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Urban Schools Initiative

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

In 2006, the Science Olympiad Executive Board determined that increasing minority participation was a program priority, and the first Urban Schools Initiative launched in Chicago. Now, a dozen states utilize the model. Regional and State Science Olympiad chapters can seek grants from local businesses and foundations, and for about $1,000 per team, schools with underserved populations can experience hands-on STEM competition, career prep and standards-aligned teacher training.   

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For more information on starting a Science Olympiad Urban Schools Initiative contact Jenny Kopach at 

Chicago Public Schools Science Olympiad Urban Schools Initiative: A Three-Year Start-Up

Year One: 2007-2008

With a grant from the Abbott Fund, the Urban Schools Initiative supported six Chicago Public Schools, providing each team with membership, materials and extensive training workshops for each of the school coaches. The teams then competed in a small, 12-event CPS-only 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. The state organization, Illinois Science Olympiad, provided professional development leadership, training, and used its contacts to form a strong network of partners.

Year Two: 2008-2009

As the Urban Schools Initiative took flight in Chicago, it aligned with a citywide STEM outreach program sponsored by The MacArthur Foundation, Science Chicago, which funded team memberships, materials and workshop fees for 17 Chicago Public Schools. The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation provided online mentor matching, allowing industry professionals to share their expertise with CPS students and teachers. Wright College of the City Colleges of Chicago hosted the Regional Competition in April 2009, and The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provided a VIP recruiting tour for the top two middle and high school teams from each division before they competed at the Illinois 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.

Year Three: 2009-2010

In the third year, 22 schools in grades 6-12 signed on. The high school teams prepared for a full roster of 23 events, and the middle school teams stepped up to 18 events. Science Olympiad added a student-centered professional development called a Build It Learn It Day where scientists from the Field Museum, Cook County Department of Public Health, US Forest Service, Solar Electric Vehicle Company, Texas Instruments and the Chemistry REACT program led 250 students through interactive stations designed to help them prepare for regional competition. Teachers were treated to five intensive training workshops and received full sets of all Science Olympiad materials. After the Regional Tournament at Wright College, teams traveled to the State Tournament where they medaled in more than 10 events! Now, Science Olympiad is an established program within CPS, 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.

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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, enhanced classroom learning and built enthusiasm for STEM Education. Visit for a full report.