Media Contact:
Sharon N. Hughes
Marketing & Communications Manager, CICS

Chicago school rallies around kindergarten student battling cancer

CICS Irving Park students raise $6,300 for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society


CHICAGO – Students at a local campus of Chicago International Charter School (CICS) have rallied around a kindergarten student who is battling cancer, including record-breaking fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Sophia Bahena, who will turn six on May 12, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (“ALL”) in January 2013, while she was a pre-school student at the Grover Cleveland Elementary School. She missed the second half of the school year to undergo a variety of treatments, including chemotherapy and several surgeries.

Sophia began this school year as a kindergarten student at CICS Irving Park. Shortly after the school year began, she had to leave school once again for several months to resume intensive treatment. Sophia returned to school after winter break but continues to undergo treatments, including spinal taps and other painful procedures on a regular basis.

In a show of support for Sophia, the CICS Irving Park community participated in “Pasta for Pennies,” a fundraising campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) sponsored by Olive Garden. Over a period of three weeks, students raised money by emptying their own piggy banks and collecting spare change. Each week, the top fundraising classrooms were awarded prizes, such as a “Pop Into Reading” party and a pajama party. Sophia’s former school also participated in the campaign. The fundraising effort was coordinated by the school’s office manager, Jessica Stelzer.

Sophia’s kindergarten class raised the most money overall, earning them the grand prize of a pasta party from Olive Garden. In total, the group raised $6,298.18, the highest amount raised in Chicago since the LLS launched the program ten years ago. 

The school also educated students and adults alike about the disease, including community meetings led by LLS staff about blood cancers and the search for a cure.

“We are truly grateful for our CICS Irving Park family,” said Sophia’s parents, Andres and Blanca Bahena. “Not only did our school raise money for a great cause but also demonstrated their Puma Pride by raising awareness about blood cancers.”

During April break, Sophia and her family visited theme parks in Orlando, FL, sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

# # #


CICS Irving Park is a public charter school serving more than 500 students in kindergarten through grade 8. The school is part of the Chicago International Charter School network and is operated by Distinctive Schools.



The mission of CICS is to provide, through innovation and choice, an attractive and rigorous college-preparatory education that meets the needs of today’s students. CICS was founded on the belief that every child has the right to a high quality education and currently operates a network of 16 campuses serving approximately 9,000 K-12 students across the cities of Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.