Guiding students’ civic development by engaging the principles of Parker’s mission, the Upper School Community Connections program aims to help students learn about and play a direct role in social justice work around the city through diverse experiences and ongoing reflection and dialogue. Community Connections is not community service. While fieldwork days may include a service component, the focus is not on accomplishing a particular task or affecting a change in the life of a particular person. Rather, the focus is on learning what civic commitment looks like in action.
Below is an overview of the Community Connections work groups have engaged in.
Ninth grade students work with their science and history classes to explore social and environmental responsibility at local and global levels. Through partnerships with local organizations and ongoing participation in the Pulitzer Gateway Program, students learn about and practice sustainability and social responsibility. This interdisciplinary environmental and civic educational program comprises field trips to schools, urban farms, nature centers and preserves and other places. This year, students have helped clean up the Chicago River and learned about mulching, composting, recycling, alternative energy and transportation, community gardening, aquaponics and more!
The 10th grade Community Connections program focuses on building relationships among Parker students and students from different schools in the Chicago area. There is a strong commitment to making sure the partnership has reciprocal benefits for students in both schools. Students, faculty and staff have engaged with their peers on a variety of projects at Islamic Foundation School, North Lawndale College Prep and Orr Academy.
Eleventh grade Community Connections curriculum is connected to U.S. History and American Literature classes and provides students with the opportunity to explore a single issue over the course of a year through research, discussion, action and reflection. Students learn about a chosen social issue in issue-based groups led by their teachers, then connect with organizations and groups advocating for change relative to that issue. One group recently visited the Broadway Youth Center, an organization that serves a large transgender and homeless youth population. Another group focusing on immigration spent the morning sitting in detention court to witness the trials of those currently detained for immigration-related issues. A group working with Parents Allied with Children and Teachers for Tomorrow (PACTT), a learning center aiming to discover the best ways to connect with autistic individuals to help them become as independent as possible, has been reflecting upon the story and persona of Helen Keller as a powerful social justice advocate. A group investigating homelessness recently spent a morning working at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter. Students interested in raising awareness of veterans’ issues coordinated a panel discussion and art show entitled “Parker After the War: The Legacy of Trauma.” Students taking a close look at the relationship of the war on drugs to the prison industrial complex recently attended the exhibit "Black/Inside: A History of Captivity and Confinement in the United States." Eleventh grade student leaders also recently hosted their annual Civil Disobedience assembly with special guest speaker Rabbi Brant Rosen.
Twelfth grade students have been engaged in their independent colloquium projects since the beginning of the year, partnering with community organizations as volunteers and interns and reflecting upon their experience. These students spend their fieldwork days in workshops with guest speakers to help support their individual work and growth as engaged justice-minded young adults. Most recently, 12th grade students participated in a workshop run by the Chicago Freedom School entitled “Civic Engagement through Chicago History.”
Through their work in Community Connections, Upper School students form partnerships that foster multicultural connections and increase democratic learning opportunities for our students and students at other schools.