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