American Voice turned seven this fall. Throughout the program’s lifetime, OAV’s students have collaborated with their communities to bring sustained change through projects designed to enhance safety, encourage healthy eating habits, discourage bullying and reduce waste. This year is bound to be a busy one, with programs running in Tucson, Berwyn, and Chicago Public Schools. We are thankful to be funded this year by the McCormick Foundation, the Boeing Foundation and the Pick Foundation.
We had a great start to the year with our opening facilitator discussion on Saturday, September 12, during which we collaborated in real time with our colleagues in Tucson. “To kick off the year we were asked to discuss our role as teachers when it comes to teaching students about citizenship,” said Kristen Caprarola, a teacher at Heritage Middle School in Berwyn, Illinois. A large part of the discussion, said Caprarola, were the changes made to the curriculum.
“As returning and new leaders to OAV, we all have a different view of our world and how we can use OAV to help show it in our classrooms,” Caprarola added. “From primary to secondary, our students have to learn what civic engagement is so that they can inherit and change the world.”
John Fontanetta, OAV program coordinator and former principal, elaborates on the program’s impact on the Berwyn community. “While seeking solutions to school and community issues, the OAV teams have reached out to the Berwyn community for support,” Fontanetta said. One example is their railroad pedway and LED street light projects, for which they developed and maintain relationships with the Berwyn City Government and Mayor Robert Lovero. Another is when students teamed up with Aramark Food Service to eliminate Styrofoam lunch trays. In addition, students have presented numerous times to the Berwyn School Board at public sessions.
Student initiatives have resulted in endorsements and financial support from the Board, as well as partnerships with Costco, The South Berwyn Education Foundation, The Kiwanis Club of Berwyn, and many others. Through their efforts, students “have developed the skills necessary to present their ideas to adults in a clear and passionate manner that is beyond their years,” Fontanetta said. “The impression these students have made on community members reflects well on the perception of South Berwyn students as a whole.”