TAN Affiliate Profile: Alumni Partner with Public Education

By Adam Arents
Project Manager, Alumni for Public Schools (APS)
May 18, 2007

Harold Russell doesn’t live in Chicago. He doesn’t even live in Illinois. But every Wednesday he drives for an hour and a half from his home in Lakeside, Michigan to Elihu Yale Elementary School on the south side of Chicago to work with students in the school’s Leadership Club.

Harold is part of a group of Yale University alumni who have been volunteering at Yale Elementary since 1997, when the Yale Club of Chicago formed a partnership with the school.

Since then, Yale volunteers have tutored, mentored, donated clothing and books, held a Secret Santa program, and most recently helped sponsor a field trip over spring break to Washington, D.C. for 20 students in the Leadership Club.

Peter Dickinson, another volunteer from the Yale club, says, “Tutoring at the school is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.”

The Yale volunteers are not alone in finding work with the schools to be deeply meaningful.

Who we are

They are part of an organization in Chicago called Alumni for Public Schools (APS), which promotes and supports such partnerships between college and university alumni clubs and individual Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

There are approximately thirty alumni clubs in Chicago that have partnerships with schools, doing activities ranging from sponsoring college visits to judging academic contests to helping students prepare for standardized tests.

APS grew out of a vision shared by John Fish ’55 and Oren Pollock *51, active members of the Princeton Club of Chicago who volunteered regularly at Theodore Roosevelt High School.

Alumni from both Princeton and Harvard were involved in supporting schools through a variety of activities that benefited not only the students and the schools, but the volunteers as well.

Fish and Pollock saw alumni clubs as an underutilized network, and they envisioned dozens of partnerships that would engage college and university alumni in meaningful service for students in Chicago.

Other alumni in Chicago rallied around the idea and formed partnerships of their own, and APS formed a board of alumni volunteers.

Institutional Support

For the past two years APS has been able to have a full-time staff person housed at CPS and devoted solely to supporting current partnerships and encouraging new ones.

Arne Duncan, schools CEO, provided salary support for the first year and since then APS has received private support from the Gorter Family Foundation.

APS now provides a link and a means of communication between the CPS central office, participating schools and volunteers from participating alumni associations.

Volunteers and school representatives can share best practices with each other at events such as partnership workshops, which equip them with the knowledge and resources they need to be more effective partners.

Challenges to Overcome

The alumni clubs still face challenges as they seek to support CPS students. About half of the thirty partnerships are in a development stage as they try to gather volunteers and coordinate activities with their schools.

However, it is easier than ever for alumni clubs to work together in their partnerships by sharing ideas and encouraging each other.

APS is there to help organize and energize volunteers so they can continue to make valuable contributions to the schools.

The schools face challenges, too, but APS hopes to ensure that more and more of them are enjoying help from committed alumni who care deeply about public education.

Arents is the Project Manager for APS which is housed within Chicago Public Schools (CPS). John Fish ’55, the Program Leader and Founder of the PP55’s Public Interest Program, also played a significant role in the founding of Alumni for Public Schools. For more information about Alumni for Public Schools, visit www.aps-chicago.org

Northwestern University Public Interest Program Hits the Ground Running

The inaugural year of the Northwestern University Public Interest Program has been an exciting one.

Professor Paul Arntson and Northwestern students Lauren Parnell, Kelly Kirkpatrick and Sam Schiller have invested considerable time and thought into making the program a success.

As a new program, we had hoped for between six and eight job placements within local organizations undertaking systemic change. With the strength of the Chicago’s public interest sector and some creative partnerships, NUPIP secured 14 placements.

The enthusiasm of this unexpected success has translated into a sense of ownership and vision for all involved.

The 2006-2007 fellows, beyond their full time schedules, have broken into committees with the PIP coordinators to uncover ways to expand and improve the program.

Our team has been supported with the know-how passed on during this year’s TAN conference at Princeton, giving us a new sense of confidence when recruiting sites and promoting our program.

In addition, we were aided by the kind efforts of our Alumni Association and the University Administration, helping us connect to alumni and board members active in the Chicago area.

Our fellows have also been pursuing some impressive projects within their placements.

Sheila McCorkle, working in Northwestern’s backyard of Evanston, has been at the center of an exciting youth initiative. Featured in the local newspaper, Sheila’s work in community organizing and engaging young adults and social organizations culminated in a proposal to the Evanston City Council.

Her plan, calling for year-round youth employment opportunities, youth involvement in city government, and an outreach initiative designed to engage ‘hard to reach’ youth, was unanimously approved by the City Council.

While being given considerable responsibility in their placements, fellows still recognize that they are novices with much to learn about the public interest field. Mary Bowmann, working at Evanston’s Center for Independent Futures, has coordinated various efforts to support individuals with disabilities as contributing members of their community.

In addition to engaging in direct service and volunteer activities with residents, Mary recently began learning about non-profit development and grant writing. With her first completed grant proudly in hand, she headed downtown in full professional attire to present her proposal in person. As she reached her destination, she found no one in the office and a simple cardboard box with a sign reading “Put proposals here”—a humbling note to a non-profit newbie.

As we look forward, we are eager to partner with more Northwestern alumni and provide meaningful placements nationwide. We have already been contacted by alumni throughout the country who hope to share in this vision, wishing to host fellows and act as mentors in the future.

But as we look ahead to these developments, we also want to acknowledge the help from those that have helped us get to where we are now. Specifically, thank you to John Fish and Nora Samuelson of Princeton Project 55; we could not have functioned this year without them.