Washington Post Features Christopher House


 When Mariano Agosto’s fiancee died a year after the birth of their daughter, he was scared and lost. A friend suggested a nearby early-childhood education center might be able to help him and his little girl.

Melanie was about 2 when Agosto visited Christopher House for a three-day trial run. He quickly realized school officials were concerned not only about his daughter’s well-being and education, but also about his.

He was sold.

“What do you need?” Agosto recalled his daughter’s teachers asking him. “Do you need to speak to someone? Food? Clothing? Shelter?”

Mariano and Melanie
Mariano Agosto helps his daughter Melanie, 7, with homework after school at Christopher House. Photo: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

Many of the nation’s top preschools have found that the magic ingredients in supporting kids and boosting their academic success are: involving parents and providing intensive support to families. Christopher House, a nonprofit organization that runs a high-performing elementary charter school and a small network of public preschools in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, has infused parental support into its model. And it has taken its efforts beyond the preschool years in an attempt to tackle fade-out, a problem that afflicts even top preschools.

Too often, after launching kids into school far ahead of their peers, even high-quality preschools with intensive family support see students’ academic gains slowly diminish. After a few years, the effects are often hard to discern.

To make the preschool magic last, the Christopher House network accepts children from newborns to fifth-graders, embracing the whole family as a part of the child’s success.

Read more Washington Post Features Christopher House

Building the Bridge Between Early Childhood & Elementary School

By: Kristin Novy, Christopher House Elementary School Principal

In recent years, the research on the importance of early childhood has been clear: early education matters. A high-quality early childhood program sets the stage for a successful elementary experience and beyond.

Early Head Start and Head Start programs have played a critical role in providing these services to families. The missing piece, however, is often the bridge to elementary. The mandates in early childhood (EC) and elementary school settings vary greatly, making it difficult for providers to find a way to bridge the two in a way that makes sense for families and keeps students on a solid track.

Christopher House Elementary School has done a significant amount of intentional workaround that bridge. With an early childhood program that starts at birth, it offers a continuum of quality education from infancy through elementary. Here are the major components from their concerted efforts to bridge early childhood and elementary for both student and school success:

  1. Consistent Assessment:
    Early childhood students (Pre-K) are assessed on the same literacy tool as kindergartners, which allows for better data talks among schools and more cohesive sharing of strategies that align to the data. This makes the transition to kindergarten much smoother for teachers and parents, as they are already familiar with both the assessment tool and the way the components are addressed.  In addition, teachers from EC and the elementary school share and analyze this data so that they are most prepared for the incoming students.
  2. Early Childhood MTSS Program:
    The elementary school team has built out a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) program, which addresses all three tiers of the intervention system.  Teachers differentiate instruction to meet the needs of individual students in order to address their specific academic and behavioral deficits. This year, the elementary school collaborated with the early childhood program and implemented a multi-tiered system of support in the pre-kindergarten classrooms, which enabled EC teachers to address their students’ behavioral and academic deficits at an individualized level through the use of observation, data collection, and differentiated instruction. The elementary school MTSS coordinator provided coaching and professional development on how to develop an MTSS program and implement differentiated instruction based on student need.
  3. Social-Emotional Synergy:
    Social-emotional philosophy and strategies align between EC and elementary, and the school leverages similar tools so that students can build their emotional competence systematically. Christopher House uses elements of Responsive Classroom, a curriculum to explicitly teach SEL skills, and a common data tracking system that allows the school to develop targeted supports for students in need of additional help.
  4. Kindergarten Readiness Matrix:
    The kindergarten teachers at Christopher House developed a matrix of skills and knowledge that children coming into kindergarten should have in order to be most successful. The matrix includes self-help skills such as putting on and taking off their coat, as well as early literacy and math knowledge such as letter and number identification.
  5. Cross-Departmental Collaboration:
     Meetings are scheduled for the end of the school year where current Pre-K teachers, future kindergarten teachers, social workers, and diverse learners staff review each student’s school and relevant family history in-depth to address their strengths and areas of growth. Teachers across schools group students, review data and share strategies that have worked well to inform future practices.

Finally, it’s important to mention that one of the other unique aspects of the Christopher House approach is their immersive family support and continuity of care, which has proven beneficial in bridging EC and elementary school as well. For example, family advocates work one-on-one to enroll interested families in the school. They help them understand what to expect with school as well as how to implement learning activities at home starting from early childhood and continuing through elementary. In addition, Christopher House also has social workers on staff that serve each school and develop long-term relationships with families. If a child in the elementary school has a sibling in the early childhood program, the social worker will continue to support both students and the entire family to ensure continuity of care.

This approach coupled with the intentional – and innovative – efforts to bridge early childhood and elementary school is helping students and their families start strong and stay on track for success. Christopher House believes collaboration is key and always welcomes the opportunity to connect with other educators.

Originally published at EdCircuit, July 24, 2018: http://www.edcircuit.com/building-the-bridge-between-early-childhood-and-elementary-school/

Holland & Knight Impact for Decades


 Our Annual Benefit on April 26th is to celebrate the incredible partners we have, create new relationships, and share the success of our mission. One of these partners is Holland & Knight, who we will honor with the 2018 Volunteer Impact Award.

Holland & Knight has been a partner in Christopher House’s mission for nearly 20 years: sponsoring our benefit, mentoring students (pictured above), joining committees, helping with the Read-A-Thon, our holiday program, and creating so many personal relationships with our students and families that have been fostered with their associates.

One of these long term relationships is with Tom Woodrow, Christopher House Board Member, and Holland & Knight Partner. Woodrow says of the partnership,
“Christopher House’s mission speaks to all of us at Holland & Knight, because we are committed to leveling the academic playing field for at-risk children, and ensuring they have access to the same high-quality academic resources that we all enjoyed as lawyers.”

Join us on April 26th to honor Holland & Knight for their generous support and commitment to Christopher House children and families.
Can’t attend? Make a donation in their honor here.

Mariano and Melanie’s Story

Mariano lost his wife to cancer when their daughter was just two years old. “When her mom passed, I was so lost – what am I supposed to do?” he remembers. Searching for a solution to childcare while working and finishing his degree in mechanics, a friend suggested Christopher House.

After taking a tour, Mariano enrolled his daughter, Melanie, at our Logan Square center and was thrilled with the amount of help Christopher House provided in such a stressful time.

Mariano says of the struggle, “I’m a single dad, I work, I take care of my parents – it’s kind of hard.” Christopher House was there to help, “It was great having help,” he says, “when we are home, it’s just Melanie and me, but they told me, ‘Text me, call me’ – like a hotline.”

Now Melanie is at the elementary school in second grade and Christopher House is part of the family. “It feels family oriented – you have a friend no matter what,” says Mariano.

Christopher House Elementary School – Level 1+ Status


CHICAGO, October 26, 2017 – Christopher House has tied for fifth place out of the 473 elementary schools rated by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The school has earned the district’s top rating with Level 1+ status, according to the CPS School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP) report for the 2017-2018 school year. After just two years of being eligible, and four years since opening their doors in the underserved Belmont Cragin neighborhood, this ranking places the school in the top 1 percent of all Chicago Public Schools.

See the full release here!

See our scorecard from Chicago Public Schools here.

“We have been with Christopher House since 2010 when my kids were in the Head Start program. We were here when the elementary school opened, and Christopher House knows how to best support my kids and help them grow to be their best selves, both academically and emotionally.”
-Sabrina Ramirez, parent of a Christopher House 3rd and 5th grader

Girls on the Run

This Saturday, May 20th, twenty-four fourth graders from Christopher House elementary school are participating in the Girls on the Run 5K!

They’ve been training for months and just last month, they were able to go to Dick’s Sporting Goods at New City to pick new shoes for the race!

Girls on the Run 2017 from Christopher House on Vimeo.

The trip was made possible due to the generosity of two fourth graders, and a seventh grader from Chicago’s Latin School who held a bake sale to raise the $750 for our girls. Our students are learning about running and athleticism, but also self-confidence and how they can help their community.

Our runners still need partners for the big day! If you’re interested in running or walking you can register here. If you can’t come, but want to make a gift in their honor you can do so here.

As the girls say, “Girls on the Run. So much fun!”
Be sure to check Facebook and Twitter for updates from the race!

Odaly’s Story


Odaly, a mom of two in Belmont Cragin, struggled to find a school that could provide Juan, her son, who is a diverse learner, the resources and opportunities he needed to thrive. Odaly was excited when Christopher House announced they were opening a school in Belmont Cragin and signed up before it was even built.

Once Juan started, she immediately noticed an improvement not only in Juan’s schooling, but his social skills, too. “I saw a big difference in how he was treated academically, and emotionally,” recalls Odaly. “I realized he didn’t know what he needed to know — he didn’t know English, but he learned quickly once he started at Christopher House.”

When “YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher™” was offered to parents at our Stewart Campus, Odaly jumped at the chance to become even more engaged. “I’m interested in joining any workshop to make me a better mom, and learning better ways to educate my kids,” replied Odaly when asked why she signed up.

“It helps me set expectations: on me, my kids, and my husband,” Odaly said of the YOU curriculum’s impact on her life. “I learned I have to be consistent with consequences, and teach my kids that they need to learn about what they did — not just react.”

“I used to yell a lot. I learned I don’t need to yell for them to understand. Juan learned, too.” Odaly remembers, “he’d say, ‘you don’t need to yell, you only need to say it one time mom.’ We both learned to be better and work together.”

Odaly still uses the curriculum weekly as a resource in her parenting, in addition to the other resources Christopher House offers. Odaly knows she isn’t alone and has a network to help her and her family reach their goals. “Any problem here, I feel helped and safe.”

CBC: Finalist for the 2017 Collaboration Prize


Christopher House is thrilled to announce that the Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative (CBC) has been named a finalist for the 2017 Collaboration Prize! This is a national award designed to highlight exceptional permanent models of collaboration among nonprofit organizations. One of eight finalists, the CBC was chosen from more than 350 submissions from across the country.

We are proud of our partnership with Chicago Youth Centers, Chinese American Service League, Erie Neighborhood House and Gad’s Hill Center. The collaboration is based on trust and dedicated to improvements based on shared learning.

Launched in 2008, the CBC works to improve the quality of services provided to low-income children and their families through sharing data and best practices. This includes creating a replicable model, and sharing this model with others engaged in similar work.

This is a great step for Christopher House and our partners to drive meaningful and tangible change for Chicago’s at-risk populations!

The winner will be announced in early April, 2017. More information on the award can be found here.