For over three decades, Val Pientka had an up-close view of the world of education as an art teacher in Barrington. These days, she is a transformation officer at Neal Math & Science Academy (NMSA) in North Chicago, where she oversees the allocation of school improvement grant funds. Now, Pientka gets a firsthand view of what’s happening in a school trying to move forward despite a serious lack of resources that impacting schools in the community.

Pientka says that given the state’s system of funding education, it’s no accident that school districts in low-income communities lag far behind their wealthier counterparts.

“NCCP provides kids with experiences that can lead them to post-secondary success,” says Pientka. “Their programs provide critical support for kids – whether we’re talking about the lunchtime Quiet Zone, after school programming, Saturday enrichment, and more.” Pientka also points to NCCP’s success in supporting teachers and families through various events such as Parents 4 Student Success (P4SS). NCCP hosts P4SS three times a year, and in addition to engaging NMSA staff and teachers, sees over 400 students and families at each event.

Why do these programs make a difference in Neal and other North Chicago schools? “Look at what kids face in this community,” says Pientka. “81 percent of the people in North Chicago are low-income. When kids are hungry, they bring that hunger to school. When families struggle financially, kids bring that to school as well. These are things that schools have to deal with, but because of the inequity in funding, schools in property-poor communities have far fewer resources to work with.”

“No one talks about how hard it is for financially struggling families and what that translates into for a kid,” she says. “That is why community partners like NCCP become even more important; they help ll social, emotional and academic needs. NCCP understands that these kids can succeed – they just need a level playing field.”