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Many people in Chicago are concerned about the education of local youth. Organizations like The Honeycomb Project are taking steps to help prepare youth for the upcoming school year.
The state of education in Illinois’ biggest city has declined over many years. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will receive $30 million less than officials expected this year. However, the district still needs over $400 million to be fully funded, which experts estimate will be fulfilled in about 20 years.
CPS keeps receiving a smaller share of the state’s budget each year. This has the worst effect on the students who need that funding most as a lower budget leads to cuts in staff and resources needed. Some residents worry about the future of CPS and wonder what they can do to help the children.
The Honeycomb Project
Kristina Lowenstein and Catherine Tannen founded The Honeycomb Project in 2011. These women wanted to continue the volunteer work they were a part of before they had families. They wanted to see how they could still give back after becoming full-time mothers.
The Honeycomb Project is an outlet for families all over the city to engage in social and environmental change. Almost immediately, the founders were met with so many volunteer opportunities it nearly overwhelmed them. Even with partner groups, the two started off putting all their time into their volunteer work.
“It was just the two of us creating and leading all of these high-touch volunteer opportunities with multiple partner organizations. We felt incredible pressure to meet the growing demand, so we were putting all of our time and energy into scaling our programs in a small way, but that wasn’t sustainable.
The organization is particularly interested in involving children in volunteering and bringing their families along with them. Hundreds of kids, as young as five, volunteer every weekend at food pantries and animal shelters and participate in neighborhood cleanups. The city’s homeless received recycled bed linens and home-cooked healthy meals from volunteers through The Honeycomb Project. The group has held events at places like Saint Sabina Food Pantry and the Chicago Furniture Bank. Recently, the group helped supply a back-to-school event for college youth at UCAN.
The Bee’s Impact On Our Own Communities
One of The Honeycomb Project’s partners is UCAN, a social service agency with a location on the West Side. The agency recently held its annual trunk party event on August 5 for students of all grade levels.
The project gathered its volunteers for a packing day a week earlier to help bundle school supplies for each UCAN youth. College-bound students received towels, notebooks, laundry detergent, and a bag full of other necessities. The hope is that the event would be a one-stop shop for every item on a student’s list.
A Bittersweet Future
The future of education is in an interesting spot. Schools face a potential teacher shortage as the number of open positions in Illinois has jumped by 28%. Thanksgiving break was extended last year in some districts since classes were short-staffed, and substitutes were not an option.
At the same time, there are community initiatives headed by residents who seek to bridge the gap between what students need and what they have. Some will be disappointed to see schools in their neighborhoods become underfunded. On the bright side, it is good to see private citizens stepping in to prevent circumstances from impeding a child’s educational journey.
Written by Chiagozie Onyewuchi
Edited by Sheena Robertson
ABC7: Back to school 2022: Chicago nonprofit collecting free supplies for local college students; by ABC7 Chicago Digital Team
The University of Chicago: The Honeycomb Project
The Honeycomb Project: About and Events page
NBC5 Chicago: Chicago Public Schools Loses Another $30 Million in Expected State Funding; by NBC5 staff
Chalkbeat Chicago: Chicago schools get smaller share of state money after enrollment drop, property wealth bump; by Samantha Smylie and Becky Vevea
CBS Chicago: Illinois faces ‘huge shortage’ of teachers, other academic professionals ahead of the school year; by Chris Tye