CFF Partners Show Up Strong for Back to School

By | Updates

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.

Students hold up their “CPS B2S” shirts at a Back to School celebration.

 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.

Local Starbucks employees tend to the garden at Langston Hughes Elementary School.

“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. 

NAC Expo attendees collected 500 backpacks, each filled with school supplies, for CPS students.

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.” 

Students at Richards Career Academy show off their partner-donated backpacks.

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.

“Success Starts Here,” With Chicago’s Help

By | Updates

Chicago Public Schools’ new Five-Year Vision was crafted with input from partners across the city.

On Tuesday, March 26, Chicago Public Schools announced its Five-Year Vision for 2019–2024. Officially titled Success Starts Here, the vision provides a roadmap of priorities and initiatives our district will tackle over the next five years to continue building on the extraordinary progress Chicago Public Schools has made.

After the public release of Success Starts Here, The Children First Fund invited many of the district’s closest partners—businesses, philanthropic organizations, hospitals, cultural and higher-education institutions—to hear directly from CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson about how their continued partnership will help us execute on the tenets of Success Starts Here.

CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson outlined “Success Starts Here” at the event.

While the event itself featured a number of surprises, including CPS alumni speakers, graphic artists capturing the evening’s message in real time, and musical performances by CPS students, the Vision document itself, introduced and detailed by Dr. Jackson, was more than a little familiar to the majority of attendees.

A visual artist interpreted the event’s themes in real-time.

Indeed, most of our partners played a substantial role in shaping Success Starts Here. Back in December 2018, the Children First Fund hosted a partner forum, part of a nearly year-long listening tour, to ask CPS’s most-engaged supporters what priorities they wanted to see in the CPS Five-Year Vision.

CPS partners provided input for the Five-Year Vision at a CFF partner forum in December.

We received a wealth of valuable, actionable feedback from that event as well as from hundreds of principals and thousands of parents, teachers, students, and community members. But two themes in particular stuck out:

  1. Our partners want a more clearly defined role in their capacity to support CPS.
  2. Our partners want a better understanding of what CPS means by equity and how they can support it.

Success Starts Here addresses both of those issues directly. Throughout the Vision document, a number of initiatives are flagged with the CFF logo, indicating where partner support will play a crucial role in helping CPS reach its goals. Similarly, equity strategies are clarified in blue text throughout the document, demonstrating specifically how we will promote equity at every level throughout the district.

Throughout the Vision document, the CFF logo indicates opportunities for partner engagement.

The business and philanthropic communities have long played a crucial role in supporting Chicago Public Schools, sponsoring and spearheading initiatives that have provided some of the most successful programs in our district. Our partners have helped CPS introduce rigorous computer-science courses, allowing it to become the first district in the nation to have a computer-science graduation requirement. They have helped expand arts-education programs and access to social and emotional learning. They have created no-cut afterschool sports programs, work-readiness opportunities, STEM-learning field trips, and countless other vital programs that shape the CPS student experience.

Those programs are deeply meaningful to the students and schools who reap the benefits every day, but historically, the work our partners have done for CPS has not always been visible to the city, or even to the district at large. CPS had not done everything possible to identify and celebrate the contributions of our partners, and it had not provided a framework to ensure that all partnerships are aligned with our priorities for maximum impact.

That changes with Success Starts Here. The new district agenda has been developed with explicit input from our partners, and it is designed to encourage engagement from new partners of all kinds, from individuals to businesses and foundations and everything in between.

CPS listened to students, educators, parents, and community members to build the Five-Year Vision.

By providing our partners with unprecedented insight into our goals and planning, we will maximize the impact of our partners’ support and ensure a seamless experience for our partners.

And Success Starts Here is just the beginning. We welcome our partners to continue engaging with CPS leadership through a new event series called Visionary Voices, in which we will provide policy and initiative deep-dives and hear from partners directly about how we might collaborate to achieve our vision for students.

For these efforts and all partner-engagement, the Children First Fund will be a hub for information about CPS. We will help our partners understand exactly what CPS’s priorities are and where support is needed most.

Chicago is one of the most diverse, vibrant, and innovative cities in the world, and with your support and the support of our partners across the city, we’re unlocking all of its resources to support our students and schools. Thank you!