Sutherland Elementary School

Sutherland Elementary School has received a $500,000 Community Schools Initiative grant to finance its after-school programs. The grant, which will provide $100,000 for each of the next five years, is managed by Chicago Public Schools. Sutherland Principal Meg Burns said the school brought back many after-school programs last year, with over 200 students participating. The school plans to put on a school play as part of this upcoming year’s programming, Burns said. (Review file photo)

Many times while speaking with Sutherland Elementary School Local School Council members, parents or at a school gathering, Principal Meg Burns would tell people she was in pursuit of “the mother of all grants.”

In late June, the school in Beverly received that grant, and Sutherland will now be able to accommodate a large influx of students who are enrolling in its after-school programs.

Sutherland received a Community Schools Initiative grant, which is managed by Chicago Public Schools and provides $500,000 over the next five years, beginning with the 2018-19 school year.

Burns, entering her second year as principal, restarted some after-school programming last year, and she is excited about the opportunities the grant of $100,000 per year will provide.

One after-school program will include Beverly Arts Center staff teaching students about acting and theater.

“This allows us to really reach deeply into the community and … partner with the Beverly Arts Center and really provide much stronger [programming],” Burns said. “Sutherland’s always had a spring play.”

Burns, of Beverly, is a former actress, and she said it was “heartbreaking” to enter the school cafetorium—which serves as a cafeteria and auditorium—and see that no school play was being produced.

That will change, and the school will again offer mural club, dance, tutoring, chess, a drone club, book club, a cursive club, a drama club and choir, just as it did for the second half of the 2017-18 school year.

The programming is being funded, Burns said, through a “out of school time” grant and the school budget, which allowed her to pay teachers to stay after school and to present Forward Momentum Chicago, a dance education program, at the school. Parents also volunteered in supervising clubs.

Burns said she budgeted for 90 students last school year, but 225 signed up.

The programming has produced positive effects, she said, bringing an increase in the school attendance rate because potentially at-risk students want to be involved in after-school programs. Other benefits have been noticed.

“Our math scores have gone up,” Burns said. “We had a lot of math-support in after-school programming.”

The mural club, she added, has produced an obvious impact, creating so much art that there’s “not a speck” of gray paint in the hallways.

Burns plans to have more murals inside and outside the school.

“I really believe in environmental art,” Burns said. “I think it gives the kids ownership of the space and also creates a happy, artistic, creative atmosphere at the school, and I think the kids deserve that.”

Burns said the school formed a Lego Club that was organized by students who decided when and where to meet, with teachers providing supervision.

She hopes the grant will give students more opportunities to organize extracurricular clubs.

“I’m really, really excited about the possibilities,” Burns said, “now that we have that money, the resources and the programming.”