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Elev8 students go to Washington

A delegation of 16 middle-school students from Elev8 Chicago participated in the “Voices in Action: National Youth Summit,” held at Howard University in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

As part of the D.C. visit, eight Reavis students trained their peers from Baltimore, Oakland and New Mexico on how to speak with decision-makers about the importance of the Elev8 model.

The U.S. Department of Education invited 500 students from across the country to share their ideas for how the United States can become the world leader in college completion by 2020. In addition to participating in the summit, Elev8 Chicago students visited congressional offices to share their experiences in Elev8 and advocate for its expansion.

Upon their return, students from Reavis Elementary, one of five Elev8 schools in Chicago, discussed their trip with the entire school and held a press conference attended by the Hyde Park Herald and a member of State Sen. Kwame Raoul’s staff. Students said that Elev8 got a warm welcome from federal lawmakers and their staffs.

“I think they were really listening and really wanted to learn about Elev8,” said Jourdan Hopkins, a Reavis eighth-grader.

Hopkins was one of eight Reavis students who trained their Elev8 peers from Baltimore, Oakland and New Mexico on how to speak with decision-makers about the importance of the Elev8 model. That includes more learning time outside the traditional classroom and regular school day; on-site health services for students and families; increased opportunities and supports for parental involvement; and most importantly, building the connections among these elements to create a seamless web of support for young adolescents at a critical moment in their lives.

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

After visiting congressional offices to share their experiences in Elev8 and advocate for its expansion, Reavis eighth-grader Jourdan Hopkins said, "I think they were really listening and really wanted to learn about Elev8."

“The absolute best meeting was the [Rep.] Judy Biggert meeting,” noted Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, executive director of the Quad Communities Development Corp., who traveled to Washington with the Elev8 students. Biggert, a Republican from Chicago’s western suburbs, is Illinois’ only representative on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

While most staffers spent no more than 20 minutes with the group, Biggert’s legislative assistant, Brian Looser stayed for an hour and appeared wowed by the student presentation, said Johnson-Gabriel. “For them to nail it like that was cool.”

As the only middle-school student featured in the summit’s plenary sessions, Richlyn Whitaker of Perspectives Middle Academy spoke with senior U.S. Department of Education officials about the need to reduce neighborhood violence as a step toward helping more students become college-ready.

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

The Mikva Challenge and the Federation for Community Schools prepared students for the summit and for visits with Congress.

In addition to attending the summit and meeting with congressional staff, the students toured the Howard campus and met with a Chicago high-school graduate now in college there. Students were inspired to see someone like themselves attending college, and the experience increased their desire to pursue higher education. “You’ve got a lot of responsibility” as a college student, “but at the end, it’s worth it,” said Reavis seventh-grader Jasean Gilmore.

The Mikva Challenge and the Federation for Community Schools worked with the students to prepare them for the summit and for visits with Congress to share their experiences with Elev8 and advocate for its expansion nationally.

“The kids can articulate their experiences to people in power. That has been inspiring to see,” said Ramon Gardenhire, formerly Elev8 manager for the Federation. In addition to the press conference at Reavis, members of the Elev8 Chicago delegation met with Illinois State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16) to enlist her support.

For more from the students, see their blog of the trip:

http://elev8plc.wordpress.com/

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