Changes in school and district leadership, budget woes and local events shape up 2017 in education

Staff Writer

There were numerous changes in leadership in both public and private schools in the neighborhood over the last year.

Shakeups also occurred in the Chicago Board of Education. Last month, Forrest Claypool, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools resigned after a report by the Inspector General recommended that he step down for lying during an ethics investigation.

Dr. Janice Jackson, Chief Education Officer, was selected by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to act as the superintendent of the district.

Claypool was selected by Emanuel nearly two years ago to replace Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who also served as CPS CEO.

Byrd-Bennett was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on federal corruption charges in April. Byrd-Bennett admitted to her role in directing more than $23 million in no-bid contracts to her former employer Supes Academy, in exchange for kickbacks.

Before serving as Chief Education Officer Jackson led Network 9, which is one of the district’s 13 school zones, it includes schools within the Hyde Park, Bronzeville, and Woodlawn neighborhoods. In total the network represents 26 schools and serves 14,000 students.

In this capacity, she provided principals with supervision and guidance on strengthening students’ academic foundations.

Jackson holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s degree in history from Chicago State University and a master’s degree in leadership and administration and a Ph.D. in education policy studies and urban school leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She is also a graduate of Chicago Public Schools in 1995 she graduated from Hyde Park Academy High School.

Ancona School

In August, Ari Frede, principal at Ancona School announced that he would be stepping down as the Head of the Ancona School, 4770 S. Dorchester Ave. In a letter to the school community, Frede said that he would transition out of the position over the remainder of 2017.

“I am writing to you today with the bittersweet announcement that I have made the decision to step down as head of Ancona, transitioning out over the remainder of this calendar year. This spring I completed my doctorate, and I have come to realize that I have a deep passion for the research I conducted in my capstone project. I feel called to further pursue that work and to continue to contribute to the world of progressive education in a new way.”

In 2014, Frede was selected to serve in the role as Ancona’s first new Head of School in three decades taking over from Bonnie Wishne.

“Leading this remarkable school has been a wonderful responsibility and one that I have loved,” Frede wrote. “I will be working closely with the fantastic senior leadership team, faculty, and administration in the coming months to ensure a smooth transition.”

Before joining Ancona, Frede was a teacher and the adult program manager at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

He also served in several teaching and administrative roles in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system including principal intern at CPS.

He resigned from his position as assistant principal at Palmer Elementary School after just one year to pursue opening The Orange School – an arts-based charter school.

Nancy Nassr, Assistant Head of School, is Interim Head of School.

Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School

The Board of Trustees of Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School selected Dr. Eliezer Jones as Head of School in February replacing former head of school, Miriam Schiller, who retired. Schiller had served as Akiba’s principal for nearly 30 years.

“We speak for the entire Akiba family in saluting Miriam’s exceptional efforts in shaping Akiba into the phenomenal school it is today,” said David Lowenthal, chair of the Head of School Search Committee, and Dr. Amanda Lorenz, president of the Akiba-Schechter Board of Trustees, in an email to the community in February.

Previously, Jones served as General Studies Principal of Valley Torah High School in Valley Village, Calif. He also assisted at EMEK Hebrew Academy (K-8, Sherman Oak, CA) as an educational consultant.

Jones has a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles and has worked with children, adolescents and families in such clinical settings as Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic in downtown Los Angeles.

Jones is also new to Chicago. He is married and has five children. Four of his children attend Akiba, and his oldest child is in high school.

Bret Harte

Shenethe Parks, who served as principal for 10 years at Bret Harte accepted a new position within Chicago Public Schools before the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

Charlie Bright is currently the interim principal.

While it is his first year serving in the role as principal he is no stranger to Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E. 56th St.

Two years ago, Bright was the resident principal at Bret Harte as a part of the New Leaders Program. He worked alongside Parks. Bright was the assistant principal at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, 917 W. 88th St., during the 2016-2017 school year.

As Interim Principal, Bright is not under contract for the position. In the next few months, the Bret Harte Local School Council will start a selection process for candidates for principal.

The LSC will ultimately make the final decision, which could come before the end of the school year.

Bright in a previous article in the Herald said, “I’m hoping that a decision is made sometime early next year and that I’m the person they choose.”

In the meantime, Bright said he hopes to have a smooth transition into his role as principal.

“The school was in good shape before I came,” Bright said previously. “I have a wonderful staff and teachers. The parents and students they greet me every day and a lot of them are glad to see a familiar face. I think it helps that I built relationships as a resident principal.”

University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

In June, The University of Chicago named Charles Abelmann as the new director of U. of C. Laboratory Schools (Lab Schools), 1362 E. 59th St.

As Lab Schools Director, Abelmann will oversee the nursery school, kindergarten, primary school, lower school, middle school and high school.

He will be responsible for developing the human and financial resources that the schools need.

The search for a new director began when former director Robin Appleby, announced her resignation in a letter to the Lab community in May of last year. Beth A. Harris has served as interim director since 2016.

Appleby, who had only served as the director for two years, said in the letter that she needed to focus on family and pursuing other professional opportunities.

Abelmann has led independent and public schools and has worked on international education at the World Bank.

Abelmann has a bachelor’s degree in English and religion from Duke University and a master’s degree and a doctorate in administration, planning, and social policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“I am excited to join a school with such a rich history and deep connections to the university, and to help chart the path forward to continue a tradition of excellence and innovation,” Abelmann said in a written statement. “I grew up around university life, and I am eager to be part of a community that is so engaged in the education of children and youth, and that places a high value on questioning and collaboration.”

Since 2010, he has served as head of school at Barrie School in Silver Spring, Md., an independent school for students 18 months through the 12th grade.

He also conducted policy analysis and supported ministries of education and local governments across East Asia and other countries including Latvia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Guatemala, and Colombia.

He served as principal of Janney Elementary School a public school in Washington, D.C., and was a special assistant to the superintendent of D.C. public schools early in his career.

University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus

University of Chicago (UChicago) Charter school students will spend the remainder of the school year in a brand new building located at 6300 S. University Ave.

The main entrance will be on the south end of the building facing the campus’ current school at 6420 S. University Ave.

The three-story, 70,000 square foot building features a brick design based on West African textiles and inspired by Kente cloth, a type of silk and cotton fabric made of intertwined cloth strips.

The main level of the building will have a college expo center. College and career fairs will be hosted in the space on the main level. A college counseling space will be placed alongside it, and it will have resources for students to conduct research and complete online applications.

Also, included on the main level are the cafeteria, gymnasium [which will double as an auditorium], a dance studio, and multi-purpose room.

The 950 square-foot multi-purpose room is designed for athletic teams and physical education classes that will use the space for weightlifting and exercise.

The biggest room in the school, the gymnasium will also function as an auditorium. All the cultural events for the school will be held inside.

Another grand feature of the building is its rooftop greenhouse where students and the community will have access.

The greenhouse overlooks the future athletic field on the back end of the building. The school has a garden now at its current building site will transport the garden over to the greenhouse.

UChicago Woodlawn’s athletic field will include two goal posts as well as a walking track, which is also open for public use.

The field will be used for outdoor sports games such as football, soccer, and softball.

Hales Franciscan High School reopened this fall

A class of 50 freshmen walked the halls of Hales Franciscan High School, 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave., which reopened this year. The school was closed in 2016 due to low enrollment rates and financial struggles.

Hales will still stay true to its traditional Catholic education, but with a twist, a focus on science technology, engineering, and math (STEM) said Acting Hales President Anthony Daniels-Halisi.

Daniels-Halisi joined on as acting president at Hales last year. He previously ran a private school called New Concept School in Chicago.

He is also one of four co-founders of Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools, 7822 S. Dobson Ave., where he served as CEO until 2012.

Daniels-Halisi said the desire is to not run into the same issues that caused the school to close last year.

He cited factors such as competition from selective enrollment and charter schools, migration out of the neighborhood and city, and Catholic school closings on the south and west sides that were feeders into Hales as some of the reasons for low enrollment in recent years.

In the 2015-2016 school year, the school only had 37 students, and 18 of those students graduated.

Kenwood Academy High School new track and football field

Kenwood Academy High School will be getting a brand new track and football field.

The $3.5 million project was announced to Kenwood coaches and student-athletes in January. Kenwood Principal, Dr. Gregory Jones said that Ald. Sophia King (4th) was the driving force in making the project happen.

Beginning stages of the project are currently underway construction is expected to start in late spring or summer 2018.

Mayor visits Hyde Park Academy High Schools mentorship program

In February, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein participated in a mentorship group circle called BAM, at Hyde Park Academy High School. BAM is a group that works with young men in the city’s most distressed public schools to help them learn and practice core values such as integrity, self-determination, accountability, positive anger expression, respect for womanhood and goal setting, before addressing the public at a press conference about his ongoing plan to provide mentorship opportunities for male students that attend public schools in Chicago.

The city will launch a three-year $36 million initiative supported by public and private dollars to provide each boy with a high-quality mentoring program by 2018. According to the University of Chicago, (U. of C.) Crime Lab, which will work with the mayor to create mentorship programs citywide, there are 7,200 8th to 10th grade boys in CPS schools in the 20 community areas with the highest homicide rates.

“The potential to get our kids to high school and to think beyond is the difference between being a real strong city and not,” Emanuel said. “[BAM] is the community these young men rely on, this is the family that they rely on, this is the potential that they see in themselves and can rely on.”

A.J. Watson, program director at BAM, said there is a 50 percent reduction in violent crime arrests among teens that are enrolled in BAM versus those who are not.

Watson says most importantly that young men in BAM are more likely to graduate on time from high school.

The BAM program, which falls under the Youth Guidance agency, has been in existence since 2001. Youth Guidance offers a variety of school-based programs in Chicago that aim to help disadvantaged youth to succeed in school and life. This school year, BAM is set to serve just over 4,000 youth in 60-plus schools in Chicago.

Chicago Public Schools and its budget 2016-2017 school year

Funding continues to be an issue for Chicago Public Schools. Last year, different amounts were cut from each school in the district from their original budget ranging from $20,000 to $200,000 in cuts.

Chicago schools have faced hardship over the last few years as a result of a two-year budget impasse downstate as well as disinvestment that have signaled cuts to the classroom and special education funding and the closing of schools.

In response to concerns from members of the African-American and Hispanic communities, in February CPS returned $15 million to high poverty schools in the district that were chipped away, due to mid-year budget cuts resulting from a $46 million dollar freeze in school spending from Gov. Bruce Rauner.

In Hyde Park, CPS restored funds to Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E. 56th St., Kozminksi Elementary Community Academy, 936 E. 54th St., Reavis Elementary Math & Science Specialty School, 834 E. 50th St., Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School, 1330 E. 50th St., Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave. and Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.

Mid-year cuts did not lead to budget lost funding for Murray Language Academy and Ray Elementary School.

The new dollar amount for cuts at Bret Harte was $19,695; Kozminski $28,911; Reavis $9,070; Shoesmith $43,011; Kenwood $57,552; and Hyde Park $193,819.

In a previous article in the Herald, Hyde Park High School, saw the most significant cut out of the local schools in the area, with $236,816 being cut from the budget. Kenwood also saw a significant reduction of $160,514 from its budget.

On Feb. 14, CPS filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of five families and the school board. The group wants the state to provide equal funding for CPS students just as they do other schools in the state.

A federal judge threw out the district’s civil rights lawsuit against the state.

Associate Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama denied CPS’ motion for Preliminary Injunction and ruled in favor of state’s motion to dismiss the suit.

CPS could re-file the lawsuit with an amended complaint.

The suit alleged that the state discriminates against CPS students, who make up 20 percent of Illinois public school students. The district claims it only received 15 percent of the money appropriated for education.

The group wants the state to provide equal funding for CPS students just as they do other schools in the state.

When the suit was filed, CPS officials said they might have to end the 2016-2017 school year on June 1 (20 days early) if the state did not give the district more money.

Following the ruling, Friday, April 28, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that schools would not close three weeks early. The school year ended on its scheduled day last year.

CPS schools in Hyde Park held demonstrations last year in the wake of budget cuts.

In April, students at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School, organized a protest march and poetry slam in light of the budget crisis facing schools in the district.

Students along with teachers marched from the school to 51st Street, from 51st Street East to Lake Park Avenue, from Lake Park Avenue South to 53rd Street, from 53rd Street West to Dorchester Avenue, and back to the school where they convened for the poetry slam.

Students from kindergarten to sixth grade participated in the poetry slam. They used their poetry to express how the inequity in funding is affecting them and their education. Some students even called on Rauner and others lawmakers to close the gap and provide equal funding for all students.

In May, teachers and school support staff members at Murray Language Academy participated in a one-day “work-to-rule” demonstration in March, in the wake of the budget crisis facing Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Using the “work-to-rule” model, which is an industrial action where employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract, Murray teachers punched in at the start of the school day at 8:45 a.m. and punched out at 3:45 p.m. on Friday. Murray teachers and students wore red in solidarity with the action at the school.

The teachers took this action in protest of school budget cuts, CPS’s plans to end the school year early and their belief that CPS might cut school clerk positions.

CPS Budget: 2017-2018 school year

The Chicago Board of Education in August approved a $5.7 billion budget. The passage of the state education reform bill in the same month provided CPS with more than $450 million in state and local resources to support the budget.

The budget also included $269 million in local resources to address the remaining budget gap. Here’s CPS will address the deficit:

  • $130 million increase to CPS’ property tax levy for pensions.
  • $80 million in City of Chicago funding for school security and student safety costs.
  • $55 million in debt refunding savings and purchasing savings.
  • $4 million in additional state aid above the amount assumed in the original budget.

CPS announced 956 layoffs ahead of the start of 2017-2018 school year.

About 356 teachers and 600 support staff members were impacted by the layoffs.

The district will spend more to educate students this school year. Per pupil spending for next year will increase to $4,290, up five percent from the $4,087 rate at the beginning of the previous school year.

This fiscal year the district said it would receive $2.281 billion, a reduction of $43 million. Last fiscal year, the district received $2.324 billion.

The reduction in monies for the budget, according to CPS, comes from the projected decline in enrollment. Additionally, CPS said it expects to see a decrease in federal dollars.

CPS also expects a population decline of about 8,485 students this school year.

Special education funding will see a bump in financing this academic year.

Below is a listing of area school budgets after the start of the 2017-2018 school year. The figures are based on each school’s actual enrollment.

  • Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E 56th St., 3,020,774
  • Dyett High School for the Arts, 555 E. 51st St., $3,328,690
  • Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., $8,048,185
  • Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., $13,473,866
  • Kozminski Elementary Community Academy, 936 E 54th St., $2,647,343
  • Murray Language Academy, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave., $4,587,883
  • Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., $6,030,399
  • Reavis Elementary Math & Science Specialty School, 834 E. 50th St., $2,522,188
  • Shoesmith Elementary School, 1330 E 50th St., $ 2,927,268

State education reform bill passes in State Legislature

After an arduous battle, the Illinois legislature, in August, passed an education funding Senate Bill 1947 (SB 1947) altering the way the state doles out monies to school districts statewide.

SB 1947 will use an evidence-based model to define an adequate level of school funding for each district and a formula for distributing state funds to districts.

Another component of the bill is a tax credit scholarship program for private schools.

Additionally, SB 1947 will assist in paying down past due and future teacher pension payments for CPS teachers. The law also will allow the Chicago Board of Education to raise property taxes, which would be used for the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund.

Senate and House members passed the original version of the education bill Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) in May, but it did not reach the Governor’s desk until mid-July.

Rauner added the tax credit scholarship program as an amendment to an earlier version of the bill in August.

The program has been met with contention from parents, education advocates, some lawmakers and labor unions.

The program has been met with contention from parents, education advocates, some lawmakers and labor unions.

According to Raise Your Hand Illinois, state lawmakers “agreed to what amounts to a $75 million voucher scheme that allows wealthy taxpayers, including businesses, to take up to $1 million each in tax credits for donations that fund scholarships for private and parochial schools.”

Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) was one of 34 state representatives who voted against the measure last week.

Mitchell said that the bill addressed the need for equity in funding for schools but wrote that the law betrays “the fundamental tenent of public education: that it is in fact public, and a public good.”

“Sure, the bill doesn’t directly send public money to private schools. But it incentivizes the wealthiest citizens -instead of paying their fair share of taxes to fund public education -to take a tax break that will pull resources out of our public schools, and away from the funds that invest in infrastructure, human services, and property tax relief,” said Mitchell in a written statement.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) voted in favor of the measure.

“School funding reform is critical,” Currie said. “We’ve been working on this issue for decades. This was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix a broken school funding system. Illinois is last in the nation when it comes to support for low-income kids. Kids in wealthier districts are getting more support than kids in poorer districts, and Chicago Public Schools have been shortchanged for years.”

The final vote in the House was 73-34 and 38-13 in the Senate.

Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13) voted in favor of the measure.

Rauner signed the bill on Aug. 31.

Kenwood students meet with the board of education on school’s condition

Students, parents, and faculty from Kenwood Academy High School, met with the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education to urge them to take action to improve the condition of their school.

The coalition came before the board to demand a thorough cleaning of all vents and ducts at Kenwood before school starts in the fall, fully staffed engineering and custodial departments, a full asbestos abatement, and complete replacement of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system [HVAC].

“The HVAC system is a system that’s not working, we need to be on the 2018 capital budget for an HVAC replacement,” said Ciara Evans, senior at Kenwood and class president. “The system is from 1969, and it said that it could have a life for 20 years which means we will need a whole new one by our 50th anniversary for Kenwood.”

Evans said that there is a broken pump that causes temperatures at the school to vary. She said that sometimes there is not cold air circulating at all and the third floor is the hottest area of the school.

“They tested one room, and it was 100 degrees,” Evans said. “You’re lucky if your teacher buys a fan.”

In June, the board agreed to take the first step in addressing issues at the school.

First on the list was adding an extra engineer and more custodians. Additionally, an air quality test will be conducted in mid-July according to Alfonso de Hoyos y Acosta, chief administrative officer at CPS.

In August the HVAC coil and HVAC chiller pumps will also be replaced.

“Students and staff have become accustomed to filthy classrooms and sickening bathrooms and locker rooms,” said Amaya Lorick, Kenwood senior and student council president. “We do not have enough custodians to properly clean our Kenwood and Canter [Kenwood Academic Center] buildings.”

Two full-time custodians are assigned to clean the building, which is made up of 1,500 students and 100 staff members during school hours.

Lorick also mentioned the stench from bathrooms at the school that is often out of order without flush buttons.

The group launched an online petition, and hashtag #CPScleanupthemess and met with Ald. Sophia King (4th), last week to discuss their concerns at a meet and greet at the Silver Room.

When King visited the school in June, Evans said King saw a mouse.

“We have a huge mice issue,” Lorick said. “They make regular appearances in classrooms. They show up in our locker rooms along with roaches making students want to avoid using the facilities. Our lack of custodians leaves our teachers and administration to do a job that is not theirs.”

Kenwood called on the district to provide additional custodial services after the school failed two health inspections in March.

The Kenwood community blamed CPS’s failure to provide appropriate custodial resources as a cause of the failed checks.

Problems in the inspection listed according to public records included mice droppings in numerous areas of the school.

Dr. Gregory Jones, the principal at Kenwood, said in a previous interview with the Herald that faculty at the school volunteered to conduct walkthroughs at the school on Saturdays.

They document issues on a clipboard and take pictures, which typically takes an hour. Jones then passes on the information to their Aramark contact. Also, Jones has had to use money from the school’s budget to purchase additional cleaning supplies.

Special events and news from local schools

St. Thomas the Apostle School – saw an increase in enrollment numbers this school year. For the first time in several years, 300 children are enrolled at the school.

STA added a pre-kindergarten class (increasing the number of Pre-K classes to three), a new third-grade class (now two in total) and a second section for the eighth grade.

STA reached a low point of enrollment in 2011 with just over a 100 kids according to Tim Gallo, the principal at STA.

Gallo, a second-year principal at STA, cited parent involvement in recruitment efforts and its staff and teachers as among many reasons why enrollment numbers have climbed over the last six years.

Also, the school announced its fundraising campaign for the year.

The school is raising funds for a new playground.

An empty lot located north of the school building, on Woodlawn Avenue is the future location of the school’s new playground. New York-based investment firm Pioneer Acquisitions donated the land for the playground.

The cost of the project is $150,000, and that includes all of the preparation work such as drainage, fencing, safe materials for students to play on and the playground equipment.

Jane Averill Community Reading Day – the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Action Council (CAC) , this fall, held its first ever community-wide reading event at nine neighborhood elementary schools.

The one-day reading event is named after the late Jane Averill, who was a long-time community member and teacher at Ray Elementary School, and CAC member.

Kristy Ulrich Papczun, CAC co-secretary, said having Averill’s name on the event encompasses the message of the CAC and is an opportunity to honor her memory.

“We All Sing with the Same Voice,” a favorite saying of Averill’s, was selected for the event.

80 volunteers spent 20-30 minutes at a public elementary school in the area reading to small groups in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten classrooms.

The CAC raised $2,700, which allowed them to purchase 500 books. Each child was able to walk away with a copy of the book read during the event.

The HPKCAC is one of nine community action councils within CPS and the smallest regarding the geographical area of schools it serves.

Dyett High School for the Arts and 1871

In April, a new entrepreneurship seminar was unveiled at Walter H. Dyett for the Arts High School, Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Dyett High School Principal Beulah McLoyd, Chicago Public School CFO Dr. Janice Jackson, who at the time was the chief education officer, and Howard Tullman CEO of 1871 for the announcement.

The new program, which is a joint initiative of 1871 and CPS, began last spring at Dyett and will provide the inaugural class of 20 freshmen with an eight-week first-of-its-kind seminar on what it takes to become an entrepreneur. Students in the program will be given exposure to innovation and technology and learn alongside local entrepreneurs and receive mentorship from them.

The program, the Eagle Entrepreneurs Group, was created in collaboration with Tullman and McLoyd. It integrates with the school’s Algebra and Entrepreneurship courses, and Tullman’s book “The Perspiration Principles,” based on the ideas used at 1871 to help entrepreneurs and small businesses to launch and thrive in Chicago.

The purpose of the alliance is to supplement the school’s arts and tech-focused curriculum by giving students the opportunity to think and solve problems found in the STEM industry and digital age.

Tullman and 1871 are supporting the program and the creation of a new classroom through donations from local entrepreneurs and local organizations such as Steelcase, Interface Carpets, and local interior designer Barbara Pollack.

Currently, CPS is working with 1871 to expand the curriculum to other schools this school year by adapting Tullman’s lessons for a webcast. Also, the district is working to develop an advanced curriculum for 10th graders who want to continue to participate in the program next year, which will allow them to serve as mentors to incoming students next year.

Dyett High School reopened in 2016 with a focus on the arts and community innovation lab component based on the desires of the community. Students at Dyett have access to a new state of the art Innovation Technology Lab, allowing teachers to integrate technology in instruction and members of the community to gain access to a technology hub.

Ray Elementary School and Pilot Light

A third-grade class at Ray Elementary School participated in a food education demonstration as a part of an inaugural Food Education Summit hosted by Pilot Light in October.

Pilot Light is a Chicago-based not-for-profit that assists children in making healthier choices through connecting the lessons they learn in the classroom to the food they eat at home, school, and in their community.

Ray third-grade teacher, Chandra Garcia-Kitch led her students through a social science lesson on the importance of balance in what they eat and farming practices through the Legend of Three Sisters.

Students in Garcia-Kitch’s class are studying the early inhabitants of Illinois. Garcia-Kitch also provided a live demonstration in her classroom using a new mobile teaching kitchen created by Pilot Light that helps support the lesson.

She and her students made Succotash using recipes that they developed as a class. Some of the ingredients featured included squash, zucchini, corn, garlic, and Nori, which is seaweed.

Through Pilot Light, students are learning to try different food groups, said Garcia-Kitch, and it is helping to broaden the palettes of students who are picky eaters.