Thursday, March 7, 2013

High School Science Teachers Explore Place Based Education as Service-Learning Strategy

More than 40 high school science teachers gathered at one of Chicago's most unique park facilities to learn about how place based education can engage and transform students ability to understand and feel connected to their community. 

Teachers collaborate on tool safety during an ice breaker activity

McGuane Park, located on the city's near south side, is carved out of a former rock quarry and features a fishing pond, natural water drainage system, restored natural prairie area, and some of the very few sledding hills in the city. 

Field Museum educator Laura Milkert discusses water quality testing with teachers

Despite 10 inches of snow on the previous evening, the science teachers braved the elements to learn about place based education and its connection to service-learning.  Educational leaders from Friends of the River, Alliance of Great Lakes, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, De LaSalle High School, The Field Museum, the University of Wisconsin/Stevens Point guided teachers through experiential learning activities that utilize the outdoors to help them engage their own students in learning and service opportunities.  Place based education helps students apply learning in local settings, make positive contributions to their community, feel a deeper sense of connection to place, and, in the words of one teacher, "help immigrant students begin to establish a feeling of connection to this country." 

The Adopt-an-Ecosystem professional development was led by Samantha Mattone of the Department of Literacy's Democracy Learning and Student Leadership Team. Adopt-an-Ecosystem is a collaboration among city environmental organizations to bring high quality service-learning experiences to CPS middle and high school students.  Member organizations include Friends of the River, Friends of the Parks, Alliance of Great Lakes, The Field Museum, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, and Friends of the Forest Preserves. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

CPS Student Leaders Dialogue with Principals at Harris Fellows Summit

More than 125 CPS student leaders from 12 schools around the city met with high school principals to discuss important school improvement issues.  Clemente High School hosted the Summit as students worked together to discuss and deliberate on four broad issue areas before presenting their ideas and recommendations to principals.

Students participate in team building activity with principals

The third annual summit focused on the following issues:
  1. Classroom Instruction
  2. Student Voice and Leadership
  3. Restorative Justice
  4. Community Building in Classrooms
Students named these issues as opportunities to build better relationships at schools and engage more deeply in academic learning.  Students recognize the power of positive relationships in schools among students, teachers, and administrators in order to achieve desired academic gains.  Students also recognized the important of including student voice more regularly in important school decisions. 

As students discussed and deliberated with their peers and with principals, they developed recommendations in each area:
  1. Classroom Instruction - Teachers should be encouraged to enforce classroom rules consistently and provide engaging lesson plans that are project-oriented, promote classroom discussion, and involve everyone in learning.
  2. Student Voice and Leadership - Every CPS high school should have a Student Voice Committee with more support from faculty and staff where that is lacking.
  3. Restorative Justice - Adults should work to listen to problems students are experiencing and work to de-escalate tensions and not resort to suspensions.  Students should seek out adults to sponsor restorative justice programs at their schools.
  4. Community Building in Classrooms - A panel of students should present ideas and recommendations at Network Chief meetings and teachers and students should spend up to 5 minutes every day discussion teen social issues with the goal of building positive relationships and help students focus.

Principals listen to student ideas on classroom community building

The Harris Fellows Student/Principal Summit was the third annual gathering of students and principals.  A video of the 2nd Annual Summit is available at  Harris Fellows student leaders work to develop leadership skills and capacities among students and provide opportunities for students to articulate and express their concerns and ideas to powerful people.  This year Harris Fellows is focusing efforts on building Student Voice Committees at 16 high schools currently participating in the Global Citizenship Initiative.   For more information contact Cristina Salgado at

King Month of Social Action Mobilizes Hundreds of CPS Students

CPS high school students and teachers engaged in various service-learning projects to honor the work and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Month of Social Action in January 2013.  King and fellow civil rights leaders worked tirelessly to bring social change to America.  CPS service-learning projects were designed to connect with themes of the civil rights movement and give students a chance to practice civic skills in their communities.   Projects during the month included working at neighborhood food pantries, writing letters to the Congress about handgun violence, making peace flags, learning about and practicing peaceful solutions to conflict with members of the Grey Panthers, conducting peace rallies, and more.
Alternatives, Inc. worked with Chicago Academy High School students on restorative justice ideas and strategies.  Hope Lassen, a youth worker at Alternatives, helped students understand how to address conflict and rebuild relationships in a safe, restorative manner.  One Chicago Academy High School teacher reflected on the students’ experience: The students who went on the trip learned a lot about themselves and felt that it was beneficial to their time. I am excited about the idea of taking methods learned at Alternatives, Inc. and implementing them at Chicago Academy High School.
Westinghouse High School students participated in a Play for Peace project led by Kendra Bostick.  Play for Peace is an international organization promoting peace through compassion games and experiential learning activities.  One activity - connection circle - allows students to express themselves and find connections with each other. By the end of the activity the students stood linked arm in arm as a symbol of unity.  Adyna Jackson, Service-Learning Coach at Westinghouse, said her students gained a lot from the Play for Peace project because they had the opportunity to learn more about each other and discuss problems at their school and potential solutions.
Schurz High School students spent a day with the Illinois Council for Handgun Violence learning about handgun issues and made important connections to the values and work of Martin Luther King. By the end of the project, students wrote letters to legislators addressing issues such as bullying, domestic violence and handgun violence. A few of the students mentioned how they never had much of a chance to discuss these problems before or take specific steps to address them.
Other CPS students volunteered at the DuSable Museum of African American History on King Day, worked with Kids Off The Block on a violence prevention campaign, joined the Council on American and Islamic Relations on an anti-discrimination campaign, and served senior citizens breakfast and interviewed them about their own experiences during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.
More than 20 students groups from CPS participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Month of Social Action.  They learned about the work of King and the civil rights leaders by exploring various organizing strategies, connected their learning to work in their communities, and participated in follow-up discussions to debrief their experiences.  King said that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  CPS students lived out that faith during January by working in their communities to bring more understanding, more compassion, more justice. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hancock and Lincoln Park Students Kick-Off Cesar Chavez Month of Service

Students from Lincoln Park and Hancock High Schools spent their Saturday mornings kicking off the 8th annual CPS Cesar E. Chavez Month of Service.  Each year students from across the city participate in service projects designed to honor the life and legacy of our great civil rights leader, Cesar E. Chavez.  Chavez founded the United Farm Workers union at a time when most critics said it was impossible to organize poor migrant workers who toiled to bring produce to American tables.  Chavez' response:  Si, se puede.  Indeed, using non-violent strategies learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez organized in the southwest and the work impacted the entire country.

Hancock students "playing for peace"
Students from Hancock High School spent their Saturday morning on March 2, working with the non-profit organization Play for Peace.  The goal of Play for Peace is to bring groups together to learn how to build peace through cooperative games.   Hancock students learned about leadership, cooperation, collaboration, and the spirit of non-violence and were challenged to bring their new skills back to their high school to carry forward the tradition of Cesar E. Chavez. 

While Hancock students were hard at work, World Language students from Lincoln Park were paired with adults studying the citizenship exam at Erie Neighborhood House in Bucktown.  While students coached the adults on the exam (100 questions about American government and history), they also had the opportunity to practice their language skills and interview the prospective citizens about their journeys to America. 

More than 50 student groups will be serving throughout the city during March, to celebrate the spirit of Cesar Chavez through service.  April 6 will feature the culminating activity in Pilsen where students will create various works of art to remember Chavez and his work then march peacefully through the streets of Pilsen to commemorate the fasts and marches of the Chavez and the United Farm Workers.  

Lincoln Park students working with immigrants to prepare for citizenship exams