Think You Can't Afford a Private Education? Think Again!


Private, Catholic education is the single most important factor in your child’s future. There is no better investment that you can make for your child than giving them a solid educational foundation. While a Catholic education costs money, there  are many ways to make it more affordable. This series will explore a variety of options, ranging from government tax credits to scholarships, that could be helpful to you and your family in your choice of supporting Catholic education.

Today’s topic: Financial Aid

What is financial aid?

Financial aid helps students and their families pay for their tuition. The amount will be different for every family who applies, as it depends on their specific financial circumstances. At our Catholic schools, financial aid is a portion of money that is taken off your tuition. It will never be a loan, it is meant to serve your child and your family through a need-based award.

Where do the funds for financial aid come from?

Financial aid funding can come from a variety of sources, including sometimes the school’s themselves, their parish, or a benefactor, like Big Shoulders Fund, , who wants to invest in your child’s education and therefore, their futures.

I’ve only ever heard of financial aid for high schools. Elementary schools have it too?

Absolutely! Great education starts at an early age and we want to provide your child with the best education possible. Catholic schools understand that working families may need a little assistance to help offset tuition costs, so they offer need-based financial aid to help.

Is financial aid different than a scholarship?

Yes and no. A scholarship is one type of financial aid, but the process and requirements to obtain a scholarship may be different than your school’s normal financial aid process. Typically scholarship organizations have their own application process and requirements for application. In the case of Big Shoulders Fund, families apply for scholarships through their school’s principal. If you are interested in financial aid or for applying for a scholarship, it’s best to reach out to and ask the school principal what your options are.

How do I apply?

Reach out to your local Catholic school and ask them about opportunities for financial aid and scholarships. The school works with your family to understand your financial situation and works with you to find a way to best serve your student(s). The school will communicate with you directly about the status of your application.

To find your nearest Big Shoulders Fund School, use our locator feature!

Searching For The Right School For Your Family: Tips For School Tours & More Part 2

Here are a few questions to consider when on a school tour:

  • Student teacher ratio - How many students are in each classroom? Will the teacher have time to work with my child and differentiate instruction?
  • Does the school follow state standards? -  Are the teachers certified?
  • What is the school’s mission and philosophy? - Does the school have
  • What is the school environment/atmosphere? - How do you feel as soon as you walk into the building?
  • Does the school encourage continuing education for its staff? - What professional development opportunities are offered to the faculty?
  • Is the school in good condition? What technology does the school offer to its students?
  • How does the school communicate with parents and how often?
  • Is the school diverse?
  • What are the extracurricular activities offered to students?
  • What are the school’s test scores? - What test do they take and how do the results compare to the national average?
  • Where do students typical attend high school? - Do they usually receive scholarships? How many are accepted into their first choice school?
  • What are the school deadlines for applications?
  • If it’s a tuition based school, what is the price and are there extra charges above the tuition? Does the school offer financial assistance?

 Also, consider:

  • Don’t forget convenience- where is the school located? A 30 minute commute might not seem like a big deal, but in the midst of a blizzard a 30 minute drive could turn into a 3 hour drive.
  • Ask to have the chance to speak to a current parent.  This is a great way to learn more about what the school offers.
  • What are the school’s hours? Does the school have options for working parents?
  • What is the school community like? Are family friendly events held every month?

Choosing the right school can be tricky, but with this handy form you can keep track of the schools you visited and describe what you liked.

Ready to visit one of your neighborhood Catholic schools? Visit us at:  to #DiscoverTheDifference today!


You Could be Saving $500 a Year on Your Tuition

 Your children learn about money. You can too!

Your children learn about money. You can too!

Private, Catholic education can be a major investment, but did you know that there are ways to make it more affordable? Over the next few posts, will explore a variety of options, ranging from government tax credits to scholarships, that could be helpful to you and your family in your choice of supporting Catholic education.

Today’s topic: Educational Tax Credits

What is a tax credit?

A tax credit is a reduction in the income tax you owe to the state and federal governments. Usually the credits are applicable to behaviors or expenses that the government deems important, in this case education.

How do I qualify for a tax credit?

Like all tax credits, there are some restrictions. For educational tax credits, there are three basic requirements:

1.  If you were the parent or legal guardian of a full-time student who was under the age of 21 at the close of the school year

2.  You and your student were Illinois residents when you paid the expenses

3.  Your student attended kindergarten through twelfth grade at a public or nonpublic school in Illinois during the tax year

What qualifies as an educational expense?

Necessary expenses like tuition, book fees or lab fees for supplies, equipment, materials or instruments that are required as a part of the main curriculum are considered expenses and would be creditable.

How much money can I get back?

In the state of Illinois, you will be allowed 25 percent of your student’s qualified education expenses after the first $250. Your total credit may not exceed $500 in any year, regardless of the number of qualifying students.

How do I get my tax credit?

Visit the Illinois Department of Revenue website to obtain the necessary Schedule ICR form to attach to you 1040 when you file your taxes.

For more information about tax credits, use the document linked here produced by the Illinois Department of Revenue.

Finding the Right Fit: A Catholic Education Guide Part 2: Mastering the School Visit

Part one in this series explored the best way to start your school search process. In part two, we will dive a bit deeper on how to have a successful school visit.

 Below is a checklist of questions that you can bring with you to help you assess whether a school is the right choice for your child.

  • School mission and philosophy – How does the school approach educating its students? Does the school have a particular focus- e.g. Arts or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math?)
  • Student teacher ratio - How many students are in each classroom? Will the teacher have time to work with my child and differentiate instruction?
  • School atmosphere - How do you feel as soon as you walk into the building?
  • Technology - What technology does the school offer to its students?
  • Communication - How does the school communicate with parents and how often?
  • Activities - What are the extracurricular activities offered to students?
  • Results - What standardized tests do students take and how do the results compare to the national average?
  • Graduation - What is the graduation rate? Where do students typically attend high school? Do they usually receive scholarships? How many are accepted into their first choice school?
  • Enrollment - What are the school deadlines for applying?
  • Tuition – what is the tuition and are there extra charges above the tuition? Does the school offer financial assistance? What are the deadlines to apply for financial aid or scholarships?
  • Before and after school care – Does the school have options for working parents?
  • Community – what is the school community like? What are the events the school holds for families throughout the year?

Also consider asking to speak to a current parent.  This is a great way to learn more about what the school offers.

 Choosing the right school can seem daunting at first, but by staying organized and using our tracking form, you can confidently master the search process.

If you are interested in exploring one of your neighborhood Catholic schools, visit us at:


Finding the Right Fit: A Catholic Education Guide Part 1: Getting Started

Choosing a school for your child is a very important decision for you and your family. Sometimes the process can seem scary and overwhelming. We are here to help. At our Big Shoulders Fund Catholic schools, we have streamlined the enrollment process to three easy steps.

Step one: Search for and call the schools.

When you are ready to being your search, a great place to start is to create a list of potential schools.  You can develop your list by talking to other parents, visiting school websites and researching schools online. You can use our school locator to find the schools closest to your home or work.

After you create a list of possible schools, you should call each school to set up an appointment to visit.

Step two: Take a tour or bring your child in for a shadow day.

Walking through a school and interacting with the administrators, teachers and students is the best way to get to know a school’s culture. Some schools will allow you to visit at any time; other schools will have set dates and times for their Open Houses.

Some of our schools also offer “shadow days” where you can have your child join a classroom for a day and experience firsthand what it’s like to be a student. Parents at our schools tell us that it’s one of the best ways to really test drive a school. And sometimes your child can come home with a few new friends in the process!

When you visit the school, be prepared to ask questions and take notes. After the visit, you should always feel comfortable to follow up with the school and ask any additional questions. You can also ask to connect with a current parent who can answer questions for you. The great thing is that all of our schools have financial aid and scholarships available—asking about these options when you visit is completely fine.

Stay tuned for Part two, when we share the best questions to ask on a school tour and a checklist to help you stay organized.

Step three: Enroll!

Ready to visit one of your neighborhood Catholic schools? Visit us at:  to #DiscoverTheDifference today!

-Written by Big Shoulders Fund Staff Writer

Curated by Kids? Rethinking Learning Spaces

Three years ago I walked into a Big Shoulders classroom that was undergoing renovations.  As the workers pulled up the carpet they revealed a hardwood floor that showed the scars of desks which had been previously bolted to the floor.

The desk marks on the floor invited the opportunity to travel through time and analyze the story of learners past:

  • Learning was one directional as all desks were affixed and thus the teacher did most of the talking.
  • Due to the design of desks being bolted to the floor, collaboration was absent in this classroom.
  • The forty-seven desks' imprints suggest that information was distributed in a sit-and-get, one-size-fits-all fashion.

Whereas we recognize changes and transformations in the job market, , communication and the distribution of information we should also expect that our learning conditions keep pace with innovation. Today’s classroom environments are not conducive for learning if they are still set up as they were 100 years ago: rows upon rows of desks all facing the teacher, organized for quiet, independent work.

Tom Murray, in his book Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools, points out the similarity of present classrooms to those in the industrial revolution, where students were being trained for repetitive factory work. “In the one-size-fits-all, sit-and-get instructional model, an ability to regurgitate information was the key to success” he writes.  But that is not how our children move through the world anymore.  Our society prizes creativity and innovation, and the workplace expects teams to collaborate and communicate effectively. Learning spaces are not just containers for education, but a vehicle for education itself.

A significant body of work shows that affective spaces yield effective academic outcomes and therefore, students and their needs should drive classroom design (Barrett & Zhang, 2009). Structuring time for collaboration, differentiating stimuli for a wide-range of learning styles and providing opportunities for student choice throughout the day increases engagement and knowledge retention. Evidence continues to build that classrooms organized for student needs versus teacher needs positively impacts performance, behavior and long-term student success.

Now, this does not necessarily mean we overhaul classrooms and schools from top to bottom. It doesn’t have to be costly, but some simple adjustments can be made to engage kids, update classroom spaces and craft a vision for a future-ready school. Begin by asking students, “What makes learning go well for you? Draw a space where you could do big thinking.” At Big Shoulders we asked kids this question and took their feedback to heart.  A group of third grade students requested a comfy couch where they could snuggle in with a good book. They suggested tables on wheels so students could move them around the room to meet in large and small groups. They also requested a big rug, clipboards so they could be mobile and a standing work area so they could stretch their legs from time to time.  With limited resources, students designed this learning studio which included mobile furniture, soft spaces and unlimited options for organization.

We believe our schools should reflect the real world, signal joyful learning and be a place where students want to spend seven hours each day. When we look to curate school environments that reflect what kids need we simply say to students “You matter.”

Your comfort matters.

Your conversations matter.

Your ideas matter.

And when we put students at the heart of all we do we directly impact learning. 



Kristin Ziemke is the author of Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom and is a resident teacher and innovation specialist for the Big Shoulders Fund. An Apple Distinguished Educator, National Board Certified Teacher and Chicago’s Tech Innovator of the Year, Kristin collaborates with educators around the globe as a staff developer, speaker and writer.

You're More Than Just a Test Score: Character-Building in Catholic Schools

In his New York Times article, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” Paul Tough, author of Whatever It Takes and How Children Succeed, discusses the importance of character in determining the potential success of a student.  The article finds that the real ingredients for future success are not based solely on IQ, but are a combination of: “zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, curiosity.” The article goes on to ask, “What is good character? Is it really something that can be taught in a formal way, in the classroom, or is it the responsibility of the family, something that is inculcated gradually over years of experience?”

As I considered the article, I couldn’t help but make a connection to Catholic Schools. Many excellent schools in Chicago provide students with a solid academic foundation, but Catholic schools are different and special in that they also focus on the values of hope, love, and community.  Catholic schools talk openly about morals and spend time each day giving children an opportunity to learn, share and understand the consequences of good and bad behaviors.  Wouldn’t it be cool if each student graduated with not only a G.P.A.  but a C.P.A., for character point average?”   said David Levin, the co-founder of a charter school network in New York, in Tough’s article

Catholic schools inherently work with students to increase their C.P.A. daily.  In fact, at most Catholic schools, I’d argue that the C.P.A. is just as important if not more important than the GPA.

Here are a few questions to consider as you think about your child’s education: 

·        Can your child’s school teach the sort of lessons that will help your child become a good and compassionate person?

·        Is there a clear expectation that everyone will be treated with respect by teachers and other students?

·        Does the school you send your child to have a sense of values consistent with your own?

·        Will your child’s school foster a sense of “zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, curiosity?”

How a school handles these issues indicates whether the school is capable of reinforcing the values that you teach at home. Ultimately, Catholic schools will enable your child to grow up to be a good and compassionate person. Catholic schools partner with families to instill those values that enable children to grow up to be “successful” adults.  What more could you ask for?

We’d love for you and your family to join our school community. For more information about Chicago Catholic Schools visit- to #DiscoverTheDifference

- Maria I. is a mom of two boys. She lives in the city of Chicago and sends her kids to the local Catholic school.

Top Early Childhood Programs Share These 15 Traits

Part two in our series on Early Childhood Education

Now that you’ve created a list of what you want your child to learn in preschool, this checklist aims to help you make the best choice for your family.

We’ve talked to preschool parents, educators and early learning experts, and here are the 15 signs that they say indicate an excellent early childhood program.

  1. Teachers are state certified with bachelor’s degrees; they are warm, friendly and participate in ongoing training.
  2. The classroom environment is inviting, colorful, and clean.
  3. The student-to-teacher ratio allows for individual attention when needed.
  4. Open communication exists between teacher and parents and the principal and the teacher are available via phone, email and in-person meetings.
  5. The classroom is set up for a wide range of activities that support learning.
  6. The daily schedule allows for activity, learning, play and quiet time.
  7. The early childhood program is part of an established setting for learning; not just an “add-on.”
  8. Children have access to enrichment programs such as computer classes, music, gym, art and other options.
  9. The building and the classroom are safe and secure; a system is in place for supervision at all times.
  10. The community is family-oriented and encourages parents to be involved.
  11. Students are welcomed into a loving community and begin learning about character building and caring for others.
  12. The program’s curriculum is aligned with Illinois’ Early Learning Standards.
  13. There is a seamless plan in place for transition into kindergarten, first grade and beyond.
  14. The early childhood program has undergone an evaluation process and is recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education.
  15. The program is flexible enough to meet your families’ scheduling and financial needs.

To learn more about our Catholic Early Childhood Programs and navigating the process of choosing a school, connect with us at


Choosing the Right Preschool for your Child

Part one in our series on Early Childhood Education

Finding the right early childhood program can be confusing and overwhelming process, but with a few simple tips, it doesn’t have to be! Creating a wish list of what you hope your child will learn is a great place to start. 


Do you want your child to: 

Cooperate with others?

Learn to share?

Improve physical skills?

Gain confidence?

Become a great reader?

Solve math problems?

Be creative?

Learn God’s love?

Make new friends?

Enjoy school?

Develop good habits?

When you start thinking about what you envision for your child, it can make the process easier. Catholic schools in Chicago provide an excellent option for Early Childhood education and are incredibly affordable- oftentimes even less money than your local day care center. All Big Shoulders Fund schools accept Action for Children and provide financial aid and some are even Head Start or Preschool For All Centers.

The best part is that Preschool and Kindergarten at a Catholic school is part of a larger academic setting and will provide a seamless transition to 1st grade and beyond and students will have the benefit of special classes like art, music, foreign language, etc. 

What are some of your top questions about Early Childhood education?

Stay tuned for a checklist of what to look for as you explore options for your family.

Want to learn more about what Catholic schools can do for your child and your family? Visit us at: to #DiscoverTheDifference of a Catholic education today!