CICS Ralph Ellison, Class of 2011
Ohio State University, Class of 2015
I’m the first in my family to attend a four-year university. I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a single-parent household—it was just my mom, my younger sister, my older brother, and me. My mom has been an accountant for over twenty years, and she’s been my number one influence. I attended CICS Ralph Ellison from 2007-2011, and one of the things I appreciated the most was the familial atmosphere. All of the teachers at CICS Ralph Ellison played vital roles in my education and made me motivated to succeed. My principal, Dr. Wilson, was an important part of my progress—since he and I came from similar backgrounds, he served as a very positive black male role model for me.
CICS Basil, Class of 2007
CICS Ralph Ellison, Class of 2011
Howard University, Class of 2015
My father is a carpenter, and my mother is a police dispatcher for the city. They’re both from the South Side. My father went to trade school, and my mother is in college now- she decided she wanted to go back to school and get her degree. She and I will graduate at the same time, actually.
Meals Fuel Students’ Bodies and Minds
It is important that CICS students maintain a healthy body and mind during the school year. CICS recognizes that meals contribute to our physical, social and mental well-being.
Our Food Services team plays an essential role to all our CICS schools. They are an important part of improving the health and well-being of our students. We would like to share the story of what our food service program does every school day in order to keep students healthy and fed.
A Change in Meals
CICS knows that what a child eats plays a role in their level of creativity, engagement and academic performance. Our food program ensures that students and families have nutritious meal options. Due to the pandemic, the last in-school meals were served to CICS students on Friday, March 13.
With only the weekend to plan, CICS began to offer meals for pickup to our students and their families on the following Monday, March 16. While those first few meals consisted of sandwiches and wraps, CICS quickly realized that families needed items that could be heated at home.
What’s for Lunch?
All fourteen CICS school campuses have on-site prep kitchens where food can be prepared and served to students from steam table serving lines, as well as self-serve salad bars. The current curbside pick-up breakfast menu offers shelf stable items along with occasional fresh fruit or juice. Lunch and supper options include ready-to-heat items such as hamburgers, chicken and burritos and there are new items such as chicken legs and other plated entrees being added. Pizza and chicken tenders/nuggets are still a favorite, just as they were when meals were served on campuses. The menus also acknowledge that families may have dietary restrictions so there are always no-meat protein items available. Milk is included with every meal and healthy snacks such as granola bars and raisins are also provided.
Changes to Food Service Distribution
Curbside food pickup has been important while students are remote learning. CICS has accommodated most families who drive up to one the campuses; some families walk up to the table if they live close by. Every day, our families have been grateful for their childrens’ meals and for the opportunity to see the food staff, even if they are socially distanced or in their cars. Students are always excited to see their “lunch lady” from the car.
Recognizing CICS Food Service Staff
The CICS food service staff are rarely recognized for the important role they play in the lives of our students. At one campus, a mother occasionally cooks lunch for the food service staff and brings it to them on Fridays. This is just an example of how close this community is. They have served 500,000 meals since the middle of March. It is their mission, especially during remote learning, to create high quality meals that students want to eat and to get those meals to every family. Many parents realize that, without food service staff, their children would not have the meals they usually receive while in school. It shows how important they are!
As a school community, our priority is to keep every student fed. Even when school schedules change or holidays come and go, distribution times are adjusted. CICS has also added an additional morning pick-up time to accommodate family schedules.
At Ralph Ellison, Mr. Woghiren believes that the athletic side of education is just as important as academics.
Last year, CICS Ralph Ellison teacher Jon Gibfried took a professional development course through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He never thought that this simple course would open the door for he and fellow teacher Aaron Marshall to implement a Hamilton themed program and join 40 CICS Ralph Ellison students for a special performance of Hamilton! An American Musical.
March 13, 2020
Dear CICS Families,
We have appreciated your support, feedback and patience over the last two weeks as we have worked together to navigate the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19. In alignment with Governor Pritzker’s mandate to close all Illinois schools and under the guidance of public health officials, CICS will close all of our schools beginning on March 16 through at least March 30, with the possibility of a longer closure, depending on the circumstances at the end of the month.
Please know that this is not a decision that we have taken lightly, but one that we have made to put the health and well-being of our students, families, staff and communities at the forefront. We understand that the next two weeks, and possibly longer, will be difficult and, in partnership with Distinctive Schools, Civitas Education Partners and ReGeneration Schools, CICS plans to support our students and families in every way that we can. We recognize the incredible burden this puts on our families, and that, while it helps us mitigate the spread of the virus, it creates other significant challenges. Thank you for understanding that this decision was made to support the well-being of our community.
CICS and our SMO partners are committed to supporting our students’ continued learning throughout the closure. On Monday, school leadership teams and office staff will be at each CICS campus to distribute virtual learning materials to families that did not receive them on Friday. Individual campuses will communicate instructions for the distribution of these materials to their families no later than Sunday at noon. We are actively working with CPS and our food service provider to determine the method for the distribution of meals for our students throughout the closure. Where possible, we sent students home today with breakfast items for Monday morning in case of a potential closure. We are also working with CPS to create a list of community supports for child care, as we know this closure creates a burden on our families. We will follow up no later than the end of day on Monday with more information about these resources.
Throughout the closure, we will communicate with our parents and guardians via email on a weekly basis, or more frequently as needed and we will share updates via the CICS website, www.chicagointl.org.
Please know that our CICS team is here to provide resources and support to you and your child throughout this challenging situation. During times like these, we commit to coming together to take care of every member of the CICS community.
Chicago International Charter School
Closing All CICS Schools: March 16 through March 30_pdf
Closing All CICS Schools: March 16 through March 30_Spanish_pdf
Educator Profile: Paraprofessionals Support Student Success
A Call to Serve
Erika Frazier wasn’t thinking about a career in education when she left Michigan and came to Chicago to care for her grandmother. Her family had always been involved in Christian ministry, so she saw her life as one of service but not necessarily in education. For those who have worked with her, it is not a surprise that Ms. Frazier will celebrate her twelfth year as a paraprofessional at CICS Ralph Ellison.
Supporting Diverse Learners and Their Families
Parents of diverse learners understand the role that paraprofessionals play in the academic lives of their children. CICS parent, Ms. Vivan Davis said, “ Mrs. Frazier is a great help to my daughter. I love that she takes her time to explain things to her so she understands.”
Throughout her professional career, Ms. Frazier worked at other schools in the Chicago area but ultimately found a home at Ralph Ellison and her niche as a paraprofessional working with diverse learners. She was drawn to that particular student population as she experienced so many rewarding moments in watching her students grow and go above and beyond expectations. Erika’s kind but no nonsense personality is something her students’ parents value. She has created long-term relationships with many of them through her consistent and persistent outreach. For Ms. Frazier, her customer service skills were learned early on in her professional life when she worked in a hotel. Having a people skills has become an even more important part of her job as families of diverse learners are often overwhelmed by the multiple challenges they face. She ensures that families are aware of upcoming events in their students’ lives, understand options when problems arise and see her as an advocate for their child.
Navigating Remote Learning
Now, more than ever, paraprofessionals who have established face to face instruction, prior to remote learning, provide diverse learners with a sense of personal connection and continuity that can help these students to continue to progress. Ms. Frazier is even more present for her students, using every available tools (phone calls, video chats and email) to ensure that they are learning. She is with each student in their Zoom classrooms, keeping an eye on their level of participation, checking on them if they appear to be lost or confused and, most importantly, creating a culture where diverse learners feel safe but are also held accountable. For students on the autism spectrum, she finds ways to encourage them to express their emotions in safe and appropriate ways. While her primary role is to assist them in their academics, Ms. Frazier is also aware of the need to make sure that diverse learners are learning life skills and will be able to navigate the world after they leave Ralph Ellison.
Erika Frazier is continuing her own education and has been attending Grand Canyon University part-time, with the goal of becoming a SPED teacher. She sees this as the next step on the path in her education career. Until then, Ms. Frazier will continue to support her students. She is continually energized by feedback from parents, occasional connections with former students and seeing younger siblings and cousins of her students choose to attend Ralph Ellison.
Ms. Erika Frazier has been a paraprofessional at CICS Ralph Ellison for 12 years. Prior to coming to Ralph Ellison, Ms. Frazier worked at Proviso West High School in Hillside, IL. Ms. Frazier is currently attending Grand Canyon University to complete her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education.
This month, in honor of National Principals Month, we will continue to highlight a few of the incredible men and women who are leading our schools.
March 13, 2020
Dear CICS Families:
I want to thank each of you for your attention to the developing situation regarding COVID-19, or coronavirus, in Chicago and nationally. As of now, we are not aware of any confirmed cases of or concerning exposure to COVID-19 at any of our campuses. I want to assure you that CICS is closely monitoring the situation and working with CPS and local public health officials to offer guidance to our staff, students and families. As always, the health and safety of our students and teammates are our highest priorities.
Over the last week, CICS has put together a COVID-19 Response Team to stay up-to-date on the latest local developments and recommendations from CPS, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as to field questions from our staff and families and develop and communicate guidance as CICS responds to the evolving COVID-19 situation. While it is our hope that our schools will remain open and operating on their regular schedules in the weeks and months ahead, we are also working on contingency plans for remote learning and for access to the school food program in the event of a prolonged closure. Please complete this two-minute survey so that we can properly prepare for support should we need to close one or more campuses.
We’re also taking reasonable precautions to limit the exposure to and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and the surrounding communities. While we are still permitting local travel within the Chicago city limits, we have made the difficult decision to cancel or postpone all staff and student non-local domestic and international travel on behalf of CICS from now through April 10, 2020, the last day of Spring Break. This includes CICS-sponsored and coordinated student spring break trips and college tours. We recognize how disappointing this decision may be, especially for trips that our students have been anticipating for some time, but this month-long pause will allow us to focus on limiting potential exposure and managing risks, while we monitor the latest developments.
We will also be canceling or postponing student gatherings and events outside of the regular school day. After-school programs will continue at our campuses as scheduled. Cancelled or postponed events may include concerts, parent events and dances, and your school director will follow up with more details about plans for scheduled events.
While the current situation is concerning, there is quite a bit that we can do to limit exposure to and prevent the spread of the virus. I assure you that our team is continuing to follow the latest developments and we will continue to update our families as the situation evolves. Thank you for your continued trust in CICS and for allowing us to continue to be a resource for you and your family.
Chicago International Charter Schools
FAMILY UPDATE: CICS RESPONSE TO COVID-19
Come learn about academics, special programs, exxtracurriculars, admissions criteria, how to apply, and more!
This year marks the 26th anniversary of the United States honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy as a civil rights leader. More than ever, we need a moment to reflect on what still needs to be done to honor him from both a human and civil rights perspective. To celebrate this day, Taquia Hylton, CICS Ralph Ellison School Director, offers her reflection on the importance of this holiday, and discusses the need to continue Dr. King’s work of justice and equality for all.
On the morning of January 7, a day after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I woke up with the words from "The U.S Pledge of Allegiance'' on my mind. I remember thinking over and over the words, "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all". I thought to myself, Francis Bellamy probably didn’t write this with black and brown children in mind. This anthem still does not ring true. It doesn’t feel like the citizens in this nation have been indivisible at all. Our country seems to be more divided than ever before. Why? Because, what we have seen in the last few weeks (and over four years) is the result of divisive rhetoric from the country's 45th Commander In Chief. His words drove hundreds of "U.S. citizens'' to storm a building that should have been impenetrable, the symbol and meeting place of our democracy.
As an educator, when I think about liberty and justice I am drawn to each term's formal definitions. What is justice? Merriam Webster defines it as "the quality of being just, impartial, or fair." Liberty is defined as "the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges." Then, I reflected on the positives that came out of the day instead of the disheartening images that flooded every imaginable news media outlet. I chuckled as "liberty" and "justice" presented themselves in the state of Georgia via the results of the Senate election.
Just a day before the insurrection, the people of Georgia exercised their liberties at their polling places. As a result, Reverend Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the same church where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, was elected the first African American Senator from the State of Georgia. We have come a long way! It brought me a sense of joy knowing Dr. King’s hard fought journey for the equal rights of African Americans became a reality with the election of Reverend Warnock. But more needs to be done.
As we celebrate Dr. King's life and legacy, I am grateful for the contributions that he and so many others have made for black people to be able to experience liberty and justice. Though African Americans have made incremental steps in society, we have a long way to go. In the words of Dr. King, "No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." Justice is NOT for "just us" nor is it exclusive of the black and brown community. It is for ALL of us! Like Dr. King, I have that dream too.
CICS Ralph Ellison Campus
Dear CICS families,
Minutes ago, Mayor Lightfoot announced that all CPS schools will remain closed through April 20. Given the necessity of this action to protect the health and well-being of our students, families and communities, CICS will follow suit. Please note that our previously scheduled Spring Break from April 6 through April 10 will continue as planned and we will not provide teacher-directed instruction during that week. We will follow up with more details and guidance as we learn more, but please know that we are committed to supporting our students throughout this extended closure.
These are unprecedented times and I urge you to please stay informed and take care of yourselves, as we will all be in this for what feels like a very long haul.
Asunto: Cierre de la escuela extendido hasta el 20 de abril.
Estimadas familias de CICS:
Hace solo unos minutos, el alcalde Lightfoot anuncio que todas las escuelas de CPS permanecerán cerradas hasta el 20 de abril. Dada la necesidad de esta acción para proteger la salud y el bienestar de nuestros estudiantes, familias y comunidades, CICS hará lo mismo. Tenga en cuenta que nuestras vacaciones de primavera programadas previamente del 6 al 10 de abril continuarán según lo planeado y no proporcionaremos instrucción durante esa semana. Seguiremos con más detalles y orientación a medida que aprendamos más, pero tenga en cuenta que estamos comprometidos a apoyar a nuestros estudiantes durante este cierre prolongado.
Estos son tiempos sin precedentes y les insto a que se mantengan informados y se cuiden, ya que todos estaremos en esto por lo que parece ser un viaje muy largo.
Dear CICS families,
Our meal pick-up is available every Monday, Wednesday and Friday twice a day from 7:30am-8:30am and 11:00am-1:00pm at allCICS elementary schools!
If your child attends a CICS high school, you can pick up the meals at one of our CICS elementary schools. A list of our campuses can be found below.
Our food service program will continue to introduce exciting new menu items including additional warm-at-home hot options, and multiple days of meals will be provided during each pickup for each CICS student in the household!
You can visit the site cics.schooldish.com to see your individual school's menu items and schedules.
Estimados Familias de CICS,
Nuestro servicio de recoger comidas para su hijo/a están disponibles todos los lunes, miércoles y viernes, dos veces al día de 7: 30am-8: 30am y de 11:00am a 1:00pm en todas las escuelas primarias de CICS.
Si su hijo/a asiste a una escuela secundaria de CICS, puede recoger las comidas en una de nuestras escuelas primarias de CICS. Puede encontrar una lista de nuestros escuelas a continuación.
Nuestro programa de servicio de alimentos continuará presentando nuevas comidas incluyendo opciones calientes para calentar en casa, y se proporcionarán varios días de comidas cuando recoge las comidas para su hogar.
Puede visitar el sitio cics.schooldish.com para ver los elementos del menú y los horarios de su escuela individual.
CICS is proud to share that three students have been accepted as Posse Scholars! Katlyn, Rebecca, and Darriana will join a network of what the Posse Foundation describes as "positive, motivated, talented, ambitious young people" who are "committed to their education and demonstrate academic potential." All three students will receive a full, four-year scholarship to the college they will attend next year.
Our staff connected with Katlyn, Rebecca, and Darriana to learn more about what motivates them and find out their plans for after graduation.
When I think about how and why I became the person I am today, it really centers on three things: Access, Community, and Voice.
Eddie Johnson, Managing Director of Talent for CICS, defines diversity beyond the common terms of race and gender. When there is an open role on our campuses, she also looks for a diversity of experiences in candidates for each position. During interviews she often asks potential employees to talk about their own cultural competencies, focusing on how the CICS value of equity resonates with each person. Mrs. Johnson believes that the lived experiences and cultural awareness of CICS teachers can provide our students with a wider view of the world. A diverse workforce also can have a deep and lasting influence on school culture.
Value-based School Culture
Positive school culture is one of the cornerstones that Eddie Johnson identifies as one of the reasons that people choose to work on our campuses. Research from several recent studies have indicated that a value-based school culture (pro-active disciplinary practices, professional development, opportunities for growth and recognition) is as important as compensation. CICS has been collecting data to guide the talent team in understanding why educators choose CICS and how to ensure that our schools retain the best and most talented teachers. Mrs. Johnson was instrumental in creating and implementing a data-driven equity-based compensation model earlier this year. Prior to the pandemic shutdown, Mrs. Johnson had attended a number of recruitment fairs on college campuses and saw other school districts advertising their starting salaries. When she talked with students, she walked them through the CICS model which not only has compensation lanes but also offers a range of benefits that few charter schools can match.
A Strong Schoool Community
While professional development opportunities and parental leave benefits are important factors that influence teacher recruitment and retention, Mrs. Johnson believes that a positive school culture is still one of the strongest attractions of the CICS schools. The opportunity to share in the values of equity, diversity, innovation and positive change for students to what she believes brings talented professionals into our classrooms. She is confident that CICS’ continued investment in creating a culture where everyone can engage and learn will sustain its student-focused environment and continue to build a strong community that works together to help all students succeed.