Meet Our Student Civil Rights Summer Fellows: Jessica V.
STUDENTS | August 20, 2021
Meet Our Student Civil Rights Summer Fellows: Jessica V.

While Jessica only has one year under her belt at Marine Leadership Academy, the soon-to-be sophomore already has some ambitious goals if she were to ever become a high school principal one day. 

“If I was a principal, I would prioritize mental health by allowing students and teachers to be able to take a mental health day because everyone needs them,” she said. “I would also create an environment that discourages bullying by enforcing the CPS anti-bullying policy more so than it has been in the past.” 

Though that career path is unlikely since Jessica is most interested in the culinary arts, she’s already made a difference toward achieving these goals by participating in the district’s first-ever Civil Rights Summer Fellowship. This opportunity allowed her to collaborate with students from across Chicago to develop strategies that they can use to reduce bias-based harm and transform the culture at their schools. 

Get to know her interests, experiences, and priorities for the upcoming school year—which begins on Monday, August 30—more below!

What are your interests both inside and outside of the classroom? 

Inside the classroom, English language arts has always been one of my favorite subjects because most of my teachers have given me the freedom to read and write what I want to. I especially enjoy reading dystopian novels, especially those that have been made into movies. 

Outside of the classroom, I really enjoy playing volleyball and baking. I specialize in cupcakes, which is pretty much what I do 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

What encouraged you to join the district’s Civil Rights Summer Fellowship? 

As a CPS student, I wanted to do something to help change the ways that I felt like I had been mistreated in the past. I also felt like the responses to certain actions that students take were not always right. A lot of times when students would have incidents, I feel like we were blamed into believing that we were wrong and our voices weren’t heard. 

Sometimes I thought that maybe I was just being nitpicky about these situations, but hearing from other students made me realize that these injustices weren’t happening only to me. 

What part of the fellowship stood out to you the most? 

The fellowship did a great job of building community. When we first started, it was a little awkward since most of us didn’t know each other. By the end of the first welcoming session, we were all talking as if we had met each other previously. 

My favorite activity was when we got to ask personal questions to each other such as: “How would you like to be treated at school?” and “What does respect mean to you?” 

How can staff help create a positive learning environment, especially when many students are returning to school buildings for the first time in over a year? 

I think it’s important for them to make sure that we have a space to introduce ourselves with our names and pronouns and remind us what is and isn’t allowed at school. However, they need to do this in a way where it doesn’t feel like they are pushing us down. 

Instead of just being our teachers, they need to be our friends as well. They need to acknowledge our mental health and show us that they respect the social issues that we care about. 

What is the right way to educate peers who perpetrate bias-based harm at school? 

In the fellowship, we agreed that the first time you hear someone make an offensive comment, you should calmly call them out on it and make sure they know why what they said was wrong. The second time, you should talk to an adult or someone else that you trust and ask them to do something about it since it is making students uncomfortable. 

How are you going to incorporate what you learned this summer into the upcoming school year and beyond? 

Whenever I meet someone new, I will try my best to let them know that I accept them for who they are by introducing myself with my pronouns. This will also show them that they are safe talking to me. I also will be using what I learned through the fellowship to encourage others to treat everyone with respect. 

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.