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Students from across the Chicago region have returned to school, bringing with them much excitement and hope for a successful year of learning and enlightenment.

A long-time supporter of education, The Chicago Community Trust has worked in a variety of ways to ensure that all young people have access to educational opportunities that prepare them for the future. Take a stroll through ten moments from our history that illustrate the Trust’s support for education in Chicago over the years. From initiatives established to elevate teaching and learning at the system level to one of the longest-running scholarship funds in Cook County, let these photos from the Trust’s archives inspire and motivate you to reflect on your own educational experiences, and the teachers who made a difference in your life.

Vintage portrait of William J. Cook, founder of a scholarship fund at The Chicago Community Trust

The William J. Cook Scholarship Fund
The Chicago Community Trust established the William J. Cook Scholarship Fund in 1939 to assist male high school seniors of good academic standing in continuing their education in college. William J. Cook—the grandson of Daniel Pope Cook, after whom Cook County is named—created a scholarship fund at the Trust upon his death. This scholarship has helped thousands of Cook County high school seniors afford a college education, awarding over $600,00 in 2013.

From biomedical research to Big Shoulders: 10 moments from our work in Chicago schools

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Members of the Searle Family pose on a staircase

The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust
John G. Searle established the first of his family’s several funds at the Trust in 1964. Today, the Searle Funds continue to promote the family’s philanthropic mission in a variety of areas related to education and to the biomedical sciences. Over the past five years, the Searle Funds have contributed more than $1.1 million: support that has also helped to leverage additional support from other funders. In 2002, their support backed a five-year Education Initiative which invested over $50 million to strengthen literacy, professional development and the establishment of new schools.


Close-up photo of students' hands conducting an experiment in a science lab

The Searle Gifts to Universities
A principal goal of the Searle Funds at the Trust has been to improve scientific research through effective collaboration. From 1979 to 1998, the Searle Funds made a series of unrestricted grants designed to enable the Chicago region to become a leader in biomedical research. And from 2006 to 2011, The Searle Funds granted $25 million to support the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC), a collaboration among scientists at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. This grant is the largest single grant in the Trust’s history.


Vintage photo of Chicago Board of Education president Frank W. Gardner and vice-president William M. Farrow Jr. standing beside Trust staff associate Nelvia Brady

Chicago School Reform
In response to Education Secretary William J. Bennett, who called Chicago Public Schools the worst in the nation in 1987, Mayor Harold Washington called together various stakeholders for an Education Summit in 1988. Concerned citizens, Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Teachers Union, civic and business leaders and funders—including the Trust—came together and jumpstarted the school reform movement, setting Chicago at the forefront of school transformation. Reverend Dr. Kenneth B. Smith, President of the Board of Education at the time, served on the initial Chicago School Reform Roundtable and was also a member of The Trust’s Executive Committee. This archival photograph shows president and vice president of Chicago Board of Education Frank W. Gardner and William M. Farrow Jr., posing with Trust staff associate Nelvia Brady at the Mayor’s Education Summit in 1988.


Vintage photo of Michigan Avenue near the Water Tower, with WTTW banners on display

WTTW: “TV College”
What is known today as WTTW began as the nonprofit Chicago Educational Television Association (CETA) spearheaded by Edward L. Ryerson, who served on the Trust’s Executive Committee from 1931 to 1958. In 1953, local educational and civic groups backed the creation of Chicago’s first noncommercial educational television channel in Chicago. The Trust supported this effort with a $10,000 grant. To promote its focus on education, WTTW worked with the Chicago Board of Education to create “TV College” in 1956—the first program in the country that allowed students to receive college credit through “telecourses.” These courses became vital when enrollment in city colleges soared in the late 1950s and 1960s; and by 1972, TV College took up most of WTTW’s airtime and production hours.


Vintage photo of a student writing on the chalkboard in a school classroom

Committee for Citizen Involvement in Public Education
In 1974, the Trust staff held numerous meetings with representatives from Chicago Public Schools to discuss the poor quality of public education in the city. As a result, a grant of $50,000 was used to establish and support the work of the Committee for Citizen Involvement in Public Education, assessing the role of citizen participation within CPS. Through this initiative, the Trust examined and advocated for parents, community groups and concerned citizens to play critical roles in elementary and secondary education in Chicago.


Vintage photo of two kindergarten-aged children, one hugging the other

Elementary and Secondary Education in Chicago Grant Initiative
As part of the Trust’s 75th Anniversary celebration in 1990, the Trust committed $5 million over five years to develop and reform the education system. This program put a particular emphasis on the quality education for minority and poor students in the Chicago metropolitan area from preschool through post-secondary education.


In a high school classroom, a student raises her hand

Generation All
Generation All< was a citywide initiative that kicked off in 2014 to strengthen neighborhood public high schools and close opportunity gaps. The effort focuses on students’ personal development and learning, both in and out of the classroom and equips schools with the tools, resources to help students graduate and prepare for careers. Generation All was founded in partnership with Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, and funded by The Chicago Community Trust and the Ford Foundation.


Two middle school students work on a math problem together, with a stack of textbooks in the foreground

Big Shoulders Fund
Established in 1990, the Big Shoulders Fund provides support to Catholic schools in the most underserved neighborhoods of Chicago. With support from the Trust, the Big Shoulders Fund Math Initiative delivers high-quality math learning for over 3,100 students at 13 schools. Since it began, participating students have increased their scores by over 12 percentage points on the Terra Nova, a series of standardized tests used in Chicago parochial schools to assess student achievement.


A row of students in uniform at an After School Matters program

After School Matters
After School Matters, started by Maggie Daley in 1991, provides high school students from Chicago Public Schools with the tools to master their transition into the world and the workforce through programs in the arts, technology, sports and communications. Studies have shown that students enrolled in After School Matters have higher class attendance rates, lower dropout rates and improved grades over their peers. Since it launched, After School Matters has supported more than 100,000 teens and become a model for programs across the country.