For more than a decade, CME Group Foundation has worked to improve computer science and math education in the Chicago area. But it's safe to say that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the group's charitable efforts have been needed more than ever.
"Being a principal of a school or a teacher in 2020 has got to be one the hardest jobs out there," said Kassie Davis, who has served as executive director of CME Group Foundation since its creation in 2008. "But the educational aspect is only the beginning. To try and support these students through the emotional challenges of isolation, family sickness, food insecurity -- it's going to take a lot to help them get through this pandemic."
That's why in addition to scheduled donations of about $5.7 million to assist educational efforts primarily in low-income communities in Chicago, the foundation added an additional $300,000 in early 2020 to address this urgent crisis for students. This includes special COVID-19 response grants to food banks, social services and technology solutions providers.
Davis said that given CME's world-class technology and systems, the foundation has long focused on computer science education for under-served students. Since 2014, the foundation has been the biggest private funder of the Computer Science for All initiative in Chicago public schools. However, she admits that the pandemic laid bare the economic realities affecting many families that add significant challenges on top of practical concerns about remote learning.
"About 85% of students are on free or reduced price meal plans based on family income. And when parents have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic and shutdowns, that makes the situation even more difficult," Davis said. "Remote learning is certainly a challenge, but we realized right away that if kids have no way to meet you online or they're wondering where their next meal will come from, that is the most urgent need to address."
Beyond this short-term response, Davis said, the foundation has been aggressively reshaping its outreach to include digital efforts. For instance, the foundation supported the City of Chicago’s existing summer youth jobs program and made it all digital to 19,000 total young people.
These 2020 efforts are on top of the organization's long-term focus on "cradle to career" educational efforts, which include everything from early childhood math programs to partnerships with 10 local universities to provide 25 scholarships of up to $20,000 per person to low-income students in fields that include finance, computer science, information technology, data science and cyber-security.
Davis said that CME's reliance on data and technology in derivatives markets has long defined where its namesake foundation has focused its efforts in pursuit of the greatest good for Chicago-area students. Math and computer science education are long-term efforts that require a comprehensive approach in low-income communities.
"We contributed additional money for the immediate needs, but everyone here is also thinking about the mid-term and long-term needs," she said. "Regardless of what happens in 2020 and when kids return to some kind of normal school day, CME Group Foundation is committed to ensuring our most vulnerable young students continue to grow and develop, right up until they graduate."