Supporting Students’ Essential Needs

Communities In Schools of Chicago
3 min readApr 30, 2024

Since August 31, 2022, more than 36,000 newcomers have arrived in Chicago from the southern border. This influx has required an unprecedented level of collaboration across the city.

Government officials, housing and food authorities, job placement agencies, and schools have joined with community members and nonprofits, like our team at Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago, to support the newcomers and ensure their essential needs are met.

This school year alone, more than 5,700 immigrant students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, reversing the district’s decade-long enrollment decline.

Our CIS team is working diligently, in close partnership with the Chicago Public Schools, to respond to the needs of newcomer students, while also supporting the needs of all students, so that Chicago’s young people can come to school prepared to learn and succeed.

Our School Partnership Team is meeting with school leaders, like principals and guidance counselors, to understand the programs and resources that will best support the changing dynamics of their school communities. And our Community Partnership Team is tapping into our network of more than 200 local community organizations to fill in the gaps.

Here are some of the ways that our team has responded to school requests:

Sharing Resources for School-Based Care Closets

According to Jill Hennessy, CIS’ Senior School Partnership Specialist, more schools this year created care closets for students and families. At Goethe Elementary School on the Northwest Side, for example, Jill connected their school counselor with clothing from CIS community partner Cradles to Crayons to fill their care closet. During the winter months especially, schools are looking for ways to provide warm clothing to new arrivals, Jill said, and our CIS team was happy to connect them with clothing, coats, and other resources.

Linking Schools with Hygiene and Period Products

Each year, CIS schools rank the types of programs and resources that are most valuable to them — from arts field trips to tutoring. This school year, the second highest priority was items that addressed students’ fundamental needs. In addition to backpacks and pencils, schools requested hygiene products — deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes — and period products.

Thanks to CIS partners like Her Drive Co. and The Period Collective, 32 schools received 4,000 menstrual hygiene products this spring. Donations like these help all students, newcomers and born-and-raised Chicagoans, not have to choose between coming to school and staying home because of their period or hygiene needs.

Responding to Varied, Ever-Changing Needs

CIS’ Partnership Team has mastered the art of flexibility when it comes to supporting schools. During the pandemic, our team shifted focus to supporting schools with remote learning, and this school year, that flexibility has continued.

Outside of clothing, period products, and hygiene items, CIS’ Jill Hennessy has heard schools also request items like bedding, furniture, consumables like laundry detergent and soap, and her team is working to connect those schools with resources inside our network — and prospect other community organizations we can partner with to meet student needs. This includes community organizations who offer legal services and those that distribute food items.

This school year, CIS also developed a Newcomer Resource Guide, a compilation of organizations who are supporting newcomer families and students in areas of food, clothing, financial, housing, legal, ELL classes, and mental and physical health support. The Partnership Team has been sharing this Resource Guide with each of our 238 school partners and adapting it continuously to meet shifting needs.

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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.