STUDENTS | August 12, 2021
Alejandro and Claudia are both students at George Washington High School who share a passion for social justice and uplifting their peers. That’s why they both took part in the district’s first-ever Civil Rights Summer Fellowship—a way for students to get involved in helping CPS become a more inclusive and equitable district. Get to know both of them below, including their interests inside and outside of the classroom, their favorite parts of the fellowship, and how they will apply what they learned this summer when they return to high school starting on Monday, August 30.
Get to know Alejandro:
What are your favorite things to learn inside the classroom?
I love to write, and I also love reading about and researching current events and social injustices. I read a lot outside of school on how to become a better writer. I would describe my writing style as very informative because I always put a lot of research into my writing to inform others on a specific topic.
What social justice issues are you most passionate about?
I’m very passionate about environmental justice because that is a big issue that impacts my community. Our community organized a hunger strike to keep a company from entering our community that would have polluted our air and water. I’m also very passionate about immigration. I feel that immigrants are extremely overworked and taken advantage of which is very unfair.
What’s a topic you explored through the fellowship, and what are your thoughts on it?
We spent a lot of time talking about restorative justice and how it can affect our lives in good ways. I would describe restorative justice as finding a solution to a problem that’s effective for both the accuser and the person who caused the harm that does not rely on discipline.
One situation I can think of that needed to be more restorative was when a staff member made inappropriate comments about what a friend of mine was wearing. If I was the principal, I would have pulled the teacher aside and explained to her why her comments crossed the line and facilitated an apology from her to the student.
What was your favorite part of the fellowship this summer?
I loved the discussions about so many topics like bias-based harm and restorative justice. It was also so much fun to create the #BeKind21 calendar with my peers. I want to bring the calendar to my school and maybe talk to someone who’s by themself and be as inclusive as I can.
Get to know Claudia:
What have you gotten involved in outside of school?
I enjoy playing many sports and am currently doing soccer. I’m also involved in Student Voice Committee. I created my own club called United We Rise that is meant to help undocumented students. And my school also made a new club for environmental justice so I decided to join that too.
Why did you want to start your own club specifically focused on supporting undocumented students?
I wanted to make them feel included because, for example, when college representatives would visit our school, I would hear them say: “We won’t be able to attend because of financial aid since we’re undocumented.” I also have personal experiences within my own family that I struggled with, so I can only imagine the struggles that undocumented students face.
What was it like to meet students from all over Chicago through the Civil Rights Summer Fellowship?
The fellowship had students representing all races and genders, so it was cool to hear about their perspectives while also sharing my perspective. When you’re in a group with the same type of people, we don’t really get to hear other ideas because we mostly agree on everything. So, it was really interesting to hear about the experiences of others.
What are some of the best ways to create inclusive schools?
I would create a safe space that allows everyone to get to know each other. I think teachers should be there for their students and make them feel welcome. As students, I feel like a good way for us to be more inclusive is to introduce ourselves to new people.
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.