Nonprofit puts school choice into parents' hands

Kids First steers parents, students through the city's complex school selection process

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By Lee Edwards

Contributing Reporter

For many Chicago parents, deciding which school best fits their children's academic path begins with elementary and high school instead of post-secondary options. Enter Kids First Chicago, a nonprofit that offers families consultation on how to find the best educational options for their children.

Jade Jenkins, a native of Los Angeles, joined Kid First's as a community organizer after teaching sixth grade literacy and English & Language Arts and eighth grade humanities and English & Language Arts at KIPP Create College Prep in Austin for three years. She likened Chicago Public School's school enrollment to the process she undertook applying for colleges for her undergraduate degree — and one that she said parents and families simply don't have adequate enough time to pursue in detail.

"We feel that the system of choice in Chicago needs to be reformed and make sure that students have streamlined information to make the best situation for their education," said Jenkins, on Kids First's mission.

"Every school has its own application process, timeline, and more so for parents from Austin and in neighborhoods where parents are working long hours it's hard for parents to access this information," she said.

The nonprofit considers a child's environment, structure, curriculum, extracurricular activities, preference, and more during face-to-face consultations with parents. Currently, workshops are being offered to parents free of charge.

Kids First operates throughout the school year, according to Jenkins. Students of all socio-emotional and intellectual development levels are eligible for assistance from the nonprofit.

Kids First consultants contact schools directly to learn how many students with intellectual development needs are being serviced and to learn how many special education teachers are on staff.

Jenkins added that the nonprofit helps facilitate school visits for parents to assess a given school's capacity to serve their child. She noted that while CPS is aware of KF's activities there is not an active partnership.

Michelle Scott, a mother two, first learned of Kids First through her daughter's neighborhood school. She admitted to being initially skeptical of the nonprofit, because she had already decided where she wanted her daughter, Natalie Anderson, to attend school. But after meeting with Kids First representative she came away with a new perspective.

"They were knowledgeable about schools in Chicago, especially in the Austin area," said Scott. "I left with 20 schools on my list to apply for my daughter. Some of the schools I never heard of, didn't know they existed, [but] they were less than 15 minute drive. So, I was very confident when I left there that the schools that I chose would be a perfect for her."

Scott said with Kids First's assistance she evaluated schools by their teacher-to-student ratio, rate of violence and other factors. Already, Scott has forwarded Jenkin's contact information to other parents looking for school enrollment assistance.

"Selecting a school is very, very stressful on-top of everything else because you have more than one option; you don't have to go to the school down the street," said Scott. "It's almost like picking a college for your kid and you want to be sure that whatever school you put them in they grow as well as if your kid is going to learn."

To learn more about Kids First, visit


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