LAKEVIEW — Amiria Andrews, a senior at Lake View High School, thought it’d be easy to use $10,000 to spruce up the campus with outdoor seating.
But like anything that goes through the city, it proved much more complicated.
“At first I just thought we’d just order the picnic tables and boom, we’d be finished,” Andrews said. “But it turns out it’s a whole process. When I look back on this, I now realize that’s what it takes to build parks and other stuff like that. It made me reflect and realize I always need to have a plan and a process before I do anything like this.”
Andrews and her classmates were part of Ald. Matt Martin’s outreach program in the 47th Ward to involve young people in the participatory budgeting process, during which residents can vote on how to spend discretionary funding for their areas. It’s an effort by the alderman to help young people be more civically engaged.
For the Lake View students, Martin’s office worked with school leaders and UIC Great Cities Institute to turn the process into a civics curriculum so students would learn more about local governance. Josh Mark, Martin’s director of development and infrastructure, and the alderman met with students virtually “to educate them on menu money, how participatory budgeting works and how infrastructure is funded overall,” Mark said.
Kathleen Mahoney, a civics teacher at Lake View, said it was a great opportunity for young people to meet their alderman and other city officials and have local leaders seriously consider their ideas.
“They learn about the U.S. Constitution, and they learn a lot about federal government. But I just love that they can extend what they’ve learned to this because change happens locally,” Mahoney said. “And with opportunities like these, students can really get in there and be that change.”
After learning about the process, students pitched ideas for school improvements. They soon learned some of their proposals weren’t feasible or too expansive for the $10,000, Mark said.
Students then thought of some type of outdoor seating for students and the public. That gained the most traction, Andrews said.
“Once we did that, we decided to make a school survey so everyone, teachers and students, could vote on what kind of seating it could be. Once we gathered enough data, we decided as a whole to get picnic tables, and then from there we looked at the models available and to make sure they were in the budget we had,” Andrews said.
The voting process — and navigating government to get the tables for a section of the campus that’s publicly accessible — gave Andrews and her classmates an up-close look at how the city functions, she said.
The outdoor tables aren’t ready yet as the proposal is still being reviewed by the building’s engineer and other CPS departments for installation.
Martin’s office is launching another opportunity for young people interested in local governance.
High school students can sign up for the one-day Youth Organizing Summit on Aug. 10 at Chase Park. Students will network with local organizations, develop their community organizing skills and learn more about issues facing Chicago.
Students also can participate in workshops led by local community organizers, meet elected officials from around the city, watch a panel discussion consisting of elected officials, organizers and activists and attend a networking fair to get connected with local groups.
“We’ll also be doing activities like political meme workshops and protest art workshops,” said Andi Aguilar, the 47th Ward’s assistant director of constituent services.
The deadline to sign up is Sunday. Find more information here.
Last year, Martin and Alds. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) and Andre Vasquez (40th) offered a two-month summer program so students could sit down with elected officials to see what crafting the city’s policy looks like.
The August youth summit is the next phase of that outreach, Aguilar said.
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