Sunday, June 24, 2012

Morgan Park Students Enjoy Huge Opportunity in Springfield

The following contribution was submitted by Dorianne Thomas, a student at Morgan Park High School.  Dorianne describes her very eventful trip to Springfield to meet with state legislators to share student ideas and concerns.

I absolutely enjoyed Springfield, and I'm not just saying that.  I got a huge opportunity that doesn't come too often in life.  I think that young voices were heard on the trip, and I hope that it made a difference in some of our State Reps' lives.  Who gets to meet some of their State Representatives during their freshman year of high school?

The trip started at 5:30 a.m.  Even though it was a little early for most of us, we still had a little buzz that kind of traveled around the teacher's parking lot as we waited for our bus to come pick us up and get the show on the road.  We finally got to Springfield, IL about 10:30 am. and everyone was dressed in their casual attire and ready to have discussions with State Senator Emil Jones III, who is actually a graduate of Morgan Park High School, in the State Capitol Building.  I think he was definitely on the same page as us as far as our thoughts were on immigration, environmental and educational issues.

What was really the ice breaker of the day was meeting State Representative Monique Davis.  She was kind and very encouraging when it came to answering questions.  She was really concerned about our life plans.  She asked about our goals and future careers that we were thinking about.  I think it really showed that she is very interested in our futures.  .  She was very open with us about her thoughts about the CPS Board of Education and what her expectations and ideas were on improving the education in Chicago Public Schools, so we can do just as well as the charter schools in the Chicago area.  She was on board with uniforms but not on board with longer school days, which got everyone's attention and was probably the best discussion to conclude our visit.

When we got back on the bus, the only chatter heard for the most part was about the answers heard from the state Reps and commenting on certain questions asked.  It turned out to be a great trip that I would love to do again.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Whitney Young Science Teacher Engages Students Through Biology

Todd Katz is a science teacher at Whitney Young Magnet High School.  Recently he sent me this report on the work he and his students are doing through service-learning.  It's a lengthy report but indicative of the amazing work students are doing through excellent adult facilitation and guidance.

Biology in my class is very different from biology in most other classes across the country. My teaching philosophy is to create leaders of our communities rather than followers, yes-men, or test takers. As a result of how I teach, students of my class leave empowered, proud, confident, and aware of their own social and ethical responsibility to themselves, their family, community, and their environment from a scientific standpoint. In addition, they conclude their freshman year with a sense that they are capable of doing anything they put their minds to.

This February marked the beginning of the second year of the Mycelia Project. The project's purpose is to allow students to identify ways in which they can either individually, or as a small group, make positive impacts on their community and environment by creating a more symbiotic relationship between the two. The guidance provided by me is minimal as to not stifle the student's own creativity or limit what they can or cannot accomplish.

The objective of the project was to include as many of the ten Mycelia pillars in their 15-week long project as possible. These pillars include ecology, food, water, energy, health, sustainability, waste, gardening, community, and education. The more pillars utilized within their project, the higher the maximum point value they could receive. For instance, completing six pillars could earn them a score of a B, but doing seven could earn them a higher score of a B+.  After 2,227.5 hours of work, here is what 99 freshman biology students were able to achieve.

To initiate their project ideas, they wrote and received $3,748 from Friends of Whitney Young Grants and Whole Kids Grants sponsored by Whole Foods. Additionally, they applied to other grants including Friends for Change and America's Global Youth Service. At the same time they raised $2,508 on their own through the sales of reusable tote bags and coupon books. As a result, they chose to donate $1,990 to local community non-for profits focusing on improving the environment.

Students worked to reduce our schools carbon emissions through ACE Biggest Loser: Energy Use contest in which ten classrooms outside of the science department worked to reduce energy consumption. Sunday June 17th, students will be participating in Climate Cycle; a 20 mile bicycle ride which will not only improve their health, but will also make Whitney Young eligible to receive a grant for 5 KW of solar panels for the school. Please support us at Whitney Young

Whitney Young (WY) students realized that they could work smarter by recruiting outside help. In fact, they recruited an additional 446 students from WY and another 671 students from 67 other schools to help in their community outreach endeavors, which spanned 61 of Chicago's neighborhoods.

Recognizing the struggles of individuals within our city, students helped our homeless and malnourished children. In total, students assisted 1367 homeless and cooked 170 meals from scratch and served another 554 meals for them. In addition, over 70 malnourished children will not go hungry for a year because of our students work with Feed My Hungry Children.

Students then put themselves to work doing 900 hours of real, hard-working, community service learning. This includes cleaning up 17 beaches, ten parks, four forest preserves, removing 978 invasive buckthorn trees, 846 honeysuckle vines, and nine trash bags full of garlic mustard. They collected litter from 13 communities including 1080 gallons of aluminum cans, and 37 bags of trash. Forty bags of clothes were picked up from a local neighborhood and donated to the Salvation Army. Older clothes not suitable for donation and destined for the waste stream were repurposed into 170 "rag bags" or cloth bags and donated to individuals at one of the four fashion shows. These shows exhibited ten dresses made by our students using up-cycled materials like candy wrappers, balloons, newspaper, seat belts, plastic bags, and other material typically discarded after a onetime use. In total, students up-cycled 398 items that otherwise would have become trash.

Students started, encouraged, and enhanced our schools recycling program as well as the program of two other schools. They started up ecology clubs at elementary schools that now meet on a regular basis. Additionally, they educated others about our schools greenhouse and its function. They created an amazing hydroponics system using zero energy to water plants year round and return excess water to be reused again. Whitney Young students also planted 1073 sq. ft. of gardens, built 743 sq. ft. of raised garden beds, eight vertical gardens for five schools, 34 mini-aquaponic systems, and 12 window gardens.

Some students took it upon themselves to actually grow their own gardens for other uses. Four young entrepreneurs established working relationships with The Publican restaurant by growing and selling organic microgreens and baby greens to them. Additionally they started their own backyard urban farm to provide fresh produce to community members within a food desert. Students also have learned the business and logistical side of growing, cultivating, and shipping of mint, rosemary, and chili peppers to John and Kira's Chocolates in Philadelphia.

According to feedback from my students, the single most disturbing comment heard from community members was a lack of awareness of the issues that surround our environment. So our students spoke up.  Students felt that the best way to continue to improve the quality of the environment around them was to educate others. As a result they taught at 67 schools, integrated technology to educate through the creation of 143 blog posts, 16 websites, a 25 minute documentary, an online magazine with ten articles on environmental issues, and a 60 page healthy cook book with 60 recipes geared towards high school students to make the foods for their friends and families. They also met with members of their community and state government including aldermen of three different wards and Congresswoman Sterns to get new laws in place to regularly educate our states architects about utilizing more green building practices in their designs.

Students also looked creatively to their online gaming community as an avenue to educate others. This was done through creating an educational map for interactive use on a gaming platform called Minecraft with over 100 downloads.

In total, students in the Mycelia Project spoke with 580 adults about their project and worked with 113 teachers from 63 schools throughout the city to teach 3255 children and young adults about ways in which they have made a positive impact on their community and environment.

I am very proud of the work my students have accomplished and the leadership they have demonstrated in completing this project. I believe these students can walk proud knowing that what they chose to accomplish in these past 15 weeks is far more than most kids and adults do in a year. But more importantly, they did it under their own leadership and responsibility.

A big thank you to Friends of Whitney Young for their financial help in supporting these students. And to Brew and Grow for their continued help and support teaching my kids and supplying us with our aquaponic needs. Lastly, congratulations to this freshman class for a great job helping the environment in our city!

Summer Bridge Students Experience Service-Learning

In addition to instruction in Math and Literacy, CPS Summer Bridge students will experience service-learning this summer. Following a pilot run last summer with a subset of students, the Service-Learning Initiative was asked to develop service-learning curriculum that would engage students in real-world projects to benefit students and their communities. 

In partnership with Mikva Challenge, Peace Jam, Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, and the Coalition to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC), the Service-Learning Initiative developed resources to engage 15,000 students in hands-on classroom activities and projects.  This summer, third grade students will explore peace-making with a particular focus on Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (several of whom visited Chicago in April), in order to create peace-making strategies in their classrooms and schools and identify peace-makers in their neighborhoods for community peace prizes.  These peace-makers will be honored at the conclusion of Summer Bridge during a ceremony. 

6th grade students will investigate the many aspects of food including the food web, nutrition and health, equity of distribution, over-exuberant marketing, costs and budgeting, and choices related to food.  The unit's essential question, why do people eat what they eat? encourages students to examine the economics, culture, traditions, distribution, and geography of food choices. Working together, 6th graders will create a cookbook of healthy food choices that includes familial cultural stories of food.  Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his wife Amy Rule have agreed to submit their own favorite recipe and story to the project.

8th graders will begin their service-learning work by examining the issues that matter to themselves and their own communities.  From this starting point students will make connections to political candidates for office in the 2012 general election then create a voter education guide that lets voters understand where the candidates stand on issues important to the community.  

Students in 10 schools on the south side will have the unique opportunity, utilizing the Action Based Community curriculum of Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, to identify a local issue then develop a plan of action to address that problem and present their action plan to professionals at a federal court house venue. 

Summer service-learning opportunities for students tie in neatly with Literacy curriculum which focuses on the civil rights era in the United States.  The Literacy curriculum serves as an ideal set-up for student action.

It is an exciting proposition for CPS to engage students who have been asked to attend summer school to gain promotion to the next grade in projects that have real-life implications.  Students will be gaining real-life 21st century skills as they work together to solve some of society's most pressing problems. 

Teachers and College Mentors Prepare for Summer of Service and Leadership

Teachers from 15 CPS high schools along with college mentors from universities across the country gathered for two days of professional development on June 1-2 in preparation for the 5th Summer of Service and Leadership (SOSL) program.  Beginning with a day of community building and experiential problem-solving experiences at Irons Oaks Outdoor Adventure Center, teachers and college mentors enjoyed a day of activities designed to build teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. 

Originally funded through a federal grant in 2008, the Summer of Service and Leadership has grown each year to serve rising 9th graders as they prepare for high school.  Summer of Service and Leadership encourages students to learn about and be active in their communities, to develop leadership skills, to examine pressing social issues, to become oriented to their new school, and to begin to think about college opportunities.

Excellent CPS teachers and motivated college mentors work together to facilitate a dynamic curriculum where students are rarely in their seats working independently.  Through a wide range of hands-on and experience-based learning opportunities, students work together to learn about, understand, and solve problems.  During the summer of 2012 students will be asked to engage the issues of aging, food distribution, and the environment.

Through a first-time collaboration with the CPS Office of STEM, students will also have an opportunity to learn and apply science and math skills to environmental problems.  During the fourth week of the program, students will visit local colleges in order to begin the process of college preparation.

Reports from teachers over the years indicate that SOSL students are most likely to continue to serve, lead, and participate more actively in the life of the school than other students in the building.  Indeed, several groups have continued to work together over the course of the school year and have emerged as real school leaders. 

Summer of Service and Leadership is coming to a high school near you beginning on Monday, June 25 and continues through Friday, July 20 with a culminating event at the UIC Forum.

Global Citizenship Initiative Launches in Chicago

Thirty teachers from 15 high schools came together to launch the Global Citizenship Initiative (GCI) on May 18-19, a project designed to building the civic mission of schools in Chicago. With funding support from the McCormick Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and Macarthur Foundation, high schools will work together for the next three years to strengthen civic skills and participation among students.  This work recalls the founding principles of public education in the United States - to prepare young people for the important participatory work of democracy.

Each GCI school will work in three areas during the first pilot year:  1) Strengthen service-learning and civic action; 2) Implement a year-long course in civics and financial literacy; and 3) Facilitate student leadership and governance work in their schools. 

Each of these strategies has been identified by the civic education community in the United States as an effective proven practice of civic education.  By re-focusing on building civic skills, the aim of the initiative is to reverse the decades long decline in civic participation in the country.  Unfortunately more and more people are retreating from public life into private spheres to the detriment of a healthy and functioning democracy.  As Alexis DeTocqueville admired the skills of Americans to associate and thereby bring more equity to public life in the mid-19th century, Professor Robert Putnam acknowledged more recently that Americans are more often "bowling alone", a sign of retreat into the private.  The more we tend exclusively to our private lives, the more government and corporations make decisions for us that adversely impact our communities.

GCI teachers will continue to gather for professional development in civic practices over the course of the year highlighted by a week-long civics boot camp at the end of July designed to prepare teachers to facilitate a very hands-on, project-based civics course beginning in the fall.  Together with teachers, civic partners, and universities, GCI is charting a new course for civic education in Chicago. 

Evergreen Middle School Opens New School and Community Garden

It all started as 6th and 7th graders at Evergreen Middle School conducted a carbon audit at their building as part of a service-learning project.  Students attempted to measure how much carbon their school emitted into the environment on an annual basis.  As students looked at the data, they began to brainstorm ideas to lessen their carbon footprint. 

Three years later, Evergreen opened an amazing new garden, which replaces an asphalt parking lot.  The new garden serves as a carbon sink, home to native grasses and flowers, as welll as vegetables and fruits, and a creates a learning, reflection, relaxation and play space for students and community members.  What began as a question – what can we do to lessen our impact on the environment?  – resulted in a $315,000 investment in a new community space that adds value to the neighborhood and creates a space that is simply much better for students than an asphalt parking lot. 

Student speakers at the event recounted how they have become environmental activists through the project, have gone on to participate in and lead environmental efforts at their new schools, and have made a real impact on their world.  One student leader stated:  “You don’t often get to work on a project at school where you can leave a positive impact on the world.” 

Led by two extraordinary teachers, Ron Hall and Michael Youngberg, at Evergreen and supported by countless other students, teachers and community partners and artists, the garden will stand for ages and provide students with countless opportunities to engage their new world in new and life-giving ways.

For a brief news story on this project, go to

Friday, May 25, 2012

CIMBY Completes 12th Year at Science Summit

Calumet Is My Back Yard, the longest-running service-learning project in the nation, completed its 12th successful year with a Science Summit at the Field Museum on Friday, May 25, 2012.  More than 200 students and teachers attend the culminating summit that featured behind-the-scenes scientific tours, student presentations of their stewardship over the year, and visits to stunning museum exhibits. 

During the 2011-12 academic year, more than 800 students participated in 40+ stewardship days at natural areas throughout the Lake Calumet region on the city's south side.  Fifteen high schools engaged classrooms in hands-on science activities enabling students to learning about ecosystems, biodiversity, and the threats that non-native invasive species pose to our ecology. 

This year student groups were asked to present their stewardship work over the course of the year.  Students created presentation boards, videos, slide shows, games, and field guides of the plants and animals at their adopted ecosystem.  Students did a great job building and presenting their materials.

As one student said at the end of the day:  CIMBY is a great opportunity and it can change your life.  The goal of CIMBY is to raise the next generation of environmental leaders and activists.  CIMBY students are lucky enough to move beyond the textbook into our natural areas to gain a deeper understanding of the threats to our environment and how they, together, can work toward solutions. 

Many, many thanks to the amazing teachers and CIMBY staff who gave countless hours to helping make these exciting opportunities available.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

CPS Recognizes Service-Learning Coaches

Isaac Castelaz from Chicago Academy receives
SL Administator of the Year Award
100 CPS teachers, SL Coaches, students, parents, and community partners gathered at The Phoenix Restaurant on Wednesday, May 23, to celebrate a year of amazing accomplishments and to recognize the staggeringly good work of the District's Service-Learning Coaches.  Our Service-Learning Coaches put in countless hours doing wonderful work connecting students, teachers, and curriculum to opportunities to contribute to the greater good in their communities.  The results can be stunning as students recognize, many for the first time, that they can be world changers. 

In addition to recognizing the work of our excellent SL Coaches, awards were also given to outstanding leaders in service-learning:

SL Coach of the Year
Deborah Hawes, Morgan Park High School

Teachers of the Year
Adam Heenan, Curie
Eddie Marie Gonzalzes, Morgan Park
Jeschelyn Pilar, Hancock

Administrator of the Year
Isaac Castelaz, Chicago Academy High School

Students of the Year
Adonis Hill, Hope College Prep
Stephanie Navarette, Kelly High School
Kaylan Elder, Al Raby High School
Emmanuel Cherry, Hubbard High School
Tasanee Durrett, Morgan Park High School
Erika Castillo, Curie High School

Community Partner of the Year
Alliance for Climate Education (ACE)

Congratulations to this year's winners.  Their accomplishments are truly astonishing. But our thanks go to all of the nominees who were recognized for their contributions and to all coaches who have served so faithfully this year.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Belmont-Cragin Students Race Against Hunger

Students from Belmont-Cragin Elementary School partnered with Prosser High School for a Race Against Hunger on Friday afternoon, May 11.

With support from international hunger relief organization Action Against Hunger, the entire Belmont-Cragin faculty, administration, and student body learned about hunger around the world then went into action by participating in a race against hunger.  Students learned about hunger utilizing inter-disciplinary curriculum then planned and implemented their race. 

On a gorgeous Friday afternoon, Belmont-Cragin students rode the bus or, in the case of the middle school students, marched with banners from their school to Prosser's Hanson Park stadium where they were greeted and hosted by Prosser High School students.

After opening presentations by Principals Stewart and Hunter and Belmont-Cragin students, each grade level took to the track and ran at least one lap around the quarter-mile track.  Students sought pledges for their laps and students proudly shouted out the amounts they had raised...$3, $4.  The amounts were not important; the fact that students brought so much enthusiasm and energy to address the problem of world-wide hunger was important.

Action Against Hunger is establishing a strong presence in Chicago and enables students to connect academic learning in science, math, english, social science, physical education, the arts, and health to an important social issue, in this case hunger in Zimbabwe.  For more information about how your school can be involved, please contact

Thanks to Belmont-Cragin teachers and Principal Stewart for providing leadership for this amazing event.  Belmont-Cragin is one of 10 elementary schools currently participating in a District-wide initiative to connect the STEM disciplines to service-learning. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Eric Solorio HS Students "Cook" with Peers with Severe and Profound Disabilities

As students walk through the halls at Solorio, a cluster of students walk by and some might be in wheelchairs, others might be humming and making noises, but most are smiling. They are stared at, whispered about, and many have questions but do not know how to approach the four or so adults who are walking with them.

This was the typical scenario in the hallways of Solorio until the teachers in the SPH room start to invite teachers from the “regular” divisions on Fridays to “cook” with the students in the Severe and Profound cluster. Teachers were to prepare the students the week prior in a discussion on the different labels of disabilities. They were to write down any questions of behaviors that they might have witnessed in the halls, cafeteria or non content classes that they might share with the SPH kids.

During the assigned day, the division would come down and be exposed to the students, ask their questions, and be educated about the students with severe and profound disabilities. After that portion of the SLC class was complete, the “regular” students would be placed with one of the kids and help them cook. Helping them cook would include helping them identify the different ingredients by pointing or helping them hand over hand pick up the ingredients.

The menu the students have made included: pizza bagels, tostadas, smoothies, fruit salads, and quesadillas. The lesson for the “regular” students is to be exposed, understand, and be aware of what the different behaviors of the students represent.

The experience for the students in the SPH cluster is having “friends” come to the room and help them how to make something good to eat. The week after, division teachers speak with their students about the experience and what did they learn about the kids, their feelings about it, their easy or uneasiness with being with the students.

Various divisions loved the experience enough to inquire how to enhance awareness about disabilities. They have started their own project to come up with stations that mimic disabilities and the trial and tribulations that people with disabilities have to overcome. This will be offered for other divisions to attend during next school years Fridays SLC time.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

3000 Students Celebrate Chicago Youth Service Day

3000 CPS and DePaul University students celebrated Chicago Youth Service Day on Saturday, May 05, 2012, with a Peace Rally at Union Park on the city's West Side.  Students from across the city served in a variety of capacities during the morning then convened at Union Park for a massive rally.  Highlights from the Peace Rally included radio DeeJay FM Supreme, community activist Ameena Matthews from Cease Fire, and the a spoken word performance by TEAM Englewood students.  

Prior to the rally, students enjoyed an afternoon of activities including hip hop dancing, live graffiti art, face-painting, peace posters, and team building games.  More than a dozen community organizations also offered students the opportunity to extend their day of learning by continuing their volunteer or advocacy work.  

The message of the day was peace.  Joy McCormack, the mother of slain DePaul student Frankie Valencia, exhorted the students to take seriously their ability to create peace in their communities.  Ameena Matthews challenged the students to leave the celebration with a renewed commitment to become a peace maker. 

Two DePaul students and one Roosevelt High School student spoke of their semester-long efforts through the Community Peace Makers Initiative.  CPS students, with the support of DePaul graduate and undergraduate students, studied the problem of violence and attempted to understand the root causes of violence.  Each of the 20 groups created a peace project as a culminating to to their studies.  Roosevelt High School, for example, staged a highly successful peace march.  

Throughout the day students from 50 high schools and ten middle schools worked with seniors, did restoration work in forest preserves, completed renovation projects at community organizations, and worked at environmental sites throughout the city.  

The third annual Chicago Youth Service Day was a huge success.  

Unfortunately, political leaders and Chicago's media chose not to attend.  It is a sad fact that the efforts and spirit of young leaders in Chicago is not important enough to draw their attention. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Sophomores and Seniors Collaborate on Hancock High School’s First Peace Night

On Tuesday, March 27, students from the Senior Seminar and English II classes hosted a Peace Night at Hancock High School.  The night featured a free viewing of the documentary The Interrupters followed by conflict-resolution workshops. 

The documentary profiles the work of Ceasefire, a Chicago-based non-profit organization that aims to prevent street violence.  Students had an opportunity to reflect on the film during the workshops, which were facilitated by the Senior Seminar students.
Both the seniors and the sophomores spent several weeks preparing for the event.  The seniors attended a peace circle training in March and have been working with a DePaul University student all semester on building conflict-resolution skills.  Meanwhile, the English II students researched the different types of bullying and prepared presentations for each division about the risks of bullying and its consequences.  The night was a great success, and we hope it will become an annual event.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Morgan Park Students Take a Stand and March with Undocumented Students at Daley Center

As American citizens the privileges and rights we enjoy are often taken for granted. The real value of rights such as free speech and public education are not fully appreciated until you meet undocumented students who do not have those rights.

On April 10, 2012, approximately 30 Morgan Park students boarded a school bus and embarked on an activity that fostered sensitivity, compassion and a better understanding of the plight of undocumented students in America.  In conjunction with community partner – Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Morgan Park students learned about the situation of undocumented students and participated in an exchange with college students of various cultures who once were illegal immigrants.

The training focused on undocumented students through analyzing the personal stories of how they came to the U.S., the factors motivating their parents to bring their families here, and the constant state of fear each faced as a result of their illegal status. Their stories put a face on the value of the of the DREAM Act of Illinois.

The Dream Act signed by Governor Quinn on August 1, 2011, grants privileges to undocumented children of immigrants and allows them access to financial aid for postsecondary scholarships, college savings and prepaid tuition programs, previously unavailable to them, provided that specific guidelines are met and that said students graduated from Illinois high schools.

Following the training and student to student exchange, Morgan Park students held signs, listened to speeches and marched alongside other students in support of the Dream Act and proper documentation of illegal immigrants at Daley.  On May 8, 2012, Morgan Park students will join other students in Springfield with the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights to address issues with legislators pertaining to the Dream Act.  The Morgan Park group will also address the Leave No Child Inside Movement and Charter School Assessment.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mather Students Partner with NEIU on Empty Bowl Project

Mather students and teachers gathered at the Fine Arts Building at Northeastern Illinois University on Friday evening to participate in the Empty Bowls Project.

According to the Empty Bowls website ( "Empty Bowls is an international grassroots effort to fight hunger and was created by The Imagine Render Group. The basic premise is simple: Potters and...craftspeople, educators and others work with the community to create handcrafted bowls. Guests are invited to a simple meal of soup and bread. In exchange for a cash donation, guests are asked to keep a bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world. The money raised is donated to an organization working to end hunger and food insecurity.

It is the collective genius of all the people involved that has made Empty Bowls what it has become. Events have now taken place across the United States and in at least a dozen other countries. Many millions of dollars have been raised and donated to hunger-fighting organizations....."

Northeastern Illinois University made its pottery room available for Mather students and teachers to create the bowls. Students spent 5-6 hours at the university creating bowls for a community event to take place on May 04, 2012. At the Empty Bowls event, Mather staff, community members, students, and families, will gather to share a simple meal and learn more about food insecurity issues in the Chicago and around the country. All proceeds from the dinner will be donated to the Lakeview Food Pantry, an organization working to provide emergency food aid to individuals and families.

Jennifer Brown, an art teacher at Mather who organized the project, received some start-up funding through Donors Choose, an online opportunity for teachers to raise funds for special projects. Ms. Brown was assisted by other Mather faculty at the event.

We already look forward to the Empty Bowls dinner at Mather on May 04, 2012.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Curie Student Travels to Washington DC

The Chicago Youth for Millennium Development Goals works with schools throughout the District to expose students to international issues and give them a chance to address the millennium development goals. Often students are able to meet with refugees, immigrants and visitors from around the world. Recently, Natalie Leanos, a Curie student won a trip to Washington DC to participate in Save the Children 10th Annual Advocacy Day. Here are her thoughts on the trip.

I had an awesome week! I was one of the two advocates from Chicago that won a scholarship to Washington D.C. to attend the Save the Children 10th Annual Advocacy Day. The point of Advocacy Day is for us, the young children, to go speak to our Congressmen and Senators; and let our voices be heard about what they can do to help the malnourished children around the world, as well as here in the United States. It was a success!! There were many children from around the US participating in the two day event.

The first day were workshops where everyone got to know each other and work together to make posters showing awareness of what is going around the world and what we, the people, can do to help. Unfortunately my flight was canceled on the night before the event started. I was stuck in New York City for the night, and I needed to be in Washington the next day at eight in the morning. So yes, I was stressed at first because I didn’t know anyone who was going to attend the event and I was going to arrive real late to the workshops. Although my flight was canceled, I got to explore New York! Especially Times Square, it was AWESOME! The next day I got on a flight at 10:30 a.m. to Washington. I had butterflies in my stomach on my way to D.C. I was excited yet nervous about meeting new people.

I finally arrived to D.C. at 1:00 p.m I had missed the workshops and all that was left for the day was a luncheon with all the participants for Advocacy Day and the Staff of Save the Children. There were also special guests in the luncheon, such as Jonathan Capehart, who writes about politics for the PostPartisan blog, and Alex Wolff, a musician from Nickelodeon.

In the luncheon Jonathan discussed the upcoming elections and how teenagers and younger children feel like their voices aren’t being heard. Personally, in my high school many seniors are about to be 18 years old, meaning they’re able to vote, they think that the Congressmen and Senators won’t pay attention to what they have to say about ways the Congressmen can do more for their community. But in reality, we the children are the ones that play an important role for change. The Congressmen care more about our opinion, rather than the adults. You see, we’re the future, we are the ones who will create more in life and they know that. That is why the next day the participants were divided into groups depending on where their hometown was. Each of the participants was going to go speak to their Congressmen and Senators from their location back home in the Capitol Building.

The goal was to speak to them about why they should not cut the budget on the School Lunch Program here in the United States. Not many children are going to be able to receive free lunch in school with these cuts. Just last year 3.5 million children experienced food insecurity, so now if they cut the budget the number will increase.

Another budget cut the government wanted to do was lower the percentage of how much money would go overseas to help the malnourished children in developing countries. I got to speak to Senator Mark Kirk, Senator Richard Durbin, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and Jesse White Jr. My partner, Helena, and I succeeded with our speech. All of the Congressmen and Senators agreed with us; they were in favor of not cutting the budgets.

This was truly a mark in my life, a trip I will NEVER forget! Especially because I got to go inside the tunnels under the Capitol building to get to the four different offices of each Senator and Congressmen and I had the chance to speak directly to them. One of the great moments from the trip was also making new friends from different states. I got to meet teens from Philadelphia, Tennessee, Texas, and from many more. Thanks to my avid teacher, Mr. Hardin for getting me, and my classmates, involved in the United Nations Millennium Goals and to Mrs. Walker for introducing me to the Save the Children Scholarship. Both of my teachers have truly blessed me with this wonderful moment! I hope that one day we will all step up and have our voices be heard, together we can all make a change!
Natalie Leanos
Curie Metropolitan High School

Monday, April 16, 2012

CPS Hosts 12th Annual SL Conference

With the theme From Academics to Action guiding the gathering, teachers, SL Coaches, students and community partners gathered at the University Center in downtown Chicago for the 12th Annual Service-Learning Conference.

An opportunity to bring together both veteran service-learning practitioners and new-comers to the field, the conference highlights excellent practice in CPS and this year explored how the service experience can lead to a deeper exploration by students and teachers of social issues facing our communities.

Workshop leaders facilitated sessions enabling participants to think about ways for students to examine immigration, affordable housing, environmental concerns, community violence, and food access issues. Each session challenged participants to align service project experiences to broader social issues and Common Core State Standards. Teachers, for example, looked at how they could engage students in an examination of a 2040 metropolitan planning document and its recommendations for water use and conservation.

Adam Davis of the Center for Civic Reflection closed the conference with a session designed to guide participants in a discussion of where we hope we can take our students through the service-learning process.

It was a rewarding day for conference participants.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Alternative Spring Break Features Visit with Alderman

The first Service-Learning Alternative Spring Break: Uptown Immersion came to a conclusion on Thursday highlighted by a visit with Ward 46 Alderman James Cappelman, who also happened to be celebrating the anniversary of his first day in office since succeeding long-time Alderman Helen Shiller.

In preparation for their meeting with the alderman, students participated in an activity called Speaking Truth to Powerful People. The activity asks students to name a issue that is of concern to them, devise a solution or strategy, then identify the person in power who can help them get what they want to build the common good.

Students identified student leadership programs in every school, and curricular relevance strategies as issues of concern to them. In mock meetings with decision-makers, students were tested (not the standardized variety, but authentically) to see how they presented their ideas to a powerful decision-maker. The students learned quickly from one another and did a great job.

Following the mock meetings, students met with Alderman Cappelman for an hour sharing their experiences with the alderman and insights about the community. In a lively and free-wheeling back and forth discussion with the alderman, our students raised questions of economic development, curricular relevance, youth and arts programming, and adequate support for the disenfranchised, particularly those experiencing homelessness.

During an afternoon reflection experience led by the Center for Civic Reflection, students contemplated the question: Does one need to know anything about the person(s) you are helping/serving? and were asked to complete the statement: A helpful person needs to....The thoughtful and engaged discussion that ensued demonstrated the power of experiential learning. Students were able to dig deep into their experiences to engage in thoughtful conversations with one another.

The Alternative Spring Break culminated with a celebratory barbecue where students share their final presentations, musical talents, and new friendships with each other. The final question on the lips of many students? When will this happen again?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bowen Students Get Active for Chavez Month

For the fifth consecutive year, Bowen students participated in the Cesar Chavez month of Service. I had the pleasure of participating in several activities with my students in both my AP Art Class and Spanish I classes. We started the month off well! We had new teachers get involved and take over our beloved CIMBY program. The workshop we attended on March 2 was GREAT!

On 3/3 a small group of students met me at Juan Diego Community Center (Centro Comunitario Juan Diego) on 88th and Commercial to help pack food for their food pantry. When we arrived we were deeply saddened to see that number of families waiting for food and learn about their near bare cupboards. We were only able to give about 8 cans of food to each person. When our group reconvened for our reflection, we decided we needed to collect food for them and stock their pantry. In four days our little cooperative designed and put up posters around the school, spoke to their Division Teachers and collected HUNDREDS of cans of food, boxes of pasta, rice, and other non-perishables. We followed up by returning the next Saturday, 3/10, to deliver our goodies to them and help sort and hand out bags again! It was great, we were able to help, in just two Saturday mornings, over 100 families.

In the meantime my Spanish I classes were learning about the work of Cesar Chavez and what he meant to the Hispanic community. On March 8, we went to El Instituto del Progreso Latino, and our students paired up with an adult student going through the Citizenship process. We interviewed them, quizzed them, worked with them and we learned A LOT. When we reflected on this the students went wild; they loved it and they wanted to stay longer. They have been asking to return ever since. We wrote stories about the adults and on March 21 and took a follow up trip to Radio Arte 90.5 in Pilsen. We recorded our stories and 6 students read their stories in English and Spanish LIVE on air. We even had several that our adults that we interviewed listen to the program as we recorded.

On March 14, a group of seniors interested in going into teaching once the get into (and out of) college, went to a Kimochis training. Kimochis teaches high school students how to teach appropriate social-emotional skills to little kids. They went to training at 320 N. Elizabeth. New Service-Learning Coach Lucia Estrada and I took 4 girls to receive the training and Ms.Estrada is now leading these girls, recruiting more students to participate and we are still scheduling with our local elementary to implement the amazing opportunity! Keep on the lookout for more about Bowen and this project.

On March 20 a group of dedicated seniors led and sponsored a blood drive at the school. Not only did they students coordinate the event, work and recruit, they also registered students and helped them after blood was drawn, distributing snacks, water, and ice packs! It was a great job, and we helped save over 109 lives.

On March 26, we had a wonderful math teacher, Mr.Shawn Espinosa, take a group of students to the Marilynn Rabb Foundation where they worked with hunger issues and sorted and packed food and handed them out to needy families at the Laribee Police Station.

Lastly, and the most exciting part of this month, was the Celebration of Cesar Chavez at the Reflection Day at Benito Juarez High School. Ms. Estrada and I took students who participated in at least one of the above listed events. We watched an amazing cultural show then split up and participated in workshops with other schools. We were even fortunate enough to be asked to lead a workshop which other students attended that talked about Propaganda and Protest art and how Cesar Chaves influenced that movement through his peaceful protests! We culminated the great day with a march through Pilsen, carrying signs and yelling chants to commemorate the 350 mile march that Chavez did in his protests.

Alternative Spring Break Features Uptown Service Projects

Six community organizations based in Chicago's diverse Uptown community benefited from the talents and energy of CPS students participating in the first annual Alternative Spring Break program of Chicago Public Schools.

CPS students served at Chinese Mutual Aid Assocation, Sunlight African Youth Center, Grassroots Curriculum Network, Kuumba Lynx, Christopher House, and Cornerstone Community Outreach.

Students planned and implemented activities for children participating in spring break programs at Christopher House, Sulight African Youth Center, and Chinese Mutual Aid Association. The students were in awe of the high spirited energy of the children and left the day having learned much about what it takes to organize a high quality youth program. Students also helped the Kuumba Lynx program build a studio for community use, supported the food distribution programs at Cornerstone Community Outreach, and organized historical materials to create a new Uptown study curriculum that is student-friendly and speaks the truth.

During their final day of the alternative spring break, students will meet with 46th ward Alderman James Cappelman and share their insights with him. To cap off their experience, students will gather for a barbecue and share their thoughts about how the week has impacted them. We're looking forward to an exciting culmination.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

CPS Teens Serve Uptown During Spring Break

30 CPS high school students from eight high schools are spending their spring break learning about the Uptown community and lending their considerable talents and energy to community organizations in the neighborhood.

These amazing teen agers are choosing to spend their week off getting to know other student leaders, immersing themselves in one of Chicago's most dynamic and historic communities, and working with community organizations in a variety of capacities.

Following an initial day of team building, students heard from neighborhood leaders about the history of Uptown and the issues currently facing residents and then participated actively in a community orienteering activity. In groups of five, students were tasked with harvesting information about the community by talking with bankers, restaurant managers, non-profit leaders, senior and public housing building managers, and religious leaders. Students learnd about the history of public housing, the availability of credit to low-income residents, the process of gentrification, and the remarkable entertainment history of Uptown. They learned, for example, that through the 1940's, African-Americans were only allowed to live on one block in the Uptown community - the 4600 block of North Winthrop. They also learned that low-income residents can access small loans at affordable rates from the Northside Federal Credit Union. They also learned that silent film star Charlie Chaplain used to produce movies from a studio in Uptown during the 1920's.

Following their immersion experiences, students will serve for a full day in several communtiy organizations including Christopher House, Chinese Mutual Aid Association, Cornerstone Community Center, and Sunlight African Youth Center. Students will conclude their week with a meeting with Alderman James Cappelman of the 46th Ward. Students will share their insights into the community and hear about Mr. Cappelman's priorities for the community.

The spirit and openness and deep interest in learning the students bring to the experience is remarkable.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Foreman Students Honor Chavez and More through Service

Foreman freshman headed out to Erie Neighborhood House on March 2nd to interview recent immigrants about their stories as part of the Cesar Chavez Month of Serivce. The interviews were practical English langugage lessons for the adults students and great learning opportunities for Foreman students. Subsequently, the students wrote and told their stories on the air at Radio Arte at on March 29th!

Foreman students also made a successful visit to World Vision on Wednesday, March 14, and went again the following day for the service-learning trip. World Vision is a community organization that accepts donations of new products from big box companies and re-distributes them among schools and community organizations.

To wrap up their Chavez Month of Service, students also participated in the Chavez Day of Reflection on Saturday March 24th. Students joined hundreds of other students in exploring Chavez through the arts and participating in the march commemorating the 46th anniversary of the 350 march from Delano to Sacramento by Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

Foreman Peer Jurists are also busy at work with Peace Week . Students sold white ribbons to raise funds for care packages for our troops in Afghanistan and Thursday students held a Day of Silence in honor of those lost to violence.

Foreman Peer educators were excited to win the Mikva Teen Council Health Grant, and they will teach HIV/AIDS awareness to freshman homerooms and make contraceptives available to all our students.

On the advocacy front, all entire sophomore class conducted a letter writing campaign to our state senators to oppose HB 14 which would legalize concealed weapons in Illinois.

During the month of February, the senior board and class raised funds for the Pennies for Patients through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We raised 500 dollars and are eligible for a pizza party for our winning homeroom.

Foreman students and teachers have been extraordinarily busy during the past months engaged in service and civic action. Congratulations!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Koya Receives Outstanding Educator Award

Saswati Koya, Science teacher and Service-Learning Coach at Chicago Academy High School, received an Outstanding Educator Award from the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, run by Dorothy Brown. During the Women's History Month Celebration at the Chase Bank Auditorium on March 28, Koya was one of nine educators, and the only current teacher, to receive this recognition.

In her comments, Koya named the opportunity to engage students in new ideas and new opportunities as a wonderful part of her job. In particular she recalled her trip to New York City's central park with 25 students as part of the Outdoor Nation Conference. Subsequently, her students traveled to Minneapolis for a regional Outdoor Nation Conference during the summer of 2011.

Ms. Koya will continue to expose her students to new experiences this summer, having been chosen as one of five teachers nationally to travel with Global Explorers to Costa Rica. She will accompany 10 Chicago Academy High School students for an amazing rain forest adventure in August.

In her address Koya praised the profession of teaching and said she could not imagine a different profession for herself. Congratulations, Saswati. We are proud of you.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hundreds Gather to Honor Cesar Chavez

Hundreds of CPS middle and high school students gathered at Benito Juarez Community Academy on Saturday, March 24, to celebrate a month of service activites to honor the spirit and legacy of Cesar E. Chavez.

Throughout the month of March, 24 schools and 23 community partners engaged 1680 students in 56 service and action projects throughout the city of Chicago. Students learned about immigrant rights, food and environmental issues, the labor movement, and the civil rights movement then worked across the city with community organizations to put their knowledge to work.

Saturday was the culminating event for the students. Following a stirring opening ceremony by Danza Azteca-Mexicana, students worked in the arts - developing posters, drums, street theatre, spoken word, and murals - as preparation for a commemorative march through the streets of Pilsen. Forty-six years ago, Cesar Chavez and other labor rights activists marched 350 miles from Delano to Sacramento as a pilgrimmage to express their commitment to the cause and demonstrate to the world the injustices suffered by farm workers in the southwest. Students marched in the spirit of the Delano-Sacramento pilgrimmage so many years ago.

As they marched, students displayed their posters calling for peace, justice for workers, and invoking the spirit of Cesar E. Chavez. Thanks to all our magnificent workshop leaders and artists.

Friday, March 23, 2012

CPS Students Serve as Election Judges

As the Illinois presidential primary and various other congressional campaigns ended on Tuesday, March 20, so did the almost semester-long efforts of students from around the city. CPS students learned about the electoral process and participated in supporting the elections.

This school year hundreds of students participated in a program called Elections in Action, which is facilitated by Mikva Challenge, a non-partisan, non-profit group that works to increase student participation in our democracy. Students spent several sessions, either in class or in after school programs, working through curriculum covering the importance of voting, how elections work, and understanding the ideology of major and third parties. Students also identified their own personal ideology and what they believe about issues that face our democracy.

From there students examined why people do and do not participate in elections and what makes a good candidate. Finally, students identified a candidate, or several candidates, they wanted to support.

In order to fulfill the requirements of the program students had to have three campaigning experiences lasting at least two hours. This was a great opportunity for students who were at first too intimidated to even call a volunteer coordinator to find themselves phone banking for one or going door to door across Chicagoland to canvas for their candidate. Once completed students write a reflective piece about their experience.

This first-hand and ground-level view of democracy is one that empowers students to recognize that the electoral process is one that they can play an important part in, both as volunteers and, hopefully one day soon, as candidates!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CPS Students Honor Chavez Throughout March

All through the month of March, CPS high school students are serving throughout the city of Chicago in ways that recall the values, commitments and spirit of Cesar E. Chavez, the great farm worker organizer. The CPS Service-Learning Initiative organized more than 60 service opportunities throughout the month. To culminate the month of service, Juarez Community Academy will play host to the Chavez Day of Reflection and Commemorative March through the streets of Pilsen. More than 350 CPS students are expected to attend and through the arts encounter the values and spirit of Chavez.

All students who will attend the culminating event will also have participated in at least one service project around the city. Students will advocate for the environment, assist immigrants as they prepare for citizenship, register and mobilize new voters, teach elementary students about Chavez, work with senior citizens, and serve in food pantries and shelters across the city.

Chavez was deeply committed to non-violence, self-sacrifice, the good of the whole community, and foundational principles of social justice. Chicago Public Schools continue to live out the spirit of Cesar E. Chavez in many ways. Viva la causa!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

CPS Students Create Memory Bridges

Students from Hancock, Brooks, and Taft High Schools have been spending their last 10-12 weeks working with senior citizens with Alzheimer's. The program, Memory Bridge, helps student learn about the physical and social implications of Alzheimer's then develop relationships with senior citizens at care facilities. Memory Bridge has been active in Chicago Public Schools has been active for the past five years, enabling hundreds of students to learn much about the human brain, Alzheimer's, and their own capacity to engage in meaningful relationships with senior citizens in their communities. Students come away from the experience with new outlooks on their own skills, interests, and relational abilities.

During the final visit to the senior center, students prepare a gift for their senior citizen buddy, present these mostly hand-made gifts, then sing together with the seniors. Music is a powerful source to connect people with their memories and with each other.

Many thanks to the teachers - Catherine Yackee, Lynn Santoyo, Donald Davis, and Katrina Vafakos for their extra time and effort in facilitating such an important and powerful program with their sudents.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Student Leaders Meet with Principals at 2nd Annual Summit

More than 100 CPS high school students gathered at Phoenix Military Academy to share their concerns and ideas with principals during the second annual Harris Fellows Principal-Student Summit.

The Summit is designed to bring students and principals together to dialogue about issues of concern to students and to provide a voice for students as schools consider improvement strategies.

This year student leaders choose the following four issues for discussion:

  1. Student-Student relationships
  2. Classroom management
  3. Principal-Student relationship building
  4. Longer school day
Students met at Phoenix to deliberate and discuss potential recommendations for principals then prepared skits, a student panel, and a set of recommendations for discussion. At the end of the summit, principals and students presented the main ideas and recommendations in these areas.

These ideas will be prepared for presentation to top CPS leadership in the coming weeks.

Harris Fellows exists to provide a voice for students and to support the development of student leadership organizations in schools across the District. Many thanks to the Harris Fellows student leadership who put the summit together, the 100+ students in attendance, and the teachers and principals who showed their support for students by attending and dialoguing with the students.

For more information about Harris Fellows, the Summit, or how students can be involved in this work, contact Cristina Salgado at