For Jackson Osborn, a sophomore at Proviso Math and Science Academy, his class project on civil rights had exactly the type of impact his teachers were hoping for.
Osborn and classmate Russell Kerns, both from Westchester, studied the life of Harvey Milk who in 1977 was the first openly gay man to win public office in California. Milk was later shot to death by a rival politician, but not before becoming one of the country’s most noted champions for gay rights.
Inspired by what he learned in the course of working on the project, Osborn said his lukewarm interest was transformed. He is now circulating a petition to pass on to state lawmakers in support of recognizing gay marriages in Illinois.
“I didn’t have any problem with it, but now I’m, like, strongly for it,” Osborn said of granting homosexual couples the same legal protections as straight couples.
Teachers Julie Muhlenfeld and Michelle Vogt-Schuller organized the recent showcase, their third in the magnet school’s brief history. Each year, students in their language arts and social studies course are challenged to research a topic that has significance beyond the textbook. That Osborn, and others in the group of about 80 participating students, can see real-world applications is precisely what the project is about, said Muhlenfeld.
“We’re trying to get topics that students will be able to recognize in current events,” Muhlenfeld said.
The theme of the students’ projects is to understand the battle for certain rights. In the next marking period, the teachers will emphasize rights that Americans don’t have.
Vinita Ghai said her notions of gender equality in the workplace were “completely wrong” when she began looking into the history of the women’s labor movement. Ghai, a Bellwood resident, said she assumed women weren’t allowed to work blue-collar jobs in the early going, but learned that it was quite the opposite as a result of men being called to war during the 1940s.
“I wanted something that had to do with women, and I’m looking for a job now,” Ghai said of choosing her focus. “I wanted to see how it all started.”
She’s struggling to find work, and suspects that it’s because employers aren’t interested in hiring a high school student. As an adult, Ghai said she’d like to be an oncologist. It’s important to have a career that holds your interest, she said.
Josue Fernandez, originally from Ecuador, said it’s entirely possible that he could have led a segregated life if not for the efforts of black protestors like the Freedom Riders who challenged the notion of “separate but equal.” Change can be difficult, said Fernandez, but to learn that the Freedom Riders began their journey with 13 passengers and in three months numbered more than 600 provides hope.
As part of his display, Fernandez asked passersby to write a short note on how life could be improved and then attach it to a drawing of a bus. “You’re a Freedom Rider,” he said each time someone contributed.
Darryl Einhorn, a teacher at the academy, noted the irony in messages left on Fernandez’s poster calling for an end to racism. Einhorn, who taught Fernandez as a freshman last year, pushed him to explain why people should bother.
Einhorn too, left a message on the bus. It’s empowering, she said, to feel like you have a voice.
“It’s so simple, but that’s what it’s all about,” Einhorn said.