Tonti Elementary

Whole Child, Whole Community

Metro’s Community Schools program helps Tonti Elementary make a dramatic transformation


Tonti Elementary School is a Chicago Public Schools success story. Although more than 96% of the Gage Park preK-5th grade school’s students are low-income and 37% are English learners — well above the Chicago Public Schools averages for both metrics — the school is rated Level 1, the second-highest ranking under Chicago Public Schools’ School Quality Rating Policy. Tonti boasts above-average student growth, average daily attendance of more than 96%, and awards and certifications such as the 2016 CPS Innovative School of the Year, the Gold Circle of Quality from ExceleRate Illinois, a Strong Creative Schools Certification, and Silver Level Healthier School.

Each year, our Community Schools hold a 5K fun run at the Southwest Side’s Marquette Park to raise money. This year’s race will be on June 3. To register or find out more, go to

But just five years ago, Tonti was on academic probation. It had the lowest ranking under Chicago Public Schools’ CPS School Quality Rating Policy and needed “intensive intervention.” As part of his plan to turn Tonti around, new Principal Gerardo Arriaga joined the Community Schools Initiative, an evidence-based program in which schools partner with nonprofits to transform the school into a community hub where students and families can meet the full range of their needs. Metropolitan Family Services, which has been at the forefront of the Community Schools movement since it began in Chicago in 1996, was selected to lead Tonti’s program.

“I know the importance of involving parents and the importance of connecting home to the school,” Arriaga told the Institute for Educational Leadership. “It’s something I believe in.”

The academic component of Community Schools complements and builds upon the learning that happens in the classroom, with the teachers themselves often providing the instruction. Resource coordinator Yomara Lazaro Mata interfaces with school staff, parents and students to determine what the Tonti community needs. A student council with representatives from each 4th and 5th grade class also contributes.

Social-emotional learning is built into many of the programs — for example, Girls on the Run meetings open with the students checking in with their emotions and a life-skills discussion. Individual counseling is provided throughout the school year, and continues during a four-week summer program for Tonti students who need academic intervention, rounded out with field trips and recreation. Principal Arriaga credits Community Schools programs’ emphasis on social-emotional skills with dramatically decreasing the school’s discipline problems — last year Tonti had only 0.1 suspensions per 100 students, while the CPS average was 8.1.


of students

said the program helped them do better in school


of students

learned ways of taking care of themselves when they are upset


of parents

said their children were more interested and learned things that helped them do better in school


of parents

would recommend the program to other parents

Annually, Metropolitan Family Services reaches more than 7,130 children agency-wide through 24 afterschool programs in communities throughout Chicago. More than 70% of the funding for these programs ($2,431,419) comes from 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) funds. The remainder comes from private fundraising, in-kind donations, an annual 5K fun run, and other sources. Federal funding is the linchpin allowing this work; Tonti and other Community Schools would not be able to provide the extensive programming and services without 21st CCLC funding.

On Friday, March 31, 2017, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin visited Tonti, calling for a reversal of the elimination of 21st CCLC funding in the proposed federal budget.

“If we want to get serious about keeping our communities safe, we have to protect critical federal investments in our children like after-school programs,” Durbin said during his visit. He noted that the program is critical to not only academic achievement by children in underserved communities, but also to help young kids stay safe during after-school hours when juvenile crime peaks. “These federal resources are helping students find their chance for success.”