Civic engagement isn’t the first subject you expect to hear about from a typical group of middle schoolers. But a group of Rogers Park and Edgewater young people were happy doing just that on a recent visit to their summer classroom.
“Civic engagement is getting involved in the community and helping those who need the most help,” said Burabari Denuate, 14. “Sometimes there’s others who have the power to make a difference, but really don’t take it.”
Gregory Wade, 14, described civic engagement as being “a place where people can come and express themselves and learn how to be better leaders… it’s important because we’re the next generation.”
The students are part of an After School Matters program on civil leadership. Based on the Loyola University campus, it is being offered to Rogers Park and Edgewater middle school students from five neighborhood schools.
“I really think this program is a great introduction to students about civic engagement and how they can identify within themselves what their civic identity is and be able to have the tools and resources to be able to create change,” said Saeed Rose, one of the program’s instructors.
The students all have the opportunity to create change within their schools. Each of the five schools worked together to compose a plan that they hope brings positive change in a particular area.
For example, Aiden Murphy, 13, explained that the Kilmer group will be working on improving the bathrooms. Likewise, Danitzy Rosillo, 12, told us that the Swift group wanted to focus on the issue of students disrespecting teachers.
Dezyr Smith, 13, said that the Pierce group will be focusing on what she described as “drama” in their school, referring to a variety of issues like bullying, gossip, and fighting.
“Drama as in any type of way that students interact with each other in a negative way,” she said.
Pierce was not the only school to choose drama for their plan. Denuate said the Field group was focusing on something similar.
Rose said the program is not about simply solving a problem. It’s about making a positive, lasting impact on the world around them.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to build something organic and continue to grow,” said Rose, “and the experience will always stick with them. We’ve created a space for them to really be able to share and express how they feel about issues in their society.”
“My favorite part is being able to come together and discuss,” said Smith. “Because it makes students feel like they are in their school community. I recommend it to other students who want to make a change… and I feel like this program really makes a difference.”