Thousands of CPS high school students were actively involved in the process of democracy over the past two months as Chicago elected a new mayor and saw dozens of competive aldermanic races take place. As important as the political outcome was in the short term for the city, it is of critical importance for the work of democracy that our young people continue to be actively engaged in the process of elections.
CPS students culminated their work on the elections by serving as Student Election Judges throughout the city on election day, February 22. According to Brian Brady, Executive Director of Mikva Challenge, the ability of the city to call the election so early was a testament to the work of the students who did their work efficiently and effectively. More than 1,600 CPS high school students spent the day from 6:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. staffing polling places in precincts throughout the city. At my own polling place, students from Amundsen and Rickover Naval Academy were on hand to greet voters and process their ballots. All told, CPS students delivered more than 21,000 hours of civic service to the city through their work.
Though much of the work happened on election day, students were active in the months and weeks leading up to the election as well. Several student groups held mock elections at their schools. At Steinmetz Academy, for example, 24 classrooms came to the library to vote in a mock election hosted by AVID students. Students also worked on election campaigns going door to door, phone banking, entering data. Their work was facilitated and supported by caring teachers or organizations like Mikva Challenge.
Students also attended mayoral forums where the candidates shared their view with voters. The Oriental Theatre hosted a major forum on February 17 sponosored by the League of Women Voters of Illinois. Dozens of CPS students attended and were enthralled by the proceedings.
In many schools across the city, students also created voter education materials to help neighborhood residents understand the issues and the candidates more clearly.
Though the city experienced a lower than expected voter turnout, our schools delivered a great turnout of high school students who will shape our democracy in years to come.