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Elev8 Chicago Promotes Summer Learning and Voter Registration

They might be too young to vote—or even to register adults—but there are no summertime blues stopping students from LISC Chicago’s Elev8 sites from helping with the voter registration process.

"I can't vote--vote for me," the students chanted while marching along 95th Street, receiving a warm reaction from passersby.

Dawn Stephens

On July 30, about 60 students from Reavis and Marquette elementary schools joined their Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools peers from Trinity United Church of Christ (Trinity UCC) in a march down 95th Street to encourage adults to register to vote. Although Illinois prohibits youth under voting age from directly registering voters, the students distributed cards for the Rock the Vote website, where prospective voters can register themselves online.

The march was part of a national effort to promote voter registration by CDF, which sponsors the Freedom Schools summer program. It also highlighted the growth of Freedom Schools in Chicago. Three years ago, Reavis Elementary launched a summer Freedom Schools as part of Elev8. Marquette Elementary soon followed, and the Elev8 schools’ work inspired Fermi and Sexton elementary schools to start Freedom Schools through their participation in the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community. Trinity UCC started a Freedom School independently.

Former Reavis Elev8 Program Manager Jenny Delessio-Parson has also become an Ella Baker trainer, working with more than 40 schools nationally to train the young adult leaders who run CDF Freedom Schools summer programming. At a spirited rally preceding the march, the effects of the training were evident in the common chants, dances and emphasis on civic responsibility among students from all three programs.

During the rally, Illinois Rep. Monique Davis (D-27th) gave a brief explanation of what legislators do and praised the youngsters for their energy and civic-mindedness. “Your spirit is beautiful,” she told them. “I didn’t know Freedom School could be so much fun.”

The July 30 march included 60 students from three sites, two of them middle schools in the LISC Chicago Elev8 program.

Dawn Stephens

On 95th Street, students chanted, “I can’t vote—vote for me!” and received a warm reception from passersby: friendly honks from cars and trucks and brief conversations with commuters leaving the Chicago Transit Authority’s 95th Street Red Line station.

“It was neat because people were cheering and running with us to show their support,” said Daniel Reyes, a Marquette Freedom School student who will start fourth grade in September.

“Usually marches like this are for adults, but this was for kids,” said Daniela Robles, who will start sixth grade at Marquette this fall. “It was new for us.”

Organizers deemed the event a success despite high temperatures and Illinois’ restrictions on voter registration. “The youth and adults were really flexible,” said Kimberly Harris, a master’s student from Princeton University and LISC Chicago intern, who coordinated the event. “They kept their energy even in the heat. We found a way to make sure that youth voices were heard and are making a difference.”

Posted in Education, Chicago Lawn, Quad Communities


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