Welcome to our evening summary of school news in Illinois, a feature we are starting today. In these posts, Voxitatis will briefly summarize snapshots of Illinois schools and the activities going on, without going into great depth. Think of these posts like a TV newscast version of our deeper research-based coverage. These are like the USA Today news briefs from the 50 states: a word or two about each story and a link for more extended coverage from other news media.
School supplies for Illinois and Africa
- Does it matter if kids in Zambia have enough pencils and other school supplies? Several middle school students in Champaign think it does, the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette reports. As part of the Change for Change program, students at Unit 4 schools are raising funds in partnership with the nonprofit Thankful Thinking, in part, to purchase school supplies and food for students in Zambia. “It’s pretty important because some stuff they’re not able to have. Like, a random pencil is everywhere,” said Matthew Frerichs, a seventh grader at Jefferson Middle School. “Everyone has a pencil here, and everyone has a shirt and clothes and other resources. But the kids in Zambia don’t have a ton of that.”
- A quarter auction raised a few thousand dollars for Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Alton on October 17, the Telegraph reports. Companies, such as Kohl’s through the Kohl’s Cares program, donate goods, and attendees bid on those goods. It was the first of three annual fundraisers. “We can have free events like family reading night, family movie night, and a school dance,” said Kristin Hobson, a parent in the Parent Teacher Group. Fundraisers help keep events and activities free for students. “It helps with whatever is needed. Whether it’s books for our library or playground equipment, it goes towards a lot of different things,” she said.
Paving the road to success with leadership at school
- Students at Seneca High School have strong leadership from their class officers, including Mason Mitchell, the senior class president. “There’s more to school than fitting in,” he writes for the Ottawa Daily Times. He has played a leadership role in two new programs at the school, including the Insane Irish club and a freshman orientation program. “The purpose was to allow the freshmen to become familiar with the school and hopefully meet new friends in the process. During these days, I led small ice-breaker groups and also addressed the entire class regarding the importance of leadership,” he writes.
- Kyle Schwarber, a catcher for the soon-to-be World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, was a big hit in his high school chorus, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. And the Chicago Tribune has video. In completely unrelated news, Justin Tucker, kicker for the Baltimore Ravens, who aren’t doing quite as well the Cubs this year, is an opera singer. NFL Films has a great video.
In the ‘Student Danger’ category
- A teacher at Webster Middle School in Waukegan was charged on October 16 with three counts of criminal sexual assault in connection with an inappropriate sexual relationship she allegedly had with a minor student at the school. Briana Travis, 33, of Mundelein, was arrested after a concerned parent contacted police about inappropriate text messages from the music teacher, the Lake County News-Sun reports. Those text messages allegedly contained information about her relationship with another student. “The details of these allegations are abhorrent,” District 60 Superintendent Donaldo Batiste said. “Any behaviors that compromise the safety and well-being of our students, and/or the trust of our community, will not and cannot be tolerated.”
- A young man allegedly tried to assault children and adults with knives at the Morton Public Library on October 13, but his attack was stopped by a 76-year-old chess instructor, the Pekin Times reports. Dustin Brown, 19, of Morton, stands accused of attempted murder, aggravated battery of a senior citizen, and aggravated assault. He also faces child pornography charges unrelated to this incident. He was expelled from Morton High School following allegations that he used the school’s network to access illegal pornographic materials.
- A 20-year-old man has been charged with disorderly conduct after trying to get on a school bus in the far-northwest suburb of Huntley in the morning of Friday, October 16, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Police responded to reports of a man “acting strangely and trying to get on the school bus.” Shortly after they arrived, police arrested the man, whom the bus driver had reportedly kept off the bus.
- Police in Champaign chased and arrested a Centennial High School student, who allegedly showed off what he said was a hand grenade he had carried onto a school bus October 12, the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette reports. The student was not named, as he was charged as a minor with disorderly conduct for bringing what police later discovered was an unloaded BB gun onto a school bus. The Unit 4 school district is providing counseling for any students who might have been on that bus.
- Students in Peoria are mourning the death of Tommie Forest III, 14, a football player at Peoria High School who was shot and killed in a home invasion on October 11, the Peoria Journal-Star reports. His coach, Tim Thornton, said Tommie had a strong work ethic and was always smiling. “Kids spend so many hours at school and so many hours after school, we become family,” said Academic Instructional Officer Revonda Johnson. “So when this happens to one of our students, it happens to one of our own.”
- A “disoriented and confused” man wandered into a classroom full of students at the Belleville Safe School on Thursday, October 15, causing the school to be put on lockdown briefly, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. The man was neither charged nor named, and according to police, he may have been suffering from a mental illness. He simply walked into the building as students were arriving, and said, “I’m here to learn.” The teacher said that was fine but that she first had to move the other students to a different room.
- A student at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Middle School confessed to writing a message threatening to “blow up the school” on a bathroom wall, the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette reports. The school was evacuated when the message was discovered. The student “is asking everybody to forgive him,” Gibson City’s police chief said. “It was just a dumb, stupid thing he did, and there was really no meaning behind it.” A few hours after bomb-sniffing dogs from the University of Illinois did a full sweep, students were allowed to return.
- Adnan Azeemullah, 18, a varsity football player at Bartlett High School, died Wednesday, October 14, when his motorcycle crashed into a School District U-46 bus in Elgin, the Daily Herald reports. His friends at the school are in mourning and have taken to social media to post remembrances. Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders quoted from an essay Adnan had recently written: “Finally all the sweat and hard work had paid off and here I am, few months later being congratulated by those who had faith in me, and those who didn’t. All that work has paid off. I had done something that I could never have imagined a few years ago. If I can do something like this, then surely my possibilities are endless,” Adnan wrote, referring to his memorization of the entire Qu’ran, all 700 pages of Islam’s holy book.
District-level and policy movement
- A letter to the editors of the Peoria Journal-Star asks officials in Morton School District 709 to seek input from citizens by means of a ballot question before committing any more money to a facilities upgrade that will eventually lead to a new high school. The school board barely passed a motion to issue working cash bonds of up to $2.35 million to help fund the first phase of the facilities plan, and “due to the possibility of the entire plan costing up to $120 million, there needs to be as much citizen involvement as possible,” writes Todd Farwell of Morton.
- Hinsdale District 86 is considering options for dealing with a population imbalance between its two high schools: 2,850 at Hinsdale Central and 1,620 at Hinsdale South. One option is to build new classrooms at Central; another would be to “level” the schools, making one a campus for freshmen and sophomores, the other for juniors and seniors. Some people want to put an advisory question on the March ballot asking which course of action the district should take, Pioneer Press reports. Leveling high school campuses is a bad idea, I think, because middle school cliques normally dissolve when not-quite-mature ninth graders are in the presence of older students. If freshmen are in a building by themselves, those cliques tend to solidify, not dissolve, and just adding sophomores isn’t likely to make the situation much better.
- Forums in St Charles for Unit School District 303, including St Charles North and East high schools, are ongoing, as district officials try to determine the best way to deal with a looming financial crisis brought about by a range of uncertain causes: possible changes to the school funding formula, pension reform, and a pending two-year property tax freeze. School closures and boundary changes will result, but at this point, nobody can say exactly what those will be, the Daily Herald reports. “My philosophy with regard to boundary changes is that if a kid can walk, they should walk,” said District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann. “And we shouldn’t bus kids by buildings to get to another building if we can help it.”
School programs that benefit students
- In order to recognize teenagers at risk for sudden cardiac death, Lyons Township High School District 204 will offer students free electrocardiogram heart screenings on November 12 and 13, according to a district press release. They’re looking for about 250 volunteers to help in the waiting room, attach the electrodes to students, and perform other functions that will require some training. Click here to volunteer, and follow the Volunteer Spot link at the bottom.
- Shiloh CUSD #1 in Hume will host a Trivia Night to benefit Shiloh Education Association senior scholarships, Saturday, October 24, at the Country Junction in Newman. The donation amount is set at $10 per person, and each trivia team can have a maximum of six people. A taco bar and soda will be provided for trivia players, and other drinks are available for purchase. You must be 21 or over to participate, according to a district press release.
- A newly installed garden in the courtyard at York High School in Elmhurst is taking shape, Pioneer Press reports. Growing in the courtyard between the school’s academic building and the main building are kale, peppers, beets, lettuce, herbs, oregano, and probably a few other plant species. The school’s comparative religion classes already use the garden as sort of a Zen garden, but teachers hope students in other classes will eventually use the garden as well: math students to study spatial relationships, family and consumer sciences students to study how food is grown, art students to sketch different plants, etc. “It allows kids to be involved in the school community,” said Kevin Homan, a 16-year old sophomore who said produce from the garden and from other plantings at York is used in the school’s restaurant, La Brigade.
- Hundreds of students who haven’t provided proof that they received a vaccination for meningitis are being kept home after a new law took effect in Illinois, the Peoria Journal-Star reports. The vaccination is required for sixth and 12th graders, and because of a shortage of the vaccine last summer, many school districts in the state pushed the compliance deadline from the first day of school to October 15, last Thursday, which is the latest date allowed by law. According to the Pantagraph, 177 students couldn’t walk into their school buildings in Bloomington District 87 or Unit 5.
What are kids learning in history class?
- A sixth grader’s parent at High Mount School in Swansea was upset with a unit on Muslim history being taught as part of her daughter’s social studies class, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. “I don’t want her learning other faiths from school,” said Rachel Seger. “If it would have just stopped at ‘this is their culture, this is where they go to church,’ fine. But when you get into the actual aspect of it, that’s where I’m drawing the line. That’s just going a little too far.” The family and school have resolved the issue, though details weren’t provided.
Dyett H.S. will reopen, so a new principal has moved in
- The new principal at Dyett High School in Chicago’s Bronzevile neighborhood, the school at the center of a hunger strike and years of protests by African-American community leaders, says she’s ready to move the brand new school forward, the Hyde Park Herald reports. “I have a few goals even before I enter Dyett, which includes continuing to hit the pavement of the community by recruiting students and meeting the community to market what Dyett will have to offer,” Beulah McLoyd said. “I think it will serve as a world-class high school and fill a huge gap in terms of art in the South Side. Filling up that gap presents an option that can weather any type of population changes.”
Diversity in dance and sport
- The boys’ soccer team at Sullivan High School in Chicago was strong, reaching the game for the school’s first shot at a regional title last week. Players and their coach, who may have to move on as a result of staff cuts across the city, say the team’s diversity contributes to that strength, with players coming from 11 different countries and having varying levels of fluency with English, the Chicago Tribune reports. “We go to school together, play soccer every day together,” said Sewar Al Bawi, a midfielder. “That’s how we learned how to communicate, how to speak soccer.” The game was lost, but the spirit of working together to achieve new heights will live on.
- Students at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights elected Jamie Brooks, 18, a special education student at the school, as Homecoming queen earlier this month, the Daily Herald reports. The dance was on Saturday, October 9, and Jamie was the first person with Down Syndrome to be elected Homecoming queen at Hersey, according to the article.