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Student Keynote Moments (Polaris Charter Academy) - EL Education 2013 National Conference (Fall) in Atlanta

Fall 2013 National Conference Keynotes Speakers - Polaris Charter Academy (Short Version) from Expeditionary Learning on Vimeo.


- [Ron Berger] I’m Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer for Expeditionary Learning. When the city of Chicago analyzed its charters and evaluated them, only one charter school in the city of Chicago got the highest rating on every single measure of school quality, and that is Polaris. What would it look like if students were working towards Common Core standards, and at the same time, trying to change the world? I am honored to present to you this morning: Kameron, Ameerah, Desiree, and De’Angelo, our 2013 keynote speakers.

- “We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

- Good afternoon, my name is Kameron Boyd.

- Hello everyone, I’m Desiree Gabarin.

- It’s a pleasure to be here. My name is De’Angelo Pinkston.

- And my name is Ameerah Rollins. Last year when we started Justice For All..

- That’s the title of our year-long expedition,

- When we started it, we weren’t sure what connections to make.

- [Desiree] At Polaris, we are taught to have integrity, compassion, to be critical thinkers, to explore new ways of solving problems, and to serve as active citizens.

- To help us understand how members or interpreters study their [Unintelligible].

- In cases like Frederick versus Morse and Tinker versus Des Moines, where the courts protected the First Amendment, when they determined that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gates.

- In December, we were introduced to the Second Amendment through the subquestion: Who is responsible for gun control, the people or the government? This Amendment protects peoples’ rights to bear arms.

- Within a week of studying the Second Amendment, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened.

- This tragedy was a turning point in our expedition. It created a sense of fear and urgency. Schools are supposed to be a safe place, but suddenly, we felt vulnerable. We started having conversations about how gun violence has affected our own lives. Teachers set aside time during crew for us to share our stories.

- When we surveyed our crew members, what we found might shock you; it sure surprised us.

- 84% of our crew members have been around a gun.

- I have an uncle who’s in a gang, and never goes anywhere without his gun.

- 96% of our eighth grade crewmates know someone who has been shot or killed.

- My cousin was shot at point blank range on his way back from getting a cup of coffee.

- 100% of us have, at some time or another, felt unsafe in our own neighborhood.

- We decided that if we want justice and domestic tranquility in our home and in our neighborhood, if we want general welfare to mean that it’s safe for us to walk to school and play outside, if we want what children all over want...

- The opportunity to grow up,

- Get smart,

- And do good,

- We had to devise a plan.

- And the Peacekeeper Project was born.

- [Desiree] These people lost their lives just blocks from our school.

- One of those dots could be my father.

- One of those dots could be my little sister.

- One of those dots could be me.

- We became very committed to our Peacekeeper Project, which included two final products: a city-wide Day of Peace, and publishing a book honoring the people in our community who serve as our Peacekeeper experts.

- Our plan was to spread the word about our Day of Peace by creating a public service announcement. We went to work, researching and familiarizing ourselves with the components of a PSA.

- We chose eight project managers to conduct a business meeting with our local level policymaker, Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. We went to City Hall to present our vision to have a Day of Peace on June 10, 2013.

- [Ameerah] His enthusiastic response got us so excited. Our project managers got on the phone and began booking interviews and expert visits.

- [Desiree] Captain Roger Bay of the 11th district Chicago Police Department was the first expert to get real with us.

- Captain Bay said that he was glad we weren’t focused on gun turn-ins or calls for more police action in the area. He said that if we really wanted to change things in our neighborhood, we needed to start by building relationships and strengthening the culture of our community.

- This all started to sound familiar. At Polaris, we are an E.L. school, so building culture and exploring what it really means to be a community, is the center of everything we do. Now we just needed to bring what we knew about building crew out of our school and into our neighborhood.

- Teams of students were working on different aspects of our expedition at the same time. Some of us were attending meetings to spread the word to the broader community. Several times we were asked by different organizations, like the West Humboldt Park Development Council, to speak at community meetings about the work that we were doing. What was amazing was that adults were actually starting to listen to us.

- Other teams were researching and developing PSA interview questions for our 16 experts. We interviewed people, like Ameena Matthews, who’s dedicated her life to being a Violence Interrupter.

- [Kameron] And John Groene, the Director of Housing Services for our neighborhood of West Humboldt Park.

- [Ameerah] Alicia Sams, the co-director of the documentary By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, heard about us and came to talk to us about filmmaking and documentary work.

- [Desiree] We were invited to present to a panel of experts at the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago.

- [Kameron] And the Action-Based Communities project at Loyola University Law School, where we were presented with an award for the most compelling call to action.

- Alderman Burnett was also working to spread the word for us. He aired all four of our PSA’s on his cable television show. He also brought them to a city council meeting, and played one PSA for the entire city council, including Mayor Ron Emanuel. This is what they saw.

- Come on man, let’s go to the Y.

- Aight.

- [Woman] People just don’t know how it destroys a family.

- [Man] I’ve been dealing with some of the drug trafficking that’s been going on in this neighborhood for many years.

- [Young Woman] I think that gun violence has really gotten worse over time.

- We need to get more after school programs going on for the young people.

- And stop using guns as a means to resolve disputes.

- [Desiree] We can stop the gun violence by creating more jobs and activities. We have planned a Day of Peace on June 10th, and we would like to see our communities bonding together, pledging 24 hours of non-gun violence.

- We were really busy spreading word about our Day of Peace using our PSAs.

- [Ameerah] We also spent time passing out flyers to promote our community Sweep and Greet. For those of you who don’t know what a Sweep and Greet is, it’s where you get all of the neighbors out of their houses at the same time on the same day to clean up their yards and get to know one another.

- If this wasn’t enough, we were also working on our second final product, publishing our book...

- [Ameerah] Peacekeepers of Chicago. Peacekeepers of Chicago was a culmination of everything we had learned about writing that year. The Common Core state standards put a special focus on argumentative writing pieces. The biographical sketches were written as argumentative writing pieces, that had to defend a claim that each person deserves the title of Peacekeeper. Sometimes, we found that the information that we gathered from their interviews wasn’t enough, so we had to get information from multiple sources and the internet, including articles, journals and op-ed pieces.

- This book took us through the whole writing process, of planning, revising, editing, and rewriting. I can’t even tell you how many drafts we went through as we did our peer-critique sessions, in order to help us revise our work.

- We are also proud of the fact that it was good enough to be accepted in the Mayor Daley branch of the Chicago Public Library. June 10th was our scheduled city-wide Day of Peace. We asked our entire city to put down their guns. Our call to action was to have a day with no violence, no shootings, no killings. The reality is that we fell short of that goal. June 10th was not a Day of Peace for the entire city, but it was for our community.

- [Ameerah] This is the e-mail that we got from Captain Bay: “I have remarkable news to share regarding June 10th, A Day of Peace. There were no shootings or murders in West Humboldt Park, Humboldt Park, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, North Lawndale, Lawndale, Austin, or Hermosa. One elderly woman was stabbed to death in the fourth district on the far southeast side of the city. A shooting in the seventh district, Englewood, resulted in five people being shot, and one of them died from his injuries.”

- “A shooting in the third district resulted in one man being shot.”

- “A shooting in the ninth district resulted in one man being shot.”

- “A shooting in the 20th district resulted in one man and one woman being shot.”

- “The results of Peacekeepers is what I consider an on-going conversation. People looking for solutions. People working toward those solutions. Everyone working together to make this year better than the last.”

- When we started our Peacekeeper project, we thought we were going to change our city, but what we really did was change ourselves. What we learned was that this kind of work takes grit, perseverance, and persistence. That if things are going to be better, each of us, all citizens of the United States need to be the people. At Polaris, we are working on being the living embodiment of the Constitution.

- [De’Angelo] So here’s our Call to Action.

- Help us create a space where students, teachers, and community members can spread the word, inspire one another, and support the hard work of creating change.

- Please join us and...

- [All] Be the People. Thank you.

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