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Innovation Grants in Action:
#D128DARING Students Impact Their Community Through Project Based Learning with Local Focus
Students of VHHS English Teacher Ellen Macias were recently given an opportunity to hone their research, writing and speaking skills while also making a positive impact on their local community. Earlier this year, Macias submitted an application for a District 128 Foundation for Learning Innovation Grant. Her proposed project was titled Making an Impact in Our Community: PBL with a Local Focus. She was named a grant winner in January and began to move forward with her plans for the project.
Project Based Learning is an instructional methodology through which students learn and apply knowledge and skills through an engaging experience. Through the experience, students are given opportunities for deeper learning and the development of skills tied to college and career readiness.
Earlier this semester, Macias presented her students with five problems facing Lake County residents: contamination of lakes, resource disparity between schools, rising poverty, a spike in heroin use among teens, and a loss of family-owned businesses. After selecting a topic, the students worked in teams to investigate their chosen issue and propose a method of support.
The project culminated in the students presenting their findings and proposed solutions to a group of VHHS and D128 administrators and teachers on March 20. The audience also included representatives from the organizations that the students determined would make the greatest impact on helping solve the problems they researched. Those organizations each received $500 from the students, which was funded through Macias’ Innovation Grant.
Topics researched, student team members, and the recipient organizations were:
Heroin Use: Amelia Tehrani, Vito Accettura, Alyssa Shniper, Batima Mukhametgalym Selected funding recipient: A Way Out
School Funding Gaps: Nedas Pazereckas, Natalya Ulloa, Nathaniel Meza, David Kasyanyuk
Selected funding recipient: United Way of Lake County
Food Insecurity: Sadi Thomas, Mohammad Kannoun, Lesly Guzman-Uvera
Selected funding recipient: Libertyville Township Food Pantry
Students who researched the problem of heroin use in Lake County learned about a number of organizations providing assistance but found that A Way Out provided the best support for those fighting addiction. The team was able to interview A Way Out Director Bill Gentes who explained the program to them.
Team members agreed upon the importance of education for students on this topic and felt that more speakers for students at VHHS would be helpful. “We should get more resources and learn why it’s bad for us and our brains,” said team member Alyssa Shniper.
The need for equitable, not equal, school funding to meet the needs of each individual school’s specific needs became apparent to the team researching school funding gaps. The team noted successful programs helping in Lake County including the Schuler Program and Head Start, but selected United Way of Lake County as the recipient for their funding. “They help with finding the roots of the problem and offer programs to address issues like learning skills for life and the future,” said David Kasyanyuk. Student Nathaniel Meza also shared the amazing differences he saw as a VHHS student who previously attended a Chicago Public School.
United Way of Lake County representative Karla Alamar thanked the group and shared a relatable experience, having gone to high school in an affluent suburb, but now seeing the disparity among schools while working with United Way.
Food Insecurity research was presented by the final student group. They noted that food insecurity is not something people think is happening throughout Lake County. Their research found that during the recent government shutdown impacted 38 million people dependent upon SNAP, and many of those included children--the group most impacted by food insecurity in Lake County. Team member Sadi Thomas noted that the team had an opportunity to volunteer and observe at the Libertyville Township Food Pantry, after which they selected the Pantry as the recipient of their donation. They found it to be close to their community, easy access and liked that it was a non-government entity.
The class thanked the D128 Foundation for Learning for its support of this project. They also thanked the following Lake County Board Members who attended the presentation and the organization representatives who supported and attended the presentations:
Lake County Board Members:
- Jennifer Clark
- Julie Simpson
- Bill Gentes--A Way Out
- Karla Alamar--United Way of Lake County
- Kathleen O’Connor--Libertyville Township Food Pantry
Macias and her students gather with check recipients following the presentations. (Back row) Vito Accettura, Nathaniel Meza, Mohammad Kannoun, David Kasyanyuk, (middle row) Alyssa Shniper, Amelia Tehrani, Julie Simpson, Jennifer Clark, (front row) Kathleen O'Connor, Sadi Thomas, Natalya Ulloa, Lesly Guzman-Uvera, Karla Alamar, Ellen Macias, Batima Mukhametgalym, Nedas Pazereckas