STUDENTS | July 29, 2021
The lessons that Alejandro L., a rising senior at Taft High School, has learned this summer through participating in the district’s first-ever Civil Rights Summer Fellowship will carry him far beyond his final year of high school. He wants to become a teacher and knows that this opportunity has equipped him with the right perspective to create an inclusive classroom environment for his future students.
“Being born in Chicago and having gone through several different schools in CPS, I definitely had an understanding of some of the experiences that the fellows shared,” he said. “At the same time, I thought those experiences were isolated in certain communities, and now I’m seeing that they are everywhere.”
One of the most powerful parts of the fellowship for Alejandro was the talking circles, opportunities for each student to share their thoughts with the entire group. While he admits that being so vulnerable in such a short amount of time was new to him, because the circles were rooted in support, he quickly felt comfortable speaking up.
“For other students who want to make a difference in their school, I would say it’s important to be open-minded and don’t judge,” he said. “Instead, just listen to others, take everything in, and then make a decision about what you agree or disagree with. Being inclusive means listening to both sides.”
Read more about Alejandro and his experience in the Civil Rights Summer Fellowship below, and—don’t forget—the first day of school is August 30, 2021.
What are some of your interests both inside and outside of the classroom?
Inside the classroom, my favorite subject is science. I’m really interested in STEM. Outside of the classroom, my favorite extracurriculars include my internship with the American Chemical Society as well as sports like boxing and track and field.
Why did you want to become a summer fellow?
The program sounded very different and unique from some of the other programs I was signing up for. I went to its kickoff meeting and had a really, really good experience and was able to meet some new people and become very engaged with the group of fellows.
What did you learn through reviewing and editing the district’s Student Bill of Rights during the fellowship?
I learned more about the specific wishes that students want from teachers and administrators at their schools. In general, these things seem to be basic needs, not heavy demands. Students just want to be respected, listened to, and included.
If you were in charge of a high school, what would you implement to create a more inclusive school environment?
A few things that I would ensure are LGBTQ clubs and more social workers. Schools tend to have groups that are only inclusive of certain people, so I think we need to break down those barriers with resources that address the root of those issues. I also think having more social workers will help schools de-escalate situations in ways that are restorative and benefit students more in the long run.
What does a restorative school culture mean to you?
Being restorative to me means that the adults in our school buildings realize that just because they have authority does not mean that they are always right. It also means more mediation between student conflicts. Even though suspensions are going down, nothing truly gets solved when all you rely on is disciplinary action. Students will continue to have issues.
Beyond this summer, how are you going to implement what you have learned through the fellowship?
I’m going to follow everything I have been taught to be more inclusive. One big thing I learned is the importance of announcing your pronouns when you enter a room so people can understand you and you can understand them. I also think I’m going to try to be friendlier, because being kind is something that goes a long way with high school students.
While Alejandro is a fan of all things related to STEM, he singles out biology as his favorite subject to study. The Civil Rights Summer Fellowship was created by the district’s Office of Student Protections and Title IX (OSP). Learn more about OSP’s other efforts to transform schools here.