What began as an effort to raise the profile of this small suburb has quickly sprouted into an international relationship with roots in some of Illinois’ most influential corners.
During a ceremonial meeting in Chicago’s downtown last week, civic leaders from Forest Park mingled with counterparts from County Cork, Ireland, to celebrate a new educational partnership. Elementary students in Forest Park will use laptop computers obtained last year with help from then Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn to communicate with their new classmates in the United Kingdom.
This relationship was formally acknowledged March 13 when the superintendent of District 91, Lou Cavallo, met with Mayor Noel Harrington of County Cork.
“I’m very thrilled to be part of this,” Cavallo said.
It was a year ago this month that Quinn, now the governor of Illinois, paid a visit to Forest Park as part of an effort to put technology in the hands of children. Through the charitable One Laptop Per Child program, Quinn announced that Forest Park’s K-8 public schools had purchased 100 of the innovative computers developed by Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The district’s purchase also funded the delivery of another 100 laptops to children in impoverished countries.
To further integrate the new laptops into the curriculum, educators said they hoped to partner with schools across the globe.
Last week’s meeting at the Illinois IT Association building on South Wacker Drive allowed Cavallo and Harrington to ink that relationship. Beginning in the fall, students at Field-Stevenson Elementary will have an online relationship with St. Patrick’s Boys National School in Mallow, County Cork.
“If you can get that arrangement between the two schools, you’ll find that the communities are rarely far behind,” Harrington said of forging international bonds.
Teachers are still developing ways to make the most of the partnership in their lessons, and it’s not yet clear when other Forest Park students will be able to participate.
“This is the beginning,” Cavallo said.
Mayor Anthony Calderone and commissioners Rory Hoskins and Michael Curry also attended the meeting. Mary Win Connor, a member of the school board and chairwoman of the youth commission, was joined by the commission’s vice chairwoman, Rachell Entler.
In addition to Harrington, five council members rounded out the delegates from County Cork.
Gov. Quinn did not attend the signing, but representatives from his office attended alongside Cook County officials.
Since 1999, Cook County has had a relationship with County Cork, Ireland, according to Bill Gainer, chairman of the Cook County Partnership. The 20-year agreement has focused on economic development, tourism, technology and cultural exchanges, said Gainer.
Hoskins, a member of Forest Park’s village council, met with Quinn in 2007 and from that discussion the schools were able to procure the laptops. To see the relationship snowball further, said Hoskins, is “very satisfying.”
“The governor is a very detail oriented person,” Hoskins said. “He didn’t forget us.”