Scenes from Chicago Public Schools’ first back-to-school bash full of free stuff

Maria Garcia stood in line Tuesday for a bag of free school supplies, watching her two girls chase each other around the bouncy castle and food tent set up outside Hibbard Elementary School in Albany Park. 

With her 3-year-old in tow, she was thinking about how the school year will go for her older children: “It depends on them. If they get good grades or not. If they find good friends.”

The summer’s first back-to-school bash hosted by Chicago Public Schools was helping her get ready for the first day of school on Sept. 3 and keep her little ones occupied, Garcia said.

For the district, the bashes fit into a larger effort to build relationships with families. Schools chief Janice Jackson, who earlier in the day unveiled new efforts to reduce teacher turnover, has said in her five-year-plan that she wants to engage parents to ensure the district is “moving in the right direction.”

Chip Johnson, the district’s chief officer of Family and Community Engagement, stood in the sun and surveyed festivities including face painting, a giant blowup basketball hoop, and various groups of students performing Latin dance and tumbling. 

The Jesus White tumblers entertain students and parents in front of bouncy castles. (Catherine Henderson)

He was expecting to lure more than 700 families Tuesday afternoon with free food, games, music, backpacks full of school supplies, and even immunizations and referrals to health services. 

“It’s a community event, so we can get our parents excited about the first day of school,” Johnson said. “[The event] always exceeds my expectations.” 

This is the fourth year the district has hosted back-to-school bashes across the city. The office of Family and Community Engagement has spent about $165,000 on these events in the past month, according to district.

Johnson said his office is focused on engaging families, particularly young parents, with programs like back-to-school bashes and the parent university, which provides classes such as advocating for your student, financial literacy, GED courses, and even introductory classes at city colleges. 

Three dozen of Chicago’s 52 schools on the Northwest Side sent representatives to greet families and students on Tuesday, according to Johnson. The schools came from two clusters —  Network 1 and Network 14 — that include most campuses on the Northwest Side.

Other organizations like City Colleges of Chicago, the Girl Scouts, the Chicago Public Library, and the Chicago Parks Department also joined in on the fun, setting up tables to greet families. 

Johnson added that his office provided shuttle buses departing from five schools across the North Side to increase access for parents. Families can find out where transportation to the other 11 bashes is available when registering for the events on the district’s website

The back-to-school bashes will continue across the city every weekday for the next two weeks. All will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The schedule is:

  • Wednesday: Lincoln Square at Mather High School, 5835 N. Lincoln Ave. 
  • Thursday: Hermosa at Marine Leadership Academy, 1920 N. Hamlin Ave. 
  • Friday: Austin/Belmont Cragin at Michele Clark High School, 5101 W. Harrison St.
  • Monday: Roseland at South Shore High School, 1855 E. 75th St. 
  • Tuesday: Near West Side at Crane High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd 
  • Aug. 7: Pilsen/Little Village at Saucedo Elementary School, 2850 W. 24th Blvd. 
  • Aug. 8: Englewood at Lindblom Park District, 6054 S. Damen Ave. 
  • Aug. 9: Woodlawn at William Prep High School, 4934 S. Wabash Ave. 
  • Aug. 12: Ashburn at Durkin Park Elementary School, 8445 S. Kolin Ave. 
  • Aug. 13: Brighton Park at Kelly High School, 4136 S. California Ave. 
  • Aug. 14: Garfield Park at Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams St. 
  • Aug. 15: West Roseland/Pullman at Fenger High School, 11220 S. Wallace St.
Leonardo Garcia reveals his blue tongue from his popsicle. (Catherine Henderson)