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Students to Springfield: More $ for Health Services

Sixty students from Ames Middle and Reavis Elementary recently boarded a yellow bus bound for Springfield to lobby for more school health centers.

"I felt happy, excited and nervous,” said Eunice Zepeva, an 8th-grader from Ames in Logan Square, about speaking to her representative. More than 300 middle and high school students from across the state participated in the lobbying effort, organized by the Illinois Maternal & Child Health Coalition.

Students from middle schools participating in LISC's Elev8 lobbied legislators in the state capital of Springfield.

Ramon Gardenhire

Convincing legislators to increase public funding for school health services is among the goals of Elev8, a national initiative at Ames in Logan Square, Reavis in Kenwood and at three other Chicago schools serving the Pilsen, Chicago Lawn and Auburn-Gresham communities. All five of Chicago’s participating schools will open health centers this spring using a portion of an $18 million grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies.

The idea behind Elev8 is to show legislators how addressing a range of student needs—from after-school programs to mental health services—can boost achievement in low-income neighborhoods. As part of the project, the Federation for Community Schools organizes parents and students to join related advocacy efforts like the bus trip to Springfield on April 1.

Lobbying organizations can only get so far with legislators, explained Megan Erskine of the coalition, which is pushing for an extra $3 million for school health centers this year as part of the state’s capital bill. “Personal stories are what grab the legislators’ attention,” she said. “No one can tell a story about a school health center and better than the students.”

State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin (D-Chicago) greets students, who watched their state legislature in action.

Ramon Gardenhire

DaMarcus Fisher, a 7th-grader at Reavis, said he told his state representative, William Burns (D), that many students at his school have asthma or food allergies that could be treated at a school health center. When kids have to leave for a doctor’s appointment, “They miss out on [school] work, and parents miss out on jobs.”

Zyesha Jones, an 8th-grader at Reavis, told Burns about the time she fell in cheerleading practice and had to leave school early because her school only has a nurse on site twice a week.

Eunice from Ames was so nervous about meeting her representative she forgot what she was going to say. After a quick glance at her notes, she explained to Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D) how school health centers would make health care more affordable for many families.

A student signs a guest book.

Ramon Gardenhire

“She said, ‘That’s a good point. You should keep protesting and bothering us about it,’” Eunice recalled.

Besides the chance to polish their public speaking skills, students said the visit to Springfield taught them more about the legislative process.

Watching a debate on the floor of the General Assembly from the visitors’ gallery, Roxana Maya, a 7th grader, said she realized that law-making was a more contentious process than she had thought. “I didn’t think they voted against each other,” she explained. “I thought somebody said something and they all agreed on it.”

Terrance Moore, a 6th grader at Reavis, found out that legislators debate issues that matter to him, like how to curb gang violence. “When you watch it on TV, it seems all boring. But when you go there, you understand what they’re doing,” he said.

Erskine said she hopes the experience convinced kids that they can take an active part in government and advocate on any issue of importance to them.

Zyesha from Ames said she’s thinking about taking her participation in government even further. “Being  able to see the inside of the [capitol] building, seeing all the paintings and the different rooms and talking to all the people, it made me want to achieve more,” she said. “Maybe I can work a little bit harder so I can be a senator and work inside that building.”

Posted in Education, Logan Square, Quad Communities

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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