Taking a Stand: Parker Upper Schoolers Participate in Chicago Metro History Fair,
Mikva Civics Showcase

By Director of Civic Engagement Shanti Elliott

Every year, thousands of Chicago students focus on local history, politics and culture as part of civic education initiatives designed to develop and connect students’ capacities as active citizens who think critically. During the course of the year, classroom projects arising from students’ interests and concerns evolve into artifacts that educate the public about myriad dimensions of civic life. As Chicago Metro History Fair organizers note, “Inquiry-based learning of history is a civic activity itself.”

The research process culminates in year-end public events that showcase students’ questions, findings, action and leadership. These events offer important opportunities for Parker students to, as Principal Dan Frank urges us, “bring the outside in and the inside out.” Not only are students researching and presenting on important civic questions, they are also learning from their Chicago peers through the projects they present at these events.

This spring, students in Sue Elliott’s History class participated in the Chicago Metro History Fair, which focused on the theme “Taking a Stand in Chicago/Illinois History.” In class, students chose topics that were important to them and conducted research outside school, making use of interviews with scholars, experts and participants or witnesses. Students decided on their own interpretations of their research: as the CMHF organizers explain, “They don’t just ‘report back’ what others have written.” Finally, the students choose “how to present their historical arguments through real projects just as real historians do: writing papers, producing a play or documentary, or building a website or exhibit.”

Three sophomores—Sarah-Jayne Austin, Audrey Shadle and Alexandra Takoudis—were finalists and went on to compete at the Chicago Metro Fair. Sophomore Felicia Miller received an honorable mention. Sarah-Jayne wrote about female activism in Great Britain and Illinois at the turn of the century; Audrey compared the careers of Touissaint L’Overture and Barack Obama; and Alexandra wrote about the Comfort Women of South Korea. The CMHF website features the students and their projects, along with student winners from schools throughout Chicago.

Ms. Elliott supported Parker students’ involvement as well as the whole Metro History Fair process by serving as a judge. Thanks to Ms. Elliott and her students, Parker was able to be part of a significant civic process of history-making.

On May 23, four Parker students, accompanied by History teacher Jeanne Barr and me, presented at the 15th Annual Action Civics Showcase, the year-end celebration of youth activism and youth voice in Chicago. Parker students joined students from schools around Chicago, presenting to each other, their teachers and civic leaders about issues that matter to them. As Mikva Challenge leaders share, “Young people are analyzing power, taking on the role of being leaders on issues impacting their lives, to make a positive difference in their communities.”

Sophomore Carlos Lopez and Junior Karoli Esparza presented about their efforts launching LASO, Latin American Students Organization, and invited students from other schools to join them in LASO activities and campaigns.. Grace Buono and Maya Sanghvi presented on behalf of the 11th grade Civic Lab group “Migration Stories,” with a focus on Expanded Sanctuary in Chicago. They gathered signatures on the Welcoming Cities Ordinance petition.

Congratulations to the student activists, scholars and leaders who participated in these and other powerful civic events in Chicago!



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