UPTOWN — More than 30 McCutcheon Elementary fifth-graders presented their research and ideas about for fixing school funding discrepancies to a panel of politicians and education professionals Wednesday morning.
The students have been participating in the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago's Action Based Communities Projects for about a month and decided school funding was a community issue they wanted to focus on.
"I was kind of scared about this, but I was proud of myself because I tell people I can be a change in my community," said Natasha Mora, 11, at McCutcheon, 4865 N. Sheridan Road.
Natasha Mora presents her ideas to the panel. [DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]
The students from rooms 201 and 203 began the conversation by posing the question, "Where would you be right now without an education?" to the panel, which included Ald. James Cappleman (46th), Caitlin McElroy, Director of Community Affairs for the 46th Ward, Lee Ann Lowder, Deputy General Counsel at the Chicago Board of Education, and Cynthia Taines, Associate Professor in the College of Education at Northwestern Illinois University.
The students argued that school funding across Illinois is unequal. For example, suburban schools spend $22,123 per student, but CPS spends about $15,121 per student.
CPS is facing more budget cuts this year, while McCutcheon searches for funding for things like "gifted programs, clubs, bilingual education, heating and air conditioning and teachers," students said.
"It was really important for us to learn and fight for our community to get the supplies we need. And to show we can make change in our community," said Natasha.
If McCutcheon's budget is cut again, the school could lose four teachers, one security guard and a clerk, students said.
"This problem is important to us because we could lose teachers. If that happens, we might have to combine classes or the schools could close down. If kids can't get the education they need, we lose the next generation," the children said in their action plan.
After completing their research, which included interviewing staff and reading articles, they designed posters and wrote letters to send to "people who could help us with our policy proposal" including Gov. Bruce Rauner, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-13th) and state Sen. Heather Steans.
The next phase of their plan is to "put up the posters, hang them on the streets and see if we can help make a bigger change," said Hasiia Awal, 11.
Students hope the fliers and letters can let community members know of the importance of the issue, and raise awareness.
Cappleman, who gave the kids a few pointers on public speaking after the presentation, said he was impressed by their speeches and their research.
"I thought it was great ...Teaching young students about the reasons to get involved. We need more of it. It was very powerful," he said.
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