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Ogden, Latin Students Awarded for Provoking Racial Dialogue Among Youth

GOLD COAST — Amanda Medendorp, 17, didn't intend to stoke dialogue on race when she founded the first peer tutoring program at Ogden International School.

But she did. Grades rose at the school, too. And Princeton University noticed.

Medendorp and Latin School senior Patrick Elliott will be awarded with the Princeton Prize in Race Relations next month for their work promoting dialogue between young people of different races.

Through Medendorp's Peer Advisory Leaders program, Ogden high schoolers are matched up with middle or elementary school students they tutor after school. The tutors come from Ogden's middle and high school campus in West Town, 1250 W. Erie St., which draws students from around the city. Those students visit the elementary school near the Gold Coast, at 24 W. Walton St., which is a neighborhood school that draws from the nearby area.

David Matthews says both teens have bright futures ahead:

The education is a two-way street, Medendorp said. They are learning about the advantages and challenges in each others' lives.

"It's amazing to see what two people can learn from each other," said Medendorp, who lives in Lakeview.

Medendorp said she hatched the idea in summer 2013 because, after founding Ogden's alumni association and representing the student body on the local school council by her sophomore year, she "needed something to do."

The program debuted that fall, with the help of fellow Ogden student Linus Erkenswick and faculty sponsor Ozni Torres, who teaches in the high school's social studies department. 

"As a minority I recognized that this could be potentially life-changing work, without sounding too grandiose. These children will be growing up with a different attitude about people of color," Torres said.

Latin's Elliott, 18, is being recognized as president of his Gold Coast school's Black Student Union and for his thought-provoking columns in the school's newspaper. He has written about the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and Islamophobia, among other topics. 

"We still live in a society in which the under-represented groups need to be celebrated," said Elliott, who lives in Irving Park. 

Elliott, who is attending Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. in the fall and wants to pursue a career in law, said his columns are inspired by themes of social justice as well as his own experiences. He arrived at Latin in sixth grade, and as one of a handful of black students there at the time, Elliott admits he struggled with his identity.

"I felt like I was forced to immerse myself in this culture. Like I lost a part of myself," he said. "I thought if people aren’t going to change to make me comfortable, maybe I can adjust my mindset to see what I can do so I can prosper in this community."

Both Medendorp and Elliott will be presented with certificates of recognition by the Chicago chapter of the Princeton Alumni Association next month. Both exemplified the prize's mission of encouraging racial harmony among young people.

"That [people] all see the world differently ... that's exactly what our program wants to recognize," said Michelle Silverthorn, a Chicago lawyer and Princeton alumna who sat on the Chicago prize committee."

Medendorp said it took a while for her mentoring program to gain momentum, and many young tutees are reluctant to be tutored. But over time, a "relationship grows" to the point where students are looking forward to meeting, she said. Medendorp's own pupil raised her grades from three Ds and all Bs to As, Bs and two Cs on her latest report card.

Medendorp, who will graduate as valedictorian in June, plans to attend Oberlin College in Ohio on a full scholarship in the fall but is unsure what she'll study. She loves volunteering, and wants to join the Peace Corps after college. Because she grew up "very fortunate," Medendorp said she feels obligated to serve others with her life.

Ogden was just the beginning.

"I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, and I think I found that in the [tutoring] program."

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