The old green thesaurus on Adriana Ortiz’s desk predates the Internet age, but she just can’t bring herself to part with it. “To this day, I use it instead of the one on my computer,” said Ms. Ortiz, a fifth-grade teacher at Gerald Delgado Kanoon Magnet Elementary School. “There is nothing like flipping through this book, looking for just the right word.”
Ms. Ortiz received the thesaurus as a gift from a Sidley lawyer when she herself was a student at Kanoon. Sidley’s relationship with Kanoon began in 1984 when the firm “adopted” the school, which serves preschool to eighth-grade students, at the urging of former Sidley chairman Newt Minow and Kanoon’s then-principal, Belkis Santos. The corporate partnership, now in its 32nd year, is the longest-running for any Chicago Public School.
Throughout the years, many Sidley lawyers and staff have contributed time, energy and resources to assist with improving the educational opportunities afforded to Kanoon students. Sidley’s Kanoon organizing committee, led by Chicago partners John Levi and Michele Ilene Ruiz, meets regularly with school administrators and works with the school to develop a tailored annual budget for activities without other adequate funding sources.
Sidley regularly supports Kanoon through numerous events and programs, including: the Thanksgiving Food Drive, Principal For a Day, Lawyers in the Classroom, Winter Coat and Clothing Drive, Book Drives, Read-Aloud Days, Fifth-Grade Email Book Chat, Mock Trial, Folkloric Dance Troupe Sponsorship, Suzuki Violin Instruction Sponsorship, Eighth-Grade Student Visit and Back-to-School Supplies Drive.
For Ms. Ortiz and her brothers, who also attended Kanoon, the visits and mentoring from Sidley volunteers were a constant source of learning and excitement during elementary school. Her brother Everardo participated in the “Friendship Tour,” a 1988 school trip to the then-USSR that Sidley helped fund, and her brother Alex still has the white linen pocket square that a Sidley lawyer gave to him when he participated in the mock trial exercise in sixth grade.
Ms. Ortiz remarked that the annual Sidley-Kanoon book chat, which she helps organize, has become the highlight of the year for her fifth graders. Last year, students and Sidley volunteers read “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl and exchanged questions and answers about the book via email. The program culminates with the Sidley volunteers meeting their student pen-pals in person at Kanoon.
“There is so much excitement surrounding the program, because the students have heard about it from their siblings, cousins and friends,” said Ms. Ortiz. “I dare say that the program is part of the reason our fifth-grade literacy scores dramatically increase at the end of the year,” she said.
Now in her 17th year as a teacher, Ms. Ortiz is in the process of obtaining her principal’s license at Chicago’s DePaul University. She was inspired in part, she said, by the enduring impact of the partnership, which she has experienced from both perspectives, as a student and an educator.
“In my classes at DePaul, I often talk about the Sidley-Kanoon partnership in the context of what I am learning,” she said. “The book chats opened my eyes to the importance of cultivating relationships outside of school walls in order to benefit students and impact their learning.”
In the photos above: (Left) Kanoon students pose in front of the Kremlin on the 1988 “Friendship Tour” in the USSR. Everardo Ortiz is in the front row, third from left, wearing a striped shirt. (Right) Ms. Ortiz with Mr. Minow at his 90th birthday celebration, held at Kanoon.