In 2007, a group of six Winnetka families were asked to launch LEARN Excel, the second campus within the LEARN Charter School Network located in Garfield Park. The families, inspired by LEARN Charter School’s mission of providing children from historically underserved communities with the academic foundation and ambition to earn a college degree, banded together to create the Winnetka Family Partnership (WFP). This external partnership between LEARN students and educators also built an internal partnership between WFP parents and students—one that has created brighter opportunities for thousands of LEARN students.
Susan Snyder, a WFP founding partner and member of the LEARN Charter School Network Board of Directors, explains that the WFP “takes what we treasure about our community and shares it with other children. WFP is what happens when people want for other children what they want for their own, from a community that has so much.”
John Keller, a founding partner of WFP, specifically “looked for initial support from families.” Keller recognized this involvement meant “children of Winnetka families would be exposed to some aspect of life in the inner city.” This initial support has developed into an extraordinary multi-generational partnership between Winnetka families and LEARN students.
Recognizing that WFP families had unique skill sets, members began to create programs that funneled their individual talents and resources to LEARN. For example, Nancy Santi, a WFP founding partner and former teacher, developed a program for parent volunteers to tutor LEARN students on a weekly basis. Katie MacCarthy relied upon her background as a yoga instructor to create a program teaching LEARN students mindfulness techniques.
Following their parents’ example, WFP students regularly interact with LEARN students. Fourth-grade students from Crow Island Elementary participated in pen pal programs with LEARN students while North Shore Country Day’s students spent their interim break volunteering in the LEARN classrooms. A teenage daughter of a WFP family and her friends provided musical instruments and after-school music lessons for LEARN students. Each year LEARN students, who have limited access to outdoor space, spend a day of field games at the New Trier West campus. During Field Day, now a beloved tradition for LEARN Excel, a coalition of students from New Trier, Loyola, and North Shore Country Day plan and manage a fun-filled day for LEARN students in grades K to six.
WFP’s successes have generated so much community excitement that local businesses and organizations have stepped up to participate. Stephanie Hochschild, owner of The Book Stall, orchestrates author visits to LEARN schools while the Children’s Theater of Winnetka annually invites LEARN students to attend dress rehearsals.
Since 2007, WFP has grown to 76 Winnetka families who have to date contributed more than two million dollars to LEARN Excel, while the broader network of LEARN Charter Schools now encompasses 4,000 students across 10 campuses. Greg White, President and CEO of LEARN, observes “I stood humbly before these families in 2007 with an acorn of an idea that might help more low-income students graduate from college. Thanks in part to the WFP, this idea has blossomed and our students are graduating college at 10 points above the national average regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic status.”
Thirteen years after its creation, the WFP is a resounding success because of the efforts of both its parent and student members. While working together to bridge the academic and economic gaps facing LEARN students, WFP parent and student members have developed a powerful partnership for good; one that spans generations while raising community awareness and nurturing the spirit of generosity.
For more information, visit learncharter.org.