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Partners Sound Off: The Impact of Collaborating with CIS of Chicago

Communities In Schools of Chicago partners with a diverse network of community organizations and schools across the city. Community organizations provide a wealth of programs and resources that support students’ holistic development, and schools benefit from their services.

As a result of these connections, schools are better able to link students with opportunities that remove barriers, encourage their learning and growth, and unlock their potential.

Principals and school leaders in CIS’s school partner network agree on the advantages of collaborating with CIS. In June 2021, 97 percent reported that since partnering with CIS of Chicago, their school accesses more needed services, and 89 percent reported their school is better able to identify and address prioritized student needs.

Student needs differ from community to community, school to school, and classroom to classroom. That’s where CIS of Chicago comes in. CIS School Partnership Specialists work with school partners to identify services that matter most to their students, and then coordinate with CIS Community Partnership Specialists to match them with resources and programs. Last year, CIS of Chicago connected 1,358 services with schools and supported nearly 47,400 students.

That’s the organization’s large-scale impact, but it doesn’t paint a full picture of how these connections help individual students. We decided to zoom in. CIS of Chicago’s Partnership Team asked partners to share specific examples of CIS’s impact. Here were their responses:

CIS provides access to schools and expands our reach.

CIS of Chicago community partners said that one tangible benefit of the partnership is gaining access to CIS’s school network. CIS of Chicago has built meaningful connections with 175 Chicago Public Schools – and has a team dedicated to understanding these schools’ most important needs. Community partners are paired with schools who have prioritized their service offerings.

“CIS of Chicago has helped us develop deep, committed partnerships with schools we never would have reached otherwise!” said a CIS contact at SparkShop. Another CIS of Chicago community partner, The Joffrey Ballet, agreed. “CIS has been a great help in expanding our free opportunities to more schools and more students,” the CIS contact said.

In addition to widening the network of schools that partners can reach, CIS of Chicago also streamlines the scheduling process. “Partnering with CIS strengthens Between Friends relationships with Chicago Public Schools (CPS),” the CIS contact at Between Friends said. “Over the last ten years, our relationship with CIS made scheduling programming easier. Working with CIS has helped us delivery comprehensive Prevention & Education programs to CPS and their students.”

CIS provides strategic connections.

CIS Partnership Specialists are skilled at building strong relationships, which mean they have deep knowledge of each school’s goals and each community organization’s goals. More importantly, they serve as advocates for partners.

“CIS has connected us to school communities that fit our target demographic,” said a Guitars Over Guns Organization team member, “and (CIS) demonstrates a need for low- to no-cost music education and mentoring services. They’ve helped us deepen our relationships with school personnel.”

When community organizations are paired with schools that have expressed a need, they, in turn, are better able to develop long-lasting relationships. A CIS contact at The Lyric Opera, “CIS of Chicago has made a significant difference in helping to connect Lyric’s programming to schools that are often looking for opportunities and experiences that we can provide, but just are unaware of the possibilities.”

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CIS helps tailor programming to our student audience.

For community partners, it can be challenging to prepare content and make sure that programs address students’ social and emotional needs and lived experiences. CIS Partnership Specialists help partners tailor their programming and improve the curriculum’s cultural relevance.

The Pulitzer Center shared that through their connection with CIS, they were able to add 14 school communities to their network, schools predominantly on the South and West sides. This compelled them to reach out to journalists and program facilitators who were reporting on issues that students cared about.

For school partners, having community organizations already understand the needs of students makes a huge difference in program outcomes. It expands students’ horizons and affects their ability to engage in their learning. One teacher from Mays Elementary shared that through CIS, “students have increased knowledge in music and the arts. Students have been more engaged in the classroom.”

CIS offers support, in times when it’s needed the most.

CIS’s Partnership Team provides a series of trainings throughout the year for both school and community partners that support their professional development. These range from anti-racism training to best practices in program delivery. But according to partners, it’s not only the content that’s most valuable.

A CIS contact at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) said, “There’s been this steady availability of programming that has then given me the insight and the resources that I need to bring into the work that I am doing at the CSO. It’s not just the content that CIS is bringing, but it’s also the communities that are being brought together.”

When the pandemic hit in 2020, CIS’s Partnership Team provided crucial support for partners, helping them navigate everything from the logistics of Google Meet to securing PPE for school staff. The Partnership Team remained a consistent presence for schools and community organizations. “One of the first few emails that I got (when the pandemic first hit) was from our CIS Specialist,” said CIS’s contact at Haugan Elementary. “(Our CIS Specialist said) we’re here, we see you, we’ve got your back, and it was just so reassuring to just know that help is on the way.”

Another CIS contact at Henderson Elementary shared, “I am grateful for CIS of Chicago. The resources are greatly needed and are invaluable. CIS is a game changer for my school community.”

The feeling is mutual. CIS of Chicago’s Partnership Team is grateful for dedicated school and community partners, who go above and beyond to serve students and make sure they have everything they need to succeed in school and life.