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Urban Schools Initiative

Students from the Chicago Public Schools participated in the first-ever Urban Schools Initiative supported Science Olympiad Regional Tournament in April 2008.

In 2006, the Science Olympiad Executive Board determined that increasing minority participation in Science Olympiad was the number one goal of the organization. With a grant from the Abbott Fund, the Urban Schools Initiative supported six Chicago Public High Schools in 2007, providing each team with membership, materials and extensive training workshops for each of the school coaches. Near the end of the school year, the six teams competed against each other in a small, 12-event Science Olympiad Regional Competition, allowing them to advance to the state tournament from a level playing field. This protected environment gave the teams the confidence to explore Science Olympiad events for the first time and empowered them to plan for the next year of competition.  

Chicago Public Schools Science Olympiad Urban Schools Initiative

With a tremendously successful year under our belts, we set out to expand the Urban Schools Initiative in our pilot city of Chicago, and gained new partners along the way. In 2008, Science Chicago funded the team memberships, materials and workshop fees for 17 Chicago Public Schools. The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation provided a mentor matching program, allowing business members from the community to lend their expertise to CPS students and teachers throughout the year. Wright College again hosted the Regional Competition in April 2009, and The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rolled out the red carpet for the top two middle and high school teams from each division, providing a two-day, expenses-paid trip from Chicago downstate for a VIP recruiting tour and berths at the Science Olympiad State Tournament.

Two Science Olympiad team members from Coles Elementary School in Chicago demonstrated their Tower and Battery Buggy on the ABC7 News in conjunction with the 2011 Build It Learn It Day.

In the third year of the Urban Schools Initiative for CPS, 22 schools in grades 6-12 signed on to participate in the Science Olympiad program. The high school teams prepared for a full roster of 23 events, and the middle school teams stepped up to 18 events. In February, we hosted the second Build It Learn It Day at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the West Loop, where scientists from the Field Museum, the Cook County Department of Public Health, the US Forest Service, the Solar Electric Vehicle Company, Texas Instruments and the University of Illinois' Chemistry REACT program shepherded 200+ students through interactive stations designed to help them get ready for regional competition. With funding support from the Centers for Disease Control, Texas Instruments and The College Board's Young Epidemiology Scholars (YES) Competition, teachers were again treated to five intensive training workshops and received full sets of all Science Olympiad materials. After the Regional Tournament at Wright College in Chicago, three high school and two middle school teams traveled to the State Tournament as VIP guests of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where they found success and brought home medals in more than 10 events. Now, in 2014, Science Olympiad has become an established program within the Chicago Public Schools structure, with more than 30 teams and nearly 1,000 students competing annually.

FOX Chicago Evening News coverage of the Science Olympiad Build It Learn It Day, January 28, 2011.

Click here to read the 2008-2009 Evaluation Report completed by the University of Illinois' ISTEM Department (PDF)

Chicago Sun-Times Article about Crane Tech High School science teacher and Science Olympiad coach, Cody Thompson (PDF)

Now, Hawaii, California, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota and Florida are utilizing the Science Olympiad Urban Schools Initiative model to bring more teams from the inner city to the program. Regional and state Science Olympiad organizations have applied to local businesses and foundations to seek grants, and for about $1,000 per team, schools with minority or high-need enrollment can experience the joys of academic competition, while coaches receive in-depth training that will assist them in and out of the classroom.  

For more information on how to use the Science Olympiad Urban Schools Initiative model in your area, email or call Jenny Kopach at (630) 792-1251.

About Science Chicago

More than 100 public and private institutions came together in 2008-2009 to present Science Chicago, the world's largest science celebration. Designed to awaken the inner scientist in each and every person, thousands of dynamic and interactive activities provided hands-on learning; spurred thoughtful debate; enhanced classroom learning; and built enthusiasm for the pursuit of cutting-edge science while establishing the critical value of science and math education. For more information, visit