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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Student Leaders Tackle Environmental Problems at EPA

More that 120 student leaders from south side high schools gathered at the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago's Loop to learn about the work of environmental professionals and problem solve real-world environmental issues in Chicago.

Professionals from the Cook County Forest Preserve, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Kinder Morgan, Green Peace, Shedd Aquarium, and the Student Conservation Alliance shared stories of their work with the students and then posed a challenging problem for the students to debate and propose solutions.

Students from Fenger, Morgan Park, Bowen, Simeon, Corliss, Chicago Ag, Bogan, and Washington tackled the problem of invasive species, effective waste disposal, preserving native species and habitats, construction of a highly toxic coal gasification plant, and adhering to environmental regulations. After discussing the problem and generating a realistic alternative solution, students presented their ideas to the environmental professionals and their peers and received feedback.

The Calumet Is My Back Yard (CIMBY) Environmental Leadership Day was the 6th annual event for students from the Lake Calumet watershed. Throughout the year students provide stewardship and restoration at natural sites throughout the Lake Calumet region. Now in its 12th year, CIMBY provides opportunites for 650 students from 15 schools to learn about the environmental through hands-on restoration and classroom activities designed to bring environmental science and biology classes to life.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Teachers Prepare for Cesar E. Chavez Month of Service

Twenty CPS teachers gathered at the National Museum of Mexican Art on Tuesday, January 31, to prepare for the annual Cesar E. Chavez Month of Service in March.

Each year the Service-Learning Initiative of Chicago Public Schools organizes curriculum, service project opportunities, and events during March to honor the legacy of the great farmworker organizer, Cesar Chavez.

Teachers utilize hands-on and engaging curricular materials to help students understand the work of Chavez and the farm worker movement and then facilitate a service project in neighborhoods across the city. Service project reflect the work and values of Chavez and include opportunities to support equitable food distribution, the rights of immigrants, environmental justice, childhood literacy, and unions in Chicago.

Following classroom instruction and service projects (60 in total), all students will gather in Little Village on March 24 for a day to honor the legacy of Chavez through reflection, arts-based workshops, and a culminating commemorative peace march through the streets of Little Village to the site where neighborhood moms conducted a hunger strike to get Little Village/North Lawndale High School built.

Governor Pat Quinn hosts a Cesar E. Chavez breakfast on March 30 to draw attention to the work of Chavez and honor the service projects that took place during the month.

Viva la causa....Si se puede!

The Kimochis Are Coming

Twenty-five teachers and students from CPS high schools gathered on February 08, 2012, to learn about the kimochis. Kimochis is the Japanese word for emotions, and the American iteration of kimochis is a great chance for our high school students to provide social/emotional learning opportunities for K-3 students in neighboring schools.

Research indicates that it is critical to address the social/emotional learning needs of our students in order to reach academic achievement goals. The kimochis service-learning project will bring high school students together with elementary students to learn how to identify and manage emotions. After two professional development workshops, teachers and their high school students will leave with curriculum, kimochi dolls and other tools necessary to lead activities at their neighborhood schools. The magic of the kimochis experience is that everyone (adults, high school and elementary students) learn about the power of emotions and our abilities to manage our emotions effectively.

Illinois is fortunate to be one of the few states to mandate the instruction of social/emotional learning skills ( It is also the home of the CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning), which has conducted voluminous research about the need for strong social and emotional teaching and learning practices.

A follow-up session is scheduled for Wednesday, March 14, at which time teachers and their high school students will receive the tools and support necessary to carry out this innovative and powerful service-learnign project. Stay tuned for more reports on the kimochis project. We can't wait for the exciting days when high school students begin to teach and mentor their elementary students.

Tilden Students Press for Affordable Housing

Students at Tilden School are doing amazing advocacy work for the rights of homeless and unaccompanied youth! Students in Ms.Totske’s first hour class began this service project by learning about homeless issues. The students talked with one another about the challenges experienced by homelessness youth, and their own concerns for their neighborhood. When the students were asked what they would say about these issues to someone in power, one student said, “I would want them to understand that people don’t have anything, and I believe that they can make a change only if we help them.” Empowered with new information about issues surrounding homelessness as well as a better understanding of Illinois government, Tilden students prepared to meet with their State Senator.

To get a meeting with Senator Hunter, the students first practiced making phone calls to the senator’s office. They were a little nervous at first, but eventually were incredibly confident. The senator agreed to meet with the students! On January 30, at 9:30 a.m., these sophomore students excitedly boarded the bus to Senator Hunter’s office. Ms. Hunter was warm and friendly while she met with the group in a large conference room and talked to them about her involvement in the community. She also listened to their concerns about homeless youth and agreed that more funding and programming needs to be available. Each student had a role in the meeting that morning, and each participated in the political process. It was inspiring to hear students speaking to a State Senator with an almost 10 year tenure in Illinois politics. It was definitely an amazing opportunity for the Tilden Students...and for Senator Hunter!

Tilden students and their teacher, Ms. Totske, partnered with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless on this project. Their work is not done. On April 18, 2012, the students will travel to Springfield to continue their advocacy efforts on behalf of homeless youth in Chicago and around Illinois.