Participants reflect on the new exchange program involving ETHS

Students from three area schools are involved in an unusual exchange program. About 90 teens from Evanston Township High School, North Lawndale College Prep Charter High School and Highland Park High School are not just shadowing their peers at a different school, but are sharing – and challenging – their thoughts on immigration, language and culture.

This past summer, ETHS World History and Culture teacher Aaron Becker went to a seminar on teaching immigration through literature and theater. There he met John Ehresman, a Spanish teacher at North Lawndale College Prep and Faisal Mohyuddin, an English teacher at Highland Park High School. “We all love teaching and love our students, and appreciating this, we thought it would be a cool experience for our students to enter one another’s schools and open their minds to different realities even within our own area,” Mr. Becker told the Roundtable. “We believed that meeting people from different schools would challenge the stereotypes each group of students had about the other schools and communities.”

According to the schools’ websites, North Lawndale College Prep, located on Chicago’s westside, has 900 students in grades 9-12, 98% of whom are black and 2% Latino. Highland Park High School currently has more than 2,000 students enrolled, 75 percent white, 2 percent black and 18 percent Hispanic. ETHS has 3,120 students (as of Sept. 2013), 31% black, 17% Hispanic and 44% white.

In October, ETHS students visited North Lawndale and in November, they visited Highland Park. ETHS hosted North Lawndale in December and will host Highland Park in February or March. At each exchange, students take turns leading an activity that helps facilitate a discussion on a topic all have studied in class. At North Lawndale, students did skits and had discussions centered around the book, “The Circuit: Stories From the Life of a Migrant Child” by Francisco Jimenez. At Highland Park, students shared personal stories and had their partner mirror and retell them as a way to better connect. Later that day, ETHS students facilitated a Skype session with HP students and Ismael Beah, a former child soldier and the best-selling author of the memoir, “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” and the novel “Radiance of Tomorrow”, books the kids had all read. Spanish language and culture was the topic of discussion when North Lawndale visited ETHS.

Reactions from the Students

At the end of each exchange day, students are given time to reflect and share what they experienced. Comments range from simple comparisons about lockers and lunch to deeper reactions.

“Despite race, every person was diverse in personality,” said an ETHS student after the North Lawndale visit.

“Even though our schools are real different, we have a lot in common,” said another.

“I like to see other kids in our society and how they live and interact. Highland Park is so similar but so different.”

“I loved this experience…and although I cried and got emotional, no one judged, at least they didn’t show it.”

“I loved the school and the people in that class. I also loved the fact that there were a lot of Hispanics in that class. It might have made others feel out of place but to me it made me feel really comfortable.”

“The experience was great…my partner was much like me; we both played football and had single moms and had diverse friends.”

Future Plans

“I’ve loved watching this process grow,” said Mr. Becker. “A lot of kids have said they want to be involved so we’re looking to expand.” There are tentative plans to do a three-school Summit at a neutral location in the Spring.