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Teach For America Chicago Northwest Indiana's Impact

Teach For America’s diverse network of 3,400 corps members and alumni are brave, innovative, equity-minded leaders who are in positions of power throughout the ecosystem, working alongside students and families to achieve impact.    

A Letter from Our Executive Director

Dear Friends of Teach For America,

I want to begin by expressing my profound gratitude for each of you. At Teach For America we faced immense challenges over the past year (we were not alone in this!), but navigating the experience in community with you made the work much less daunting. As you will see in our Back to School Report, our network of teachers, school leaders, and others led with resilience, courage, and innovation in order to meet the needs of our students and families. Our partners, the civic community, and philanthropy stepped up in a moment of need. It is this ethos of collective partnership that will serve us well in the years to come as we continue to confront the work ahead of us. The effects of the pandemic compounded pre-existing inequities in Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, impacting our Black and Latinx students most deeply. The leadership changes at Chicago Public Schools and the politics of education have dominated the headlines.

Yet, we remain optimistic that we can confront the challenges ahead. Our school system in Chicago has done it before, going from one of the worst performing urban school systems in the late 1980s to one of two urban school systems that has consistently exceeded expectations prior to COVID-19. It has done so because of a laser-like focus on a belief in the potential of all students, investing in talent in school buildings to support students, and investing in an ecosystem of support around students and schools. We must continue this effort, while infusing equity throughout all of our work, centering the voices of students and families, and building trusting relationships across the system.

At TFA, we believe our brave, innovative, and equity-minded leaders are made for this moment. Since 2000, TFA has played an instrumental role in Chicago’s story of progress by finding and supporting diverse and equity-oriented leaders working at all levels of the education system. From the classroom to school leadership to the non-profit and public sector ecosystem that supports students and schools, we know that our network has been a force for change. Today, our network of 3,400 teachers, school leaders, and advocates impact one-third of the population of students in public schools in Chicago. As we look forward, we will continue to recruit a diverse and equity-oriented minded corps members, develop a generation of leaders who are equipped to solve educational inequity from every sector and field, and influence policy change through partnership. Thank you for being part of our movement.


Aneesh Sohoni
Executive Director, Teach For America Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana


  • Part 1

    Our Scale and Impact

We Are 1000+ Teachers



of principals working with our teachers say they would recommend hiring a corps member to a fellow school leader


years of academic progress per school year for students taught by TFA teachers

Creative Solutions

Last year, Brittanei Cain taught pre-K remotely, which came with a lot of obstacles. She thought her first day of teaching would be full of fun and hugs but in reality they all logged into their computers. Brittanei had to find inventive approaches to connect with her young students and keep them engaged. For her, teaching wasn’t just dance parties and puppet friends; Brittanei also helped parents stay informed and empowered during this demanding school year. “I think this time has really challenged me and the students on how independent they can be and how much they can accomplish even though they’re very young,” Brittanei shares in the video. “They are the first class that ever had to do a full year of remote learning, and that will cause them to have resilience forever. If they can do what they just did this year, there is no stopping what they can do any other year.”


One Week for One Day: Brittanei Cain

We Are 290 School Leaders


Chicago high schools with the largest SAT growth are led by TFA alumni


of TFA alumni are leading Level 1+ schools compared to 21% who are not alumni

Challenges Catalyze Possibility

When Jarell Lee was 14, he knew he wanted to work with Black and Brown children who grew up in a neighborhood like his and “help give them the opportunities that they deserve to be able to change the world for the better.” When the pandemic hit, he knew the first thing he had to do as a school leader was make sure that everyone was safe. Many parents at KIPP work multiple jobs and have had to juggle working with helping kids with remote learning. Many parents lost their jobs. Jarell and his teachers reached out to families, offering free meals, extra tutoring services, and connecting them to community resources. Jarell says, “We don’t know what’s going to happen next; but we do know that we all came together to make sure [our students] are learning and getting the resources they need to be successful in life.”


One Week for One Day: Jarell Lee

We Are 620 Non-Profit and Private Sector Leaders

After their time in the corps, TFA alumni go on to lead many organizations. Here are some organizations led by TFA Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana alums:

  • Ballot Ready
  • Braven
  • Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership
  • Chicago Public Education Fund
  • Chicago United for Equity
  • Classkick
  • CPS Networks 6 and 17
  • EdNavigator
  • Equality Illinois
  • Gardeneers
  • Illinois Network of Charter Schools
  • KIPP Chicago
  • OneGoal
  • Overgrad
  • Teach Plus Illinois
  • Teachers Supporting Teachers
  • UChicago Impact

Adapting Quickly


After starting her career as a TFA corps member in Chicago, Jesse Ilhardt went on to co-found VOCEL to deliver early learning and family support services to families in over-burdened and under-resourced communities. Jesse’s experience as an early childhood corps member and TFA staff member has helped her remain resilient, adapt quickly, and put students and their families first. When both children and their caregivers were feeling the stress and anxiety of the pandemic, VOCEL quickly pivoted their programming to address their physical, social, and emotional needs. Jesse says that, “the resilience from our staff and families has been a result of bringing challenges to the forefront and working together.”

Demonstrate Resilience: VOCEL

Expanding Our Impact into North Chicago


 After 20 years of serving students in Chicago and 13 years of serving students in Northwest Indiana, Teach For America expanded its impact into the city of North Chicago, 36 miles north of the city of Chicago. North Chicago’s District 187 has been working tirelessly to realize an excellent education for all students but the reality is that D187 students have been underserved for a generation. Despite the many challenges faced by D187, it is a district on the rise thanks to a committed coalition of district leaders, community members, educators, and philanthropists who are focused on student achievement, social and emotional learning, and culturally affirming teaching practices. TFA will be making an immediate impact in classrooms by placing corps members in the district and a long-term impact at the systems-level through contributing sustained alumni leadership. North Chicago corps members are set up to thrive with the district’s strong commitment to teacher development through shared resources, instructional coaches and a teacher mentor program.


TFA North Chicago Partnership

  • Part 2

    Our Greatest Challenge

Educational inequity is still our greatest challenge. We are living through a pandemic and continued racial injustice. We have work to do to meet the aspirations of our students and their families. 

Despite the tremendous progress made over the last 30 years, our public education system is still not preparing all of our students to live a future filled with possibility. Take a look at some of these metrics, which show the students are not prepared for college or careers. 

  • 49% graduation rate, flat for 10 years
  • 40 to 60% of students need remedial English or math classes
  • 22.9% three-year community college graduation rate
  • 60% persistence rate in 2020 (down from 66% in 2010)
  • 15% of Chicago ninth graders are on track to achieve a family-sustaining wage

The pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges, especially for our Black and Latinx students. As we begin to understand the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on student growth, gaps remain and in many cases have widened.

  • 84,500 CPS students (or 1 in 4) have been flagged for targeted support because they were missing from school or only took part in learning intermittently during the pandemic.
  • 1 in 5 grades was an F at the lowest-income high schools.
  • Average daily attendance dropped from 90% in 2019 to 79% through the third quarter of last school year.

What makes our community feel hopeful?

“As an African American journalist I want to be able to tell the stories of the untold. My teacher’s assignments and work ethic push me toward being able to accomplish that dream.” -Butler College Prep Student

“What got me through [the pandemic] was the help from our teachers and principal. They have always been there for me and my son and I appreciate that so much. When we come back it’ll feel as though we never left.” -KIPP Parent

“Thinking about all the challenges makes us even more excited for when we get through this because so much is possible for our school.” -KIPP Principal

“We are here for each other and we have a way to continue this work in a really sustainable way. At the end of the day, there’s hope in knowing that when you need people, they’re going to show up.” -Boone Elementary teacher

  • Part 3

    Our Plan

Recruit and train a diverse network of equity-minded corps members.

Our 2021 Corps:


new corps members


identify with the background of students (BIPOC and/or coming from a low-income background)


homegrown Chicagoans


teaching high-needs subjects

Leading with Joy

“Lead with joy is my mantra. Given that we are all still surviving a pandemic, joy is my priority. Joy in the classroom means taking time to pause, check-in with one another, share life updates, moments of gratitude, laughter, exchange music, problem solving together, and express vulnerability and honesty. My kids bring me the brightest joy even in the darkest moments. They are the lifeline to my work.

“This year has brought plenty of unexpected challenges but my students are the reason I persevere. They never fail to bring a smile to my face, to teach me something new, or inspire me to be the best version of myself. The most meaningful part of my job is being able to provide my students with access to revolutionary education where they feel empowered, validated, safe, and free.”

 -Neve Rivera, 2020 Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana

Develop a generation of leaders who are equipped to solve educational inequity from every sector and every field.

Since 2000, Teach For America has been a critical element in the vanguard of leaders that have contributed to the successes we’ve seen in the Chicago education landscape. TFA has played an instrumental role in Chicago’s story of progress by finding and supporting diverse and equity-oriented leaders working at all levels of the education system. By understanding the many factors that led to this progress, including TFA’s role, we are focused on what works, even when there are a swell of hypotheses about the future of education in Chicago.


Principals and Organizational Leaders Making a Difference 

Tracie Sanlin (2007 Los Angeles), Founding Principal, Chicago Collegiate Charter High School 

As the founding principal of her school, Tracie says that their success is built on providing students with social-emotional skills, academic skills, how to advocate for themselves, and learn the unwritten rules of the world.

Stephanie Folkens (2008 Houston), Vice President of Programs, Common Threads

Stephanie lives in Chicago and serves as the Vice President of Programs at Common Threads, a national nonprofit focused on the health and wellness of students. She was an Elevate Fellow in its inaugural year and said the experience was “invaluable.” The Elevate Fellowship, in partnership with UChicago Booth School of Business, prepares our strong, diverse alumni community to take on organizational leadership roles at mission-aligned organizations.


Influence change through policy, community partnerships, and innovation incubation

Partner with community leaders and organizations

This year we launched a partnership with My Brother’s Keeper Chicago, another community organization fighting tirelessly to create a diverse pipeline of educators. In March, we hosted a joint panel called Elevating Representation in Education, for corps members and alumni who identify as men of color. The participants represented a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds and hailed from TFA regions across the nation. This partnership is one of many alliances we are cultivating to deepen our impact across the Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana landscape.

Join coalitions to influence key educational policies and practices

TFA was part of a coalition of organizations working with the Joint Legislative Black Caucus on the education pillar of their economic agenda meant to advocate for issues that enable a diverse and culturally competent educator workforce in Illinois. The historic bill, signed by the governor in March, includes the elimination of the 3.0 GPA requirement to become a teacher in alternative certification programs. GPA has no correlation with teacher outcomes and worse, serves as a barrier to many teachers of color entering the profession. Senate Leader Kimberly Lightford thanked TFA publicly on the Senate floor for our partnership.

Convene educators in innovation hubs to collectively test, implement, and scale the most promising ideas to improve instruction

Co-teachers at Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy, an alternative high school in Pilsen; through TFA’s Education Innovation Hub they will test a custom restorative justice curriculum to drive student social and political consciousness and improve post secondary outcomes.


Join Us

In 2030, Teach For America Greater Chicago–Northwest Indiana will be a network 5,400 strong and still growing, impacting 200,000 students every day. It will take all of us, united around a shared purpose, to ensure that our students have the educational opportunities needed to live a future filled with possibility. Join us in building on the progress we’ve already made and forging a path forward.

Thank You 

We are deeply grateful for all our supporters, including those who gave to our One Week for One Day virtual celebration.