacks, Du Bois principal Vanessa Williams-Johnson met with members of Pepsi’s team to tell them about her school. Inspired by what they heard, Pepsi’s team decided to donate an additional 175 backpacks and notebooks so the school, so that every single student would start the year with a new backpack and supplies.
“I don’t even know what to say. I am overwhelmed at your kindness,” principal Williams-Johnson wrote in an email to Pepsi. “How exciting this will be for students to start off with what they need.”
Beyond the utility of a new backpack and supplies, these donations equipped students with the sense of pride and confidence that kids feel when they can walk into school with a brand-new backpack and top-of-the-line supplies on the first day of school.
All of our partners’ Back to School efforts provided CPS students a leg up as they embark on the new school year, and just as important, each of those efforts provided a stark reminder to students that they are part of a huge, vibrant community that is dedicated to their success. With the support of the entire city of Chicago behind them, CPS students are poised to do great things this year.
CFF would like to thank all of our Back to School support partners, including the Great Clips, Monster Jam, National Association of Concessionaires, the Museum of Science and Industry, Feld Entertainment, Back 2 School Illinois, People’s Gas, Project Swish, Support Group Inc., Office Depot, Adtalem Global Education, Comcast, Relativity, Pepsi, The Ritz-Carlton, Transwestern, C2 Imaging, Glam4Good, H&M, the Regal Foundation, Showpad, Conversant, Freeway Insurance, Starbucks, and Omni Group.