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Chicago Sinai/Schiller School Partnership

Congregation adopts local at-risk public school.

Community Contact Information:
Chicago Sinai Congregation
Chicago, IL
www.chicagosinai.org

Just Congregations
Union for Reform Judaism
www.urj.org/justcongregations

Goals:
bring volunteers, resources, and supplies into a local elementary school
improve the quality of education for the students
learn about and work to improve the public education system

Overview:
The congregation "adopted" a school located in the shadows of the Cabrini Green housing project. The program grew out of Face to Face, the synagogue’s congregation-based community organizing (CBCO) initiative, where congregants brainstormed about social justice issues that moved them. A group concerned with the issues of poverty and education decided to adopt a public school. The committee wanted to help the students, but also work to improve the public education system.

Preparation:
The original members of the CBCO poverty/education group met over several months to identify a project that would be compelling for congregants and make a significant long-term impact on our community. They contacted the Board of Education and asked to be matched with a school near to the synagogue. They met with the school principal to determine how the congregation could help meet the school’s needs.

They recruited volunteers and donations with emails, phone calls, newsletters, fliers, sermons, and a special Shabbat service and dinner to promote the project.

Volunteers meet periodically and keep in contact via email to make decisions about the project. The synagogue hired a part-time Social Action Coordinator.

Project Implementation:
The key components of the project are volunteers, field trips, in school assemblies, supplies and materials, music programs, book groups, items for the school store and books and advocacy for school funding. Many of the volunteers work with students, including 3rd and 4th graders who are essentially non-readers. Volunteers use phonics teaching materials and are offered training in helping students learn to read. Some volunteers chaperone field trips, help in the library, help with holiday activities, teach law or health education classes or help students with homework. Volunteers advocate for increased and more equal education funding.

Results:
The principal, assistant principal and teachers say that the volunteers and support are making a big difference at their school. They have had a measurable impact on the student’s enthusiasm for learning, as well as on achievement. This project has also helped build a sense of community among congregants, who are working together toward a common purpose to a much greater degree than in the past. Many retirees in the congregation have made this project into a meaningful part of their daily lives. The project has also given religious school students a chance to get involved in community service and to learn about students who come from underprivileged backgrounds.

This program received a Fain Honorable Mention in 2009.