Last year, the Hyde Park Day School (HPDS) annual gala was scheduled for mid-April, only one month after the COVID-19 lockdowns began. Yet even with a last-minute pivot to a virtual event, they were able to raise more money than in any of the previous years.
The families who make up the HPDS community are devoted and grateful to this school at a level that goes well beyond the typical parent/student/school relationship.
HPDS specializes in helping students with learning challenges. Executive Director Dr. Casey Crnich says, “The majority of our kids are dyslexic students—really bright kids that struggle in some aspect of schooling. With the right intervention and the right intensity, these kids are prepared to head back to traditional classrooms and do really well.”
The school’s nurturing environment is designed to build self-esteem, self-confidence, and a genuine interest in learning. HPDS’s dynamic atmosphere helps students identify the ways they learn best. HPDS achieves success by teaching students how to leverage their significant strengths in difficult areas. Equally important, they also teach students how to self-advocate for the unique tools needed to be successful.
Students typically attend HPDS for an average of 2.7 years, confidently gaining the tools needed to reach their full potential, before transitioning back to their neighborhood school.
Many families struggle for years before they find HPDS. Jo Aaron, one of the three co-chairs of this year’s gala, says that when their family found HPDS, after many years of searching, “It was life changing.” Yet, she is quick to acknowledge that many families describe their experiences in exactly the same way. “They’re literally making such a difference,” Aaron says. “Because our son Fisher can now keep up. He’s getting the education he needs to have and that he deserves to have.”
Another gala co-chair, Trisha Wilson says, “Before HPDS, we spent many nights in tears with long hours of homework because our daughter couldn’t grasp the instructions at our local public school. We have not had one single day like that since she started three years ago.”
HPDS opened 21 years ago, with only five students in a converted auditorium at the University of Chicago campus. Today there are 145 students across three campuses throughout the Chicago area—including Hyde Park/Woodlawn, Northfield, and Lemont. Since the school’s founding, over 500 students with learning disabilities have successfully transitioned back into schools in their home community.
“Hyde Park Day School has been a game-changer for our family,” says Cara Graziano, also a gala co-chair. “Once our daughter began at Hyde Park, we knew she was in the hands of caring, dedicated professionals who were committed to understanding her challenges and celebrating her strengths, as well as helping her do the same. As parents, we were able to exhale for the first time in years.”
“We have a 5 to 1 student to teacher ratio, so our tuition is extremely high,” Crnich says. “We have a really strong dedication to meeting the needs of all kids, not just the independently wealthy.” The funds raised at the gala allow the school to work with students across a range of families and incomes. “Almost all of our fundraising is for scholarships,” Crnich says. “We’ve been really lucky to have a community that recognizes the importance of what our staff is able to do with kids and wants that for everybody who needs it as well.”
This year’s gala will take place on Friday, April 23. The virtual event will include fun activities for families and a variety of ways for people to engage. A few choices consist of pre-gala mixology classes and delicious food and drink options that can be ordered to enjoy that evening. Of course, an outstanding silent auction including travel options and items that appeal to the entire family will cap off the evening.
For more information, visit hydeparkday.org.