Framing Today’s Preschool Teachers for Success

Big Shoulders Fund strives to give the schools we support vital resources to provide quality, values-based education for all students. Part of that support is providing professional development opportunities to teachers like Stephanie Tominov, a preschool teacher at St. Genevieve School, who recently became a Facilitator Associate in the Big Shoulders Fund Early Math Collaborative through Big Shoulders Fund’s partnership with the Erikson Institute.

“The Big Shoulders Fund Early Math Collaborative is an exciting learning opportunity that has enabled me to create a math program that is helping my students to succeed and excel in math,” says Stephanie. Over the past four years, she has progressed from a participant in the program to a facilitator, helping other teachers learn the best practices for teaching math to little learners. The Big Shoulders Fund Early Math Collaborative brings together preschool through second grade teachers across a multitude of Big Shoulders Fund schools for training and collaboration with the professionals at The Erikson Institute.

The teachers have the opportunity to learn from esteemed professionals in the field including Mary Hynes-Berry, PHD., a senior instructor at Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative. “Mary Hynes-Berry is a true gift to Early Childhood Education and her dedication to the Early Math Collaborative has been invaluable,” says Stephanie, “With their guidance, I continue to provide my students with a rich environment for them to fall in love with math.” Before the program, Stephanie’s classroom lacked a formal math curriculum and she created her own math instruction. Throughout the Early Math Collaborative, her instruction has evolved into a rich daily experience in which students have gained a deeper understanding of core math concepts as they navigate through lessons that challenge them in a fun and engaging way.

Stephanie finds that the lessons bring math to life, with easily accessible materials and rich topics that appeal to the early childhood learner.  Every lesson is cross-curricular and begins with a book perfectly selected by the team.  By uniting math and literacy her preschool students are excited and captivated by each lesson. 

“Undoubtedly, early childhood education lays the foundation for a lifelong love of learning,” says Stephanie, “My hope for the future is that we continue to provide opportunities for our young students to discover the joys of learning from great teachers.”

Stephanie says she feels blessed to have found a home in a Chicago Catholic school. Her hope is that other educators continue to benefit from the amazing opportunities that can be attained teaching in a Big Shoulders Fund school.

The Big Shoulders Fund Early Math Collaborative with Erikson Institute is made possible with support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the CME Group Foundation. 

Framing The Volunteer Experience

Big Shoulders Fund connects volunteers to schools. One of our most popular ways is to attend a Give Back Day. More than 100 people roll up their sleeves for three hours on a Saturday to paint, clean, landscape, and organize classrooms for one lucky school. Volunteers are encouraged to get as involved as they want. Meet Thomas Wyssa Big Shoulders Fund Auxiliary Board member who began volunteering with Big Shoulders Fund two years ago at a service day. “I started volunteering with Big Shoulders through the Give Back Days. This was a great opportunity to get to know the charity, lend a hand on a more informal basis and meet a lot of new people. I quickly realized that Big Shoulders was doing amazing work and asked how else I could volunteer,” says Thomas.

Big Shoulders Fund believes in volunteers using their skill set to help improve our schools or impact our students. Thomas has an undergrad degree in Physics, and when he wanted to get in touch with a school where those skills could be utilized Big Shoulders Fund made the connection to Holy Trinity High School in Chicago’s Noble Square neighborhood.

“Once a week I go to school before work and am available to any pupil that needs help with their homework,” says Thomas. “There are also a variety of other ways that I have volunteered at Holy Trinity including judging a business competition and attending networking breakfasts where the kids get to practice their newly learnt skills.”

When asked what is his favorite thing about volunteering at Holy Trinity he says, “The enthusiasm shown by the teachers for the pupils is above and beyond anything I have seen in other areas of my professional life.”

If you are interested in learning how your skills can be used to benefit students please contact Amy Drozda at

 Mr. Thomas Wyss at the Big Shoulders Fund Give Back Day at St. Francis De Sales High School.

Mr. Thomas Wyss at the Big Shoulders Fund Give Back Day at St. Francis De Sales High School.

Consulting For the Future

Big Shoulders Fund works hard to provide the schools we support with the hands-on help they need to be successful. Meet Katie Bailey marketing consultant for Big Shoulders Fund schools. For several years she has been working closely with Leo High School and St. Francis de Sales High School. Her primary role has been to help schools on the business aspects of running a school — marketing and communications, finance, planning, and development.

It’s very important to get a school’s positive message out to students, families, communities, and alumni. Katie works with the schools to use social media to communicate and share stories. “It’s fun work and I have learned a lot about the schools and the neighborhoods they serve.”

Katie’s goal is to help school administrators put business systems in place so they can focus on the delivery of a quality education for their students.  Schools that are operationally and strong financially will be much more likely to stay in their communities, educating students for years to come.  

“Strong schools are anchors in a community.  I believe the schools we serve are critical to the health of their communities,” said Katie. “So many communities across Chicago have had businesses leave or public schools close but there are still families living there and they deserve a strong education.” When asked about the future of education in Chicago Katie says, “I hope to see a city and a world where all kids can grow up, feel safe, get a strong education and work and put down their own roots for the next generation.”

College Students Marketing For Success

For the past eight years, Big Shoulders Fund has welcomed undergrads from all over the country to provide marketing support to the schools Big Shoulders supports through the Fellows Program. It has evolved over the years, from an unpaid fellowship to a paid internship, but one thing always remains the same. The talented young college students who sign up to give our schools an edge during enrollment season truly make a difference.

Meet Samuel Rodriguez, a graduate of Big Shoulders Fund schools through St. Nicholas of Tolentine, a sophomore at Oberlin College and a POSSE scholar. He worked at schools located mostly on the South Side of Chicago near Midway. He frequented Queen of the Universe, but the school he called home for the summer was St. Mary Star of the Sea.

The idea that college students can help with marketing is not an old one. Principals are often  the only staff present in the summer months with limited time available to providing school tours, promoting the school itself, creating marketing materials and so on. Our marketing fellows took care of all this. “I help the schools take care of the projects that enable them to have a solid footing for future marketing,” explains Samuel. This could be helping maintain the school’s social media account, creating flyers, or canvassing neighborhoods to increase awareness.

“I really hope to see Catholic Schools thrive in the coming future especially since I am an Alum of St. Nicholas of Tolentine,” says Samuel, “I think they did an amazing job preparing me for high school and college, and I hope all Catholic Schools continue to prepare students like they did for me.” He continues, “I personally believe, if children can receive a quality education, they can go on to do great things that can both affect Chicago and the world positively.”

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Running Towards the Future

This October marks the third consecutive year that Clarisol Duque will train and run the Chicago Marathon as a charity runner for the Big Shoulders Fund Racing Team. Training for a marathon is a very challenging endeavor. She trains on top of the fact that she is the Chicago Director of the Office of Senator Dick Durbin and is the mother of two young children. In order to make it work she trains very early in the morning. “In those early hours of the morning as I make my way to Chicago’s lakefront,” says Clarisol, “I witness hardworking men and women making their way to bus stops and train lines to get to their jobs. When I see these individuals, I see my own father who has worked his whole life leaving his home hours before the sun will come up to make it to a back-breaking job.”

These hardworking men and women remind her of her parents who put her through Catholic school at Maternity BVM, a Big Shoulders Fund school in Humboldt Park. “I know that when I am training my small sacrifice helps to raise dollars to help a family who wants to give their child the opportunity to attend a Big Shoulders Fund school. And every single minute of my run is worth that effort.”

Clarisol’s initial involvement with Big Shoulders came when she realized that her elementary school, Maternity BVM, was on the verge of closing due to low enrollment. She and her husband, Omar, felt very strongly about getting involved and making an impact. They connected with Big Shoulders and started a small scholarship program at Maternity BVM and were asked to join the school board. Maternity BVM’s enrollment has since increased and the school continues to provide an important educational opportunity for the surrounding community. Clarisol also joined the Chairmen’s Advisor Council where she has served on the Executive Committee, the Lend a Shoulder Day Committee, and the Service Engagement Committee. Clarisol has also served on the Board of Directors for Big Shoulders for nearly eight years.

“For many families like mine, a Catholic school education is an important part of a values-based education rooted in service to the community and service to each other. I believe in this for our children and I believe in the ability for all families who desire that same education to be able to access it. By framing the conversation around making Catholic education available for all we can work to expand educational opportunities for children and families across Chicago. Catholic schools are a vital piece of our educational system and we need to continue to invest in Catholic schools. I envision Catholic schools thriving for future generations of Chicagoans.”

Inspired by Clarisol's story? You can donate to her fundraising efforts As she runs for Big Shoulders Fund  at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.



Framing the Classroom

Teachers Who Make an Impact

Meet Jenna Ryan, fourth and fifth grade math and science teacher at St. Margaret of Scotland School in Chicago's South Side. Jenna is the kind of teacher that Big Shoulders is trying to support in every classroom. She's a Teacher Leader, and quite notably a Power User in the Big Shoulders Fund Math Initiative. 

The Big Shoulders Fund Math Initiative aims to establish a community of educators who work together to improve mathematics teaching and learning. Participating schools use Everyday Mathematics, a high-quality, researched-based curriculum that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards for Math (CCSS-M). Components of the program include: professional development (in-person and online through webinars) for administrators and teachers, creating teacher leaders at each school who attend professional development aimed at building leadership capacity in math instruction, in-school coaching support by the Center for Elementary Math and Science Education at the University of Chicago (CEMSE) staff, creating Power Users at each school who attend professional development around implementing technology in math instruction, and building a network community of math teachers.

“Last year I had kids begging to play math games on the board and computers during recess which was a great feeling,” says Jenna . Her classroom is equipped with a SMART white board which she uses to enhance her daily math lessons. “Because of Big Shoulders, we are lucky enough to have the e-suite that goes along with the Everyday Math Program so it all directly corresponds with the lessons we go through. It has helped the visual learners to see various examples on the board and lets them connect to the material in a way that suits them,” says Ryan.

Learn how Jenna works with the Big Shoulders Fund Math Initiative to give our students a competitive edge in math learning. 

Principal Prepping Students' Future

Meet Linda Sanders principal at St. Philip Neri School since 2011. Linda shared, “The work of a principal at a Catholic school is to stabilize enrollment, nurture partnerships with parents and work with the community to strengthen the foundation of the school.” She also states that the role of the principal includes guiding the social, emotional and moral development of young people.

Big Shoulders Fund supports St. Philip Neri School in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood in a number of ways. Big Shoulders has been able to connect St. Philip Neri to the Museum of Science of Industry, the Field Museum, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Loyola University, DePaul University, and University of Illinois at Chicago. “These partnerships have really helped to increase our teachers’ capacity in teaching math and science, creating a stronger learning environment in the classroom,” said Sanders.

In her hopes for St. Philip Neri, Principal Sanders would like to see the stabilization of enrollment in the school and serving the South Shore community.  Principal Sanders says, “I want to see the stabilization of Catholic schools across the Chicagoland area and improve the lives of young people and who will become the change agents of our society.”  

Financial Stability is Key

Larry Owens is a financial consultant to Big Shoulders Fund schools through the Covered Schools Initiative. He works with principals and financial representatives to help develop and evaluate the finances of schools. An example of how this is done would include looking at the school’s budget, forecasting the expected revenues and costs for future periods, and evaluating where the school stands on tuition collection. Based on the results he formulates a plan for “smart” spending to ensure the financial future of the school, and make it accessible and affordable for all.

“With the rising cost of supporting the operations of a school, combined with the need to consolidate inefficient programs, it is imperative that we identify those schools and programs that can sustain the continuing desire for a great Catholic education,” said Mr. Owens. “And ensure that they have a solid, consistent and predictable cost base by which they run their programs.”

Mr. Owens' work to stabilize schools financially is critical to the future of Chicago’s inner-city Catholic schools. When asked what he hopes to see for the future of education in Chicago he said, “My vision of the future is one in which a good quality education is at the forefront and is available to all of God’s children, regardless of who they are or where they live. I’d like to see the decision as to where a child attends school be made entirely on their preferred choice, and not on which one they can ‘afford’.”



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