CIS Schools’ Top Priorities for Meeting Student Need


Each fall, the Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago Partnership Team meets with school leaders across the city to understand their priorities for the year.

School leaders answer questions like:

  • What resources does your school need to help students thrive?
  • What types of support would teachers and families benefit from?
  • Which programs do you wish were at your school?
  • How can CIS of Chicago help?

Then, they rank a list of more than 30 different types of programs, services, and in-kind resources, citing their most critical needs.

For nearly 20 years, CIS has conducted these assessments. This proprietary information helps the Partnership Team connect schools with community organizations who can deliver the programs and resources they are looking for.

It also gives CIS unique insight into how school needs have changed — and in other cases, how they’ve remained consistent — over time. This year, 238 school leaders ranked their yearly priorities, and a few trends resonated with our team.

“During the pandemic, we saw an increase in the need for programs that address social-emotional learning and resources that address students’ mental health and fundamental needs,” said Sucada Bell, CIS’ Senior Director of Partnerships. “Anti-bullying has remained a top priority for schools — before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and post-pandemic.”

Anti-bullying: The consistent №1 priority for schools

Since the 2017–18 school year, CIS schools’ top priority has been programs and resources that reduce bullying, both in the school building and online.

School leaders asked CIS’ Partnership Team to connect them with programs that help students:

  • Recognize the impacts of bullying — and prevent it from happening.
  • Challenge their personal biases.
  • Respect and celebrate the diversity of the entire school community.
  • Encourage inclusivity.
  • Navigate social media safely — a need that has only increased since the pandemic.

CIS’ team responded, linking schools with a variety of community organizations that offer anti-bullying programs. Just this year, the Partnership Team connected schools with the Cook County States Attorney Office’s program on social media safety; the Southpaw Strikes Out Bullying program through the Chicago White Sox, which teaches students how to respond to bullies and stand up for others; and the No Place for Hate program, which cultivates student leaders in creating inclusive school environments.

Social-emotional learning: A top priority, increasing in demand post-pandemic

Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is the process through which people acquire and apply the knowledge and skills to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, show empathy, maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Prior to COVID-19, requests for programs that increased students’ social and emotional skills were ranked in the top 5; but immediately after the pandemic shut school doors, school requests for SEL increased. In the 2020–21 school year, when Chicago Public Schools were remote, SEL programs were the №1 priority. While that trend did not continue in subsequent years, SEL remained a top three priority.

CIS’ Partnership Team, in response, continued connecting SEL programs. The team also trained all partners on how to incorporate SEL lessons and activities in their programs so that students were gaining social and emotional skills across multiple touchpoints.

Fundamental needs: A growing priority in the district

Prior to the pandemic, school requests for fundamental needs items, like hygiene products and school supplies, were occasional and limited. In fact, fundamental needs weren’t even listed on the priority list presented to CIS schools. That’s how seldom it was cited as a priority. However, after COVID, connecting schools with essential needs items became critical.

In the 2021–22 school year, fundamental needs items rose to become the №3 priority among all CIS schools; in the 2022–23 school year, it jumped to the №2 spot, and it has maintained the ranking this year with 50 percent of CIS schools listing it as a prioritized need. Items typically requested include winter coats and clothing, period products, hygiene items, and school supplies.

With the influx of newcomer families to the city, CIS expects fundamental needs items to remain a top priority for schools. This year, CIS of Chicago invested in a Community Care Partnership Specialist, dedicated to supporting all types of school requests for fundamental needs items.

As a data-driven organization, CIS of Chicago uses the information gathered each year from school leaders to not only respond to school needs, but also to anticipate where to direct programs and resources. This spring, the Partnership Team’s important work continues, so that communities have what they need to create environments where young people thrive.



Communities In Schools of Chicago

Our mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.