The Mutual Benefits of Working with CPS Students

By | Updates

Mars Food's VP of Corporate Affairs reflects on a recent visit with CPS high-school students.

by Caroline Sherman

In January of 2019, organic seed and food company Seeds of Change™ partnered with the Children Fund to award $500,000 to Chicago Public Schools. Since then, the grant has helped CPS schools across Chicago develop lush learning gardens, innovative farm-to-table education programs, substantive professional-development opportunities, farmers markets, and summer gardening jobs for high school students. 

Over the summer, Mars Food—parent company to Seeds of Change™—hosted 15 CPS student interns for a botanical/horticultural program that was funded by the same grant. That program culminated in a student visit to the Mars Food North America headquarters here in Chicago, where students got an in-depth look at jobs in the food industry. 

Caroline Sherman, VP of Corporate Affairs for Mars Food North America, offered the following reflections on the visit.

As a native Chicagoan, I’m incredibly passionate about ensuring every citizen in our city has the same access to opportunities, especially our children. That’s why I’m so proud to have been a part of the Seeds of Change™ team that granted $500,000 to Chicago Public Schools through the Children First Fund for school gardens and educational programs. 

Caroline Sherman and members of Seeds of Change™ pose after their garden build at Walter Dyett High School.

Since the partnership began in January 2019, I’ve been honored to play a direct role in supporting those grants, first by helping to build a new vegetable garden at Walter Dyett High School, and most recently by hosting a group of bright summer interns at the Mars Food North America headquarters. 

During the students’ visit to our office, Mars Associates from a range of departments got to spend time and speak directly with these future titans of the food and agricultural industries, offering them glimpses into many of the career options related to growing, cooking, and enjoying healthy food. 

CPS student interns interviewed Mars employees about their lives and careers.

While the students got a lot of value from their time with Mars Associates, I have no doubt that it’s our Associates who benefitted the most. It was truly a joy to get to know this group of ambition, curious, and highly capable young adults. 

CPS student interns prepared their own lunch in Mars’s fully equipped office kitchen.

The greatest part of the day, at least for me, though I’m sure the students would agree, was lunch. Cooking and eating together can be an incredibly powerful way to learn about and bond with people. Together, we made a delicious, four-course vegetarian meal, featuring plenty of fresh veggies, herbs, and Seeds of Change™ food products. And the interns left with some healthy recipe inspirations to bring back to their families. 

The day ended with a game designed to emphasize the importance of sustainability. This was a perfect way to close out a mentorship day. Through the game, the students could clearly see how everything they are learning about horticulture and botany, including how to sustainably grow and harvest food, relates directly to the broader food industry. 

Sustainability is something Mars has prioritized for years. We are adamant about creating a better world tomorrow through better food today, and sustainability is at the core of that pursuit.  Sustainable growing practices and nutritious food are critical to ensuring the future health of people and the planet for generations to come. 

My reflections on the day would not be complete without mentioning the infectious enthusiasm of these students. Their drive and energy make me proud and optimistic about the future of Chicago. I returned to my day-to-day activities with a renewed inspiration because of the time I got to spend with those 15 CPS students.

Before I end, I’d like to address our student interns directly and say thanks. Thanks for taking an interest in what we do, and thanks for giving us back as much as (or more than) than we gave. I am so excited to see what the future holds for each of you. 

Caroline Sherman (center), CPS student interns, and members of the Seeds of Change™ team celebrate the meal they’ve prepared together.

Case Study: Opportunity Schools Classroom Grant Recipient Megan Horan

By | Updates

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.”

Case Study: Will Reed and the Fund for Teachers Fellowship

By | Updates

The Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy science teacher is developing a unique climate-literacy program.

by the Chicago Foundation for Education

When Chicago Public Schools and the Children First Fund celebrate our most successful 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, etc. While those statistics are important, they don’t always show the personal impact of the investments. CFF Case Studies provide a more intimate look at how a partnership or program affects CPS students and teachers.

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

Fund for Teachers (FFT), one of the nation’s largest investors in teacher learning and leadership, offers PreK–12th-grade teachers from across the country the opportunity for self-designed fellowships to support student success, enrich their practice, and strengthen their schools and communities.

For Will Reed, a science teacher at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy on Chicago’s far south side, the FFT Fellowship experience was a game changer.

“I feel more committed than ever to teaching young people; implementing innovative ways to help my students learn to love science, analysis, and design; and imparting a global perspective.” Explained Mr. Reed after returning from Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands this summer. “I also feel much closer to the excitement-filled learning experience that I hope to give my students than I have in years, and am more confident in my skill set and knowledge base.”

Mr. Reed was awarded an FFT Fellowship to research strategies for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change in Northern Europe in order to develop a problem-based learning unit that facilitates climate literacy and empowers students to understand and solve global problems through a local context.

With the program Mr. Reed developed, his students present their designs for a less greenhouse-gas-emitting, more resilient Chicago at a public showcase competition at their school. Community judges give honors to the best projects and acknowledgments to all participating students.

While abroad, Mr. Reed says he gained a deeper understanding of climate change science, activism, politics, and education, both internationally and in terms of climate-related work happening in Chicago. He better understands the history of global energy use and its relation to climate change. Furthermore, he says his fellowship afforded him much more familiarity with the ever-growing set of media and educational resources related to climate change.

CPS Partners Weigh in on District’s Five-Year Vision

By | Updates

In December, the Children First Fund hosted CPS’s first-ever partner forum to help shape the future of Chicago’s public school system.

On December 17, 2018, representatives from businesses, philanthropic organizations, health-care providers, colleges and universities, cultural institutions, and a host of other local and national organizations gathered at 1871, a technology and entrepreneurship center in River North, to discuss the future of Chicago Public Schools.

The CPS 5-Year Vision Donor and Partner Engagement Event was not the first time the district had looked to its community partners for guidance—the majority of attendees were invited because of their existing relationships with and previous contributions to CPS—but it was the first event hosted by the newly re-launched Children First Fund, which is inviting more direct participation from CPS’s external partners into the district’s planning and programming.

The Children First Fund is the Chicago Public Schools’ charitable foundation, and it has spent much of the past year restructuring in an effort to maximize the impact of CPS’s partnerships. That effort has included the consolidation of previously disparate partner-facing teams within CPS, a new digital strategy (including this blog), and a listening tour that engaged more than 100 CPS partners and culminated in December’s event.

After hearing about recent CPS accomplishments and upcoming priorities from CPS leaders and academic chiefs, including CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson, event attendees broke out into small groups for two feedback sessions focused on the district’s overarching framework for the next five years as well as specific priorities, including Equity, Early Education, STEM, Arts Education, Health and Wellness, Parent and Community Engagement, Social Emotional Learning, Career and Technical Education, and a number of other areas of focus for CPS.

In February, the Children First Fund published a summary report of the engagement event, and there is no shortage of feedback to inform the 5-Year Vision. For each district priority, CPS’s partners identified actionable goals for improvement based on their experiences working with the district.

For Teacher Talent and Development, the report notes, “Partners can help CPS develop teacher pipelines through PreK–12 programs and supporting practicums.” For Parent and Community Engagement, “Bring parents into contact with counselors and other supports to help prepare them for all the steps involved in getting their children into and through college.” And for STEM, “Offering partners more information about what STEM programs and activities exist at various locations would help them better align efforts, reduce redundancies, and attract new efforts.”

That guidance, as well as feedback from students, parents, CPS staff, and Chicago community members, will act as a roadmap for the CPS 5-Year Vision, which itself will guide a range of district growth efforts.

December’s event will not be the last opportunity for community members—public and private organizations as well as individuals—to help shape and support the district’s priorities and programming. The Children First Fund is already preparing a follow-up engagement event in March to preview the 5-Year Vision, and it is encouraging new and existing partners to contact the Children First Fund to help support or initiate programs that align with CPS’s mission.

Through the Children First Fund, Chicago Public Schools is asking everyone in Chicago to lend a hand in supporting our city’s students. And if the results of December’s events are any indication, Chicagoans are more than up to the task.

For more information on how you or your business can help support CPS, contact Ben Warren at bpwarren@cps.edu or (773) 553-2109.