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Hundreds of students gather for Chicago City of Learning's 'Back to School Jam'

Innovative education initiative finds new home at Northwestern University

Chicago City of Learning

CHICAGO --- Hundreds of youth and families will gather at Jones College Prep High School on Saturday, Sept. 23, for an event that encourages students to explore new interests and find pathways leading toward college and careers.

The Back to School Jam, part of Chicago City of Learning (CCOL) and Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) “Create Your Path” program, is a celebration of summer learning and a preview of the kinds of programs available to youth in the fall. It will be held from noon to 4p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23, at Jones College Prep High School, 700 S. State St., Chicago.

More than 20 CCOL partners, including NASA Glenn Research Center, Argonne National Laboratory and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, will provide youth with hands-on activities and will feature the work youth did with them this past summer. 

CCOL, an initiative of the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is powered by the Digital Youth Network (DYN), which was founded by Northwestern professor Nichole Pinkard.

Nichole Pinkard
Nichole Pinkard joined Northwestern's SESP faculty this fall.

“The past four years have been an exciting journey with the mayor’s office and city and community organizations to make visible the out-of-school learning opportunities to students and families of Chicago,” said Pinkard, who joined Northwestern’s faculty this fall as an associate professor of learning sciences at the University’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP). “We are excited to strengthen the CCOL partnership by bringing the wealth of Northwestern and SESP’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships resources to this work.”

CCOL aims to eliminate false barriers between in- and out-of-classroom learning by helping youth connect with interest-based learning opportunities across the city. CCOL’s platform,, enables youth and caring adults to explore Chicago’s vast array of cultural, technological and intellectual resources, facilitating the discovery of new interests, pursuit of passions and documentation of experiences. More than 100 institutions including museums, city agencies and community organizations form the foundation for a robust, informal learning ecosystem.

“Chicago City of Learning helps connect youth to the diverse opportunities that our youth-serving organizations offer, and the Back to School Jam provides kids and families with a taste of that diversity,” said Sybil Madison-Boyd, CCOL director and research associate at SESP.

Pinkard, who was one of the first graduates of SESP’s learning sciences Ph.D. program in 1998, founded DYN in 2006 at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute. She then took the program to DePaul University before joining Northwestern’s faculty this fall. She will continue to develop DYN and CCOL programming with support from SESP’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP).

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Pinkard as part of SESP and as our new director at OSEP,” said OSEP associate director Amy Pratt. “Her work exemplifies how bridging scholarship, partnerships and practice can help to improve learning in our communities and further University and community engagement. This is a priority for SESP and Northwestern, and we are excited to support her work, especially Chicago City of Learning.”

OSEP designs research-based STEM education programs and partnerships to facilitate learning and professional development experiences for K-12 students and educators. Read about other education partnerships on the OSEP website.

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