Running to Raise Awareness for Technology Curriculum at Disadvantaged CPS Schools

By Tina Jenkins Bell 
BAPA School Liaison 

In his inauguration on Jan. 20, 1961President John F. Kennedy called Americans to action for their own and others’ greater good with these words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  

Michael Mancini, an English teacher, reading specialist, and football coach at Chicago Public School (CPS) Wendell Phillips Academy in Bronzevillerecently asked himself a similar question. How could he best help his students by reversing a deficit that could limit their college and career choices and possibly impact their abilities to support themselves and their families in the future? 

“I’d read a quote by an artificial intelligence expert Kai-Fu Lee who stated 40% of jobs will be lost to automation in 15 years. I worried that people like my students would be chewed up and left in the dust, particularly because Phillips currently has no computer science curriculum,” Mancini said.  

With this deficit spurring him to action, Mancini talked to Phillips Academy Principal Matthew G. Sullivan and staff to figure out how the school might best integrate a computer science department that offers instruction in various facets of technology, including coding, robotics, and artificial intelligence.  

Mancini, a former Boston resident, decided to run in the Boston Marathon to raise awareness for the need for technology instruction at Phillips. He also started a GoFundMe page to raise $250,000 to cover the salary and benefits for a technology instructor for two years as well as the costs for building a robotics lab. Since Oct. 1, $4800 has been raised. The minimum donation is $5. 

Mancini, who lives in Beverly/Morgan Park with his wife and two young daughters, hopes his ongoing efforts to train for the Boston Marathon, set for Apr. 19, 2021, will keep the need for technology instruction at Phillips in the forefront. 

“Distance running is not my strong suit. Prior to this, I was a power lifter and a sprinter at best, never a long-distance runner,” Mancini said. Mancini, who currently weighs about 260 pounds, once weighed 474 pounds. He said despite the challenges of his size and his body being more that of a “lifter” than a runner, he is committed to seeing this goal become a reality. 

“It’s been a challenge to create a buzz about this,” he said, “but hopefully people will see me doing this crazy thing for a good cause.”  

To train, Mancini has reached out Running Excels,10328 S. Western, for guidance. 

“I stopped by Running Excels to get my gait tested and get guidance on nutrition, running, and equipment,” Mancini said. 

Wendell Phillips Academy High School was the alma mater for Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke and Gwendolyn Brooks. For more information, contact Mancini, To make a donation, visit 



Quality and Caring Wherever You Look  Schools in Beverly/Morgan Park


Local School Council Elections 

In November, Chicago Public School parents will have one more very important election in which to participate. Local School Council (LSC) elections will be held during report card pick-up days at elementary schoolon Wed., Nov. 18, and Morgan Park High School (or the high school your child attends) on Thurs., Nov. 19. For CPS school families, LSC elections are as important as the national election because LSC members make decisions that impact your child’s school, from administration to education. LSC members monitor the school improvement plan, monitor the school’s budget and expenditures, and evaluate the school principal annually. They are responsible for hiring or renewing principal contracts. The council consists of parents, community members, and educators. To identify who sits on your school’s LSC, visit 

Service to Others at MPA 

Morgan Park Academy (MPA) students are keeping alive the school’s 150-year tradition of service despite a COVID-related absence of large service projects off campus this semester. One recent example came from Delia and Cormac Bergin, Beverly/Morgan Park residents who are in 6th and 3rd grades, respectively. The siblings gathered donations from their MPA friends and classmates to help our neighbors at the Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry. Way to go, Delia and Cormac! 

Pandemic, What? MPHS School Spirit, Yes! 

Morgan Park High School celebrated Mustang Pride with a virtual Spirit Week in October. Students participated in  Black Out DayPajama Day, Class Color Day, Hat Day MPHS Gear Day. Students and staff showed pride each day of the week with Google Meet screenshots. Student-submitted photos were collected and published on Twitter (@empehi4ever). Many of the memories from this week will be included in the school’s 2021 yearbook.  

St. Cajetan Proud! 

St. Cajetan School principal Michelle Nitsche recently received the St. Thomas Aquinas Award. This award is given to principals who are called to provide the very best academic education and evokes the spirit of St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of Catholic schools, for relentlessly fostering excellence in education through a commitment to rigorcontinuous improvement, and best 21st. Century instructional practices. Congratulations, Principal Nitsche! 

Eat and Earn for St. Walter Elementary School 

Grab a good solid meal at Chipotle, 2302 W. 95th St., Mon., Nov. 16, 4 to 8 p.m., and they will make a donation to St. Walter Elementary School. All you need do is print and bring the fundraising flyer on Facebook at StWalterChicago.  

Excellent School Gardens  

Congratulations to the Kellogg School Garden Club (1st place) and Sutherland School Outdoor Classroom (3rd place) on receiving Chicago Excellence in Gardening video challenge awards. In addition to modest cash prizes, the winners will receive gift certificates from City Grange.    

Email school news to Tina Jenkins Bell, 



St. Walter School Welcomes New Principal 

By Kristin Boza 

Over the summer, St. Walter Catholic School, 11741 S. Western, welcomed its new principal, Veronica CashEducation is Cash’s second career. After earning a BA in Graphic Arts from Eastern Illinois University she felt called to the field of teaching. As principal of St. Walter, Cash is looking forward to ensuring the students stay strong academically in addition to keeping them safe during the pandemic.  

Cash earned a MA in Teaching from Concordia University Chicago and an additional MA in Administration from Loyola University Chicago. She taught 3rd grade at her childhood Catholic elementary school, St. Edmund in Oak Park, before pursuing education leadership opportunities. Her previous positions at Catholic schools throughout Chicagoland ultimately led her to St. Walter. 

“I felt like I had a new calling to grow some more professionally and interviewed at a few south side Catholic schools,” Cash said. “I am really excited to be here at St. Walter; the student community is amazing and I’m excited to learn more about the neighborhoods around our school.” 

The main priority right now, as St. Walter is offering in-person instruction, is to keep the students safe and healthy. Cash and her team scoured the reopening framework from the Archdiocese of Chicago to assemble their own comprehensive health and safety plan and team.  

“We went through each step set up by the Archdiocese and made sure we communicated that with our school community,” she said. “Now that we’re open, we are making sure we adhere to the rules in the framework. Our children have been great about wearing masks and following the protocol, and we’re continuing to ensure we keep ourselves as safe as we can.” 

Some students declined to return to in-person learning, so the teachers are balancing their remote students with their in-person class. This is achieved through livestreaming the instruction during the day.  

“Our teachers are getting really comfortable with this form of teaching and finding new ways to implement Google Classroom with both in-person and remote learners,” Cash said. “In a way, this opportunity is exciting because we’re all thinking a little differently to make things happen and trying new things that we may not have considered before the pandemic.” 

Growing up in Oak Park, Cash feels a similar vibe in Beverly/Morgan Park as in her hometown. “I’ve been very happy here, and I think it says a lot about St. Walter that three of our teachers are alumni of the school! That’s definitely a testament to the school and community,” she said.  

St. Walter Catholic School still has openings for in-person learning in preschool through 8th grade. Call 773-445-8850 to learn more. 

Eat and Earn for St. Walter Elementary School 


Grab a good solid meal at Chipotle’s (Beverly), 2302 W. 95th Street, on November 16, 2020, from 4:00p-8:00p, and they will make a donation to St. Walter Elementary School. All you need do is print and bring the fundraising flyer from Facebook 


Congratulations to the Kellogg School Garden Club (1st place) and Sutherland School Outdoor Classroom (3rd place) on receiving Chicago Excellence in Gardening video challenge awardsIn addition to modest cash prizes, the winners will receive gift certificates from City Grange.    

Meet MPHS New Boys’ Basketball Coach, Chris Gardner 

By: Tina Jenkins Bell 

Morgan Park High School’s new boys’ basketball coach Chris Gardner has a plan. A family man who is married to wife Tia and father to one-year old daughter Dylan, Coach Gardner says he has a commitment to rear teams of responsible young men who understand their greatness does not start nor end on a basketball court. He said, “I want people to know our guys have potential academically and as contributors to the community. I want my players to know that too; their value surpasses their skills in basketball.”  

Coach Gardner is also committed to winning games and, having played semi-professionally in Iran and here in the United States, he obviously loves the basketball. But, he’s a balanced blend of an educator, coach, and family man, and so he is serious about transforming boys to men who know their worth on and off the court. 

Are you Christopher, Christian or just Chris?  

Legally I’m Christopher. Mostly, I’m just Chris. The kids call me Coach CG, nickname that kind of stuck from my playing days.  At home, I’m Chris, and I’m Christopher when I’m in trouble. 

Are you a resident of the Beverly/Morgan Park community? 

Actually, my wife and I are in the process of closing on a home in Beverly, so I will be in the area. I grew up in Washington Heights.  

Tell me about your new position. 

Morgan Park High School is such a high-profile program with so many state championships and a national name. I don’t take that lightly. I humbly accept the challenge of maintaining that name and having a standard of my own and raising it to a new level. As for responsibilities, I’ll oversee the boys basketball program, going from seventh to twelfth grade. Obviously, you know we want to win ball games and compete at the highest level and aspire to win state championships. But, more importantly, I want these kids to be champions of the classroom and champions of the community to go along with that. It will be my job to oversee that. More importantly, it will be my job to teach the guys life lessons through the game of basketball in a team and family atmosphere, and to raise these young boys into young men and help them through that process.  

Those attributes and responsibilities have traditionally been the job a coach, right? 

A coach wears a lot of hats. Sometimes, indirectly you can be mentors, big brothers, father figures, mediators, counselors, disciplinarians… sometimes we’re the only male figure in the lives of these players from teenagers until they become grown.  With that, you want to make sureon a daily basisyou’re a positive influence in their lives. Once you have that, things get a little easier from a basketball standpoint because they trust you. The trust factor is a big thing these days. When I was growing up, it was always a “respect your elders” or a run to the wall and ask questions later. But now, kids have to be able to trust you before they run to that wall. I understand that. I take on that challenge for every kid. 

When does the season begin? 

Games will start in November. It will be a condensed season this year, from November to February. A full season is from November to March. 

What are some of your goals for this school year? 

The number one goal this year, when school starts virtually and still having to figure out how to conduct workouts, is to maintain safety during COVID. I’ve already gotten thermometers. Masks are on the way. I even got them spray bottles to keep in their pockets to have hand sanitizer on hand. I’m working on buying a machine to spray down equipment in the gym and creating “walk-through” zones so that athletes can work out in their own safety bubbles. So, when we start our open gyms, practices, try-outs and things of that nature, I want to do everything within my power to make sure these kids operate in a COVID-free environment.  

The second part to that is I want to make sure all of our athletes have a laptop and access to the Internet. I want to know they’re online getting their classes and instruction and submitting their work. I think right now the academics are more important than anything because the truth of the matter is that if this COVID-thing gets worse it’s possible the season could be cancelled. So, at the very least, at the forefront should be their academics and safety before we can remotely talk about a game.  

What precautions do you plan to take during games? 

I’m not sure if there will be spectators, but I have a plan (if there are no spectators) to socially distance athletes, either by having them sit six feet apart in the bleachers on spacing the chairs that way. I will be working with our athletic director and Dr. Skanes to ensure that everything is safe for us and other teams.  


Have any of your goals changed in light of COVID? 

No. The goals have not changed. The priorities might have changed a bit because safety, security, and their academics are going to come first. Let’s say the season is cancelled, I still have to help kids get into college, and to ensure that they are extrarecruitable from the academic side of things. Across the country, we’re asking these kids to learn remotely. Their parents may not be home as they work, so we’ve got to make sure they are retaining and learning in their online sessions. I’ve proposed to have an athletic study table. Once their log in requirement hours are over, they must conduct that (the study table) before we do workouts every day. This would be for all players, from 7th through 12. 

With ten years-experience, what are some of your greatest achievements?  

Seeing Adam Miller named player of the year and Mr. Basketball.” I am very excited for him and what he will accomplish at the University of Illinois. Prior to that, at Kankakee Community College, I was there for four years. Each of those years a Junior College All American was produced. More importantly, more than 90% of those kids received scholarships to attend four-year colleges, where they would not have to pay to attend school. At Morgan Park High School, we want our kids to go to college — through scholarships based on academics, athletics, or their operational knowledge of basketball.  

What was your greatest challenge? My last year at one community college where I had twelve good guys but not all were committed to the classroom. Due to academic issues, we finished the year with only seven guys. Our team played in a national tournament despite that.  

Part of the issue was the minimal support from that particular college, but this time around I’ll have full support from MPHS administration, athletic director, and other staff. That relationship is very important, and I will do my best to do my part every single day.  

But challenges are a fact of life. Every kid is going to have a difficult situation to navigate through those tough times. Helping them grow up especially in this time of COVID and social justice…how to do things, what to say, what not to say. Guiding them through all of this is just part of the territory of being a coach.  






Area Principals Develop Parent-Centered Online Training and Leadership Alliance to Promote Quality, Equitable Education Across the 19th Ward 

By Tina Jenkins Bell 
BAPA School Liaison 

Six principals representing elementary schools across the Beverly/Morgan Park community recently forged an alliance to share resources, schedules, and ideas to assure equitable, quality educations for studentsno matter their school 

“We heard from parents via surveys and emails. Their chief concerns were that they wanted to help their students but didn’t know the platforms or technology. We began to talk with each other about the best ways to support our students, parents, and teachers,” Vanderpoel Humanities Academy Principal Kia Banks said. “Instead of repeating last spring’s situation of rushing to come up with remote learning solutions as schools closed due to the quarantine, we wanted to begin the school year with answers, guidance, and support. 

Banks is one of the participating principals collaborating in the leadership pod; other principals include Kathleen Valente, Barnard; JaMonica Marion, Clissold; Dr. Angela Tucker, Esmond; Dr. Cory Overstreet, Kellogg; and Margaret Burns, Sutherland. 

The entire team credited Clissold Principal Marion for sparking their alliance after discussing her efforts to create training to assist parents in keeping their students on trackan effort she began earlier this summer.  

To pave the way for accountability and student excellence, one of the initiatives to emerge from this proactive “think tank” is a series of well-designed and presented parent-focused technology training and guides. Last August, the first line of workshops covered Google and Aspen training, a centralized platform for hosting and managing student data, such as class schedules, school events, student performance, athletic eligibility, and individual health records. Workshops were offered at multiple times and divided by PreKindergarten through 4th and 5th through 8th grades.  

The workshops were recorded for easy retrieval and reference and can be accessed at (link). 

“With patience and grace, we want to support our parents by showing them proven, best practices they can use to facilitate their children’s progress,” Dr. Tucker said. 

The principal pod’s overall focus is strong, positive and progressive student performance. Accordingly, their collaborations exceed their leadership concerns and needs to also include support, trainings, and guidance for teachers and staff.  

“We’re sharing all kinds of resources with the common goal of student success,” Dr. Overstreet said. “We heard about Sutherland’s use of an equity consultant to guide staff and teaching personnel in diversity and inclusivity. Now, we’re working with the same consultant to work with us at Kellogg. We’re all connected here, working together and bringing our teachers, like our IB instructors, to collaborate across schools.” 

The team also work with other groups that support similar priorities. Collectively, they promoted the Remote Learning Symposium Developed by mothers and educators comprising the Beverly Area Mom’s Facebook group. Presented from July through the beginning of September, the symposium consisted of a series of workshops covering a variety of topics, including getting ready for remote learning, understanding new math, reading, balancing parental instructional obligations with self-care, and motivating youth to learn and other subjects. To access these presentations, materials, and additional resources, visit  

“We are not operating in a vortex. Instead, we’re sharing our ideas while also utilizing strengths and resources in the community,” Burns said. 

Foreseeing challenges and understanding the stakes, these principals are developing support networks, workshops, and resources within and beyond CPS — all to ensure their students have every opportunity to soar — whether learning remotely or in the classroom. They are also committed to giving school parents and guardians every chance to support them. 

Each of the principals agreed there is no competition between the schools. They said, any parent looking for a schoowill receive high quality, equitable education at any one of the six schools.  






Student Featured in Documentary About Civil Rights Tour 

Five months after they visited the American South on a life-changing tour through civil rights history, Morgan Park Academy students are set to be featured in a documentary filmConfronting the Living History of the Civil Rights Struggle,  produced about the experience by The Nation magazine. 

Beverly/Morgan Park neighbor Caitlin Robinson, an 8th grader, was among the group of MPA 7th and 8th grade students and teachers who toured from Jackson, Mississippi, to Atlanta, Georgia in February. The group traveled under the guidance of André Robert Lee, a teacher, producer and acclaimed documentary filmmaker with years of experience leading civil rights tours in the South. 

With global studies at the core of its curriculum, MPA partnered with The Nation because of their expertise in presenting this emotionally complex material to middle school students in a way that teaches the history of the Civil Rights Movement thoughtfully, honestly, and delicately, while also teaching students the significance of the role the individual plays in determining the direction a society moves towards or away from justice. 

Traveling from Jackson, Mississippi, through the Mississippi Delta to Little Rock, Arkansas, and on to Memphis, Tennessee, students visited the sites and talked with some of the leaders of this important era of U.S. history. From there the group went to Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, finally ending the journey in Montgomery at the Lynching Museum and the Equal Justice Initiative. 

Robinson is among the students who were interviewed for the documentary, which has been released as a five minute short and will be released soon as a full-length piece. 

“My generation’s role is to continue on the fight that their ancestors started,” Robinson said“Because it’s not over, and I want to make sure people remember that.” 

“This isn’t just Black history. It’s American history,” said Josiah Fields, another MPA student.   

The experience was coordinated by Colleen Amberg, who leads development of MPA’s social studies curriculum and directs the middle school global studies program. 

“This trip changed my life,” Amberg said. “Since we got back, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about it. It was even more meaningful and historic than we anticipated, and drove home how fortunate I feel to work in a school that is so supportive of and committed to developing globally minded citizens.” 

The documentary short can be viewed on YouTube 

Celebrating nearly 150 years of educational excellence, Morgan Park Academy (MPA) is an independent college preparatory school ranked annually among the top private schools in the state and first among all schools in Chicago’s Southland area. Plans call for the school to reopen 

in August for in-person learning on the 20-acre campus at 2153 W. 111th St. Learn more at or call 773-881-6700. 

Registration Open Now for Area Schools 

By Tina Jenkins Bell 

The Beverly/Morgan Park area has numerous high performing public, Catholic and private schools.  Though the options vary, residency, alone, won’t qualify admittance. Attendance requires registration, particularly for kindergarteners and new or transferring students. This year, due to the complexities of COVID-19, some schools are requiring returning students to register.  

The bottom line is, if you are the parents of school aged children, check the school’s website for fall admission requirements today. Registration for many schools has been open for a few months.  Parents considering a Chicago Public neighborhood school should visit for school locator as well as residency requirements.  

For high school students, there are a few extra steps, depending on whether the school is public, private or Catholic, which could include completing applications, testing and waiting on an acceptance letters prior to registration.  

Once parents have figured out the school and the admission and registration policies, they should compile the documents for proof of age (birth certificate, baptismal record, passport, court documents, or medical records), proof of current address (utility bills, driver’s license or State of Illinois identification, deed, employer identification number, Illinois Department of Public Aid card, etc.), and health care documents (physical exams and immunization charts and dental records). If parents do not have the necessary health records during registration, they must submit these forms prior to Oct. 15 or their child will face expulsion.  

Catholic and private schools may require additional or different documentation. For example, some Catholic schools might require students to be existing and former parishioners. Again, the most proactive action is to check the school website.   

The following is a list of area schools. 

Chicago Public Schools 

Barnard Elementary School  

10354 S. Charles St., 773-535-2625 

Preschool: Ages 3-4 

Pre-Kindergarten – 8th 

Barbara Vick Early Childhood & Family Center 

2554 W. 113th St., 773-535-2671 

Preschool: Ages 3-5 

Clissold Elementary School 

2350 W. 110th Pl., 773-535-2560 

Kindergarten – 8th 

Esmond Elementary School  

1865 W. Montvale Ave., 773-535-2650 

Prekindergarten  8th 

Kellogg Elementary School  

9241 S. Leavitt, 773-535-2590 

Kindergarten – 8th 

Sutherland Elementary School 

10015 S. Leavitt, 773-535-2580 

Kindergarten – 8th 

Vanderpoel Humanities Academy 

9510 S. Prospect, 773-535-2690 

Kindergarten – 8th 

Morgan Park High School 

1744 W. Pryor Avenue, 773-535-2550 

7th – 12th 

All new and continuing students are required to register for the 2020-21 school year. 


Catholic Schools 

Christ the King School 

9240 S. Hoyne Ave., 773-779-3329 

Preschool – 8th 

St. Barnabas School  

10121 S. Longwood Dr., 773-445-7711 

Preschool – 8th 

St. Cajetan School 

2447 W. 112th St., 773-233-8844 

Preschool- 8th 

St. John Fisher School  

102 S. Washtenaw Ave., 773-445-4737 

Preschool – 8th 

St. Walter School 

11741 S. Western Ave., 773-445-8850 

Preschool – 8th 


Private Schools 

All Day Montessori 

1819 W. 99th St., 773-239-8248 

Preschool: Ages 2 – 6 


Beverly Castle Academy for Early Education 

10244 S. Longwood Dr., 773-239-2299 

Preschool: Ages 3 – 6 

Beverly Montessori School 

9916 S. Walden Pkwy., 773-239-7635 

Preschool – Kindergarten: Ages 3-6 


Morgan Park Academy 

2153 W. 111th St., 773-881-6700 


New students must apply prior to registration 

Beverly Area Public School Community Service Awards 

By Tina Jenkins Bell 
BAPA School Liaison 


Each year, BAPA’s public education committee gives out communityserviceawards to public school students who make a difference. Each public elementary school has the opportunity to nominate one student, who in their own way contributed to their community, including their school, their neighborhood, or elsewhere. Last month, The Villager profiled award winners from Kellogg School, Vanderpoel Humanties Academy and Morgan Park High School Academic Center. This month, we are pleased to profile winners from Clissold,  Barnard, Sutherland and Esmond elementary schools.  

Antonio Fox 

Clissold School 

Antonio Fox is a beam of light and hope. It is no wonder that Clissold Elementary School principal Jamonica Marion recommended him for BAPA’s 2020 community service award. 

The 13-year old Salutatorian logged in 357 volunteer hours over the last three years, which is 312 community service hours more than expected of him as a Chicago Public School student. 

“I like being in a community where I can impact someone’s life for the better. If we want to change the world, we have to do acts of kindness with our hearts,” Antonio said. 

Some of those acts of kindness include becoming a pen pal to Smith Village residents during the quarantine. At least seven of those residents have begun to routinely write back to Antonio, which is why he says he’ll continue to write them until for as long as they need him.  

“There’s a lot going in their lives, so why not bring them joy,” Antonio said. 

 At his church, Antonio works with parishioners who have special needs by keeping them company and helping them with cooking lessons and art activities. Since 5th grade, he has worked as a Special Olympics volunteer, helping to set up equipment, measure progress, and cheer the basketball, track, and baseball athletes to the finish line. At school, he has been a crossing guard since 5th grade and helps out at school open house events, doing tours and answering questions about the school.  

In addition to being a great student, Antonio was also president of the student council.  

For Antonio, volunteering is “a great thing to do to feel better about yourself and see people smile.”  

Angelica Davis-Smith 

Barnard School  

Angelica Davis-Smith, a 14-year old graduate of Barnard Elementary School, believes her principal Kathleen Valente nominated her for a community service award because she is respected, gets good grades, and was student of the month twice during her time at Barnard. She’s also a great observer who thinks before she speaks or acts, and that makes her discerning, an attribute of leaders and contributors. 

“I love helping people because it makes me feel good. I am able to help people who are less fortunate,” she said.  

For the past two years, Angelica has been busy helping others. She was a crossing guard during her 8th grade year, a volunteer in the classroom, and a member of REAL (Real, Educated, Ambitious, Liberated) Girls. 

As a member of REAL Girls, Angelica passed out food to people who were homeless, and visited other schools to clean up their public, lunchroom, and locker room areas. She’s also a great helper at home, sometimes cooking meals. 

The future chef, doctor, or artist, who loves to design fashions with her pen, plans to attend Morgan Park High School in the fall. She knows she has a lot more to give and accomplish, but in her words, “I am on my way.” 

The world is waiting, Angelica! 

Ava McCarthy 

Sutherland School 

Ava McCarthy, 14-years-old, a graduate of Sutherland Elementary School where Margaret Burns is principal, believes she was chosen for BAPA’s community service award by school leaders because of her long-time attendance and her cando and willingworker attitude.  

“I’ve been at Sutherland since kindergarten, and I’ve always been one of those kids to help others. That’s common knowledge,” Ava said.  

Ava is not only a contributor, she finds other ways to give, like creating solutions for common needs and problems. Accordingly, when Sutherland required 8th graders to complete a community service project, Ava could have gotten her signature sheet and located a church, neighbor or program for which to volunteer, and her time would have been well spent. However, she cares about the environment and wanted to promote climate change awareness among her peers. To do that, she sponsored a “save the planet” poster contest for 7th and 8th graders. Contestants had to create poster-campaigns that explored reasons we should care about the environment. Afterwards, a winner was chosen from each grade, and two people received a gift card from Ohana Ice and Treats, 1800 W. 103rd St.  

Ava’s other volunteer work includes watering the school’s garden, setting up for grandparents day, reading to young kids, participating in her school’s version of a student council, welcoming new kids to the school, showing younger students how to complete standardized testing on the computer, and setting up rooms for testing. At St. Cajetan Catholic Church, she made sandwiches to give to the homeless and worked with the food pantry ministry.  

Ava plans to attend the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences to study animal science because she loves animals and the environment and possibly fit in her interest in dance along the way. 

I feel like I’m a part of the community, and I need to help to make things better. I want to leave a good imprint of what I’ve learned and teach others lessons that I was taught,” Ava said, adding “That’s good stewardship. Right?” 

You bet, Ava. Beverly/Morgan Park needs more good stewards!  

RaMia Monden 

Esmond School 

RaMia Monden, a 14-year old artist and Esmond Elementary School graduate, was nominated for the community service award by Esmond’s International Baccalaureate Middle Year’s Program Coordinator Bernika R. Green. RaMia is a maker who saw the opportunity to use her expertise to help other Esmond students during the recent quarantine.  

“Every day is an experience and helping people is a good thing to do. Most people need that lift,” RaMia said.  

During the quarantine, students were required to switch from inclass to remote learning. Everyone was not able to make the transition, so RaMia helped them. As an artist and internet sensation with over 11,500 people following her art, she was one of the students Esmond teaching staff turned to help respond to students questions about navigating educational learning platforms. From this experience she learned, “You should have enough patience with other people and yourself while helping out.” 

RaMia, who plans to attend ChiArts High School this fall, is a commissioned artist already. She also uses her art to fight social issues, like bullying. 

“She’s always encouraging people through her art,” said RaMia’s mom, Rachel King.  

Keep messaging positive vibes, RaMia. These are the times for it! 

Council Oak Montessori School Collaborates with Forest Preserves for Virtual Lesson 


In keeping with Council Oak Montessori School’s commitment to forming meaningful relationships with its wider community, the school has been engaged in a number of projects with the Cook County Forest Preserves. In 2018 COMS elementary programs received classroom grants to build and maintain gardens on campus. Shortly thereafter, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Department of Conservation and Experimental Programming assisted in helping the school get started on transforming their plastic and rubber playground into a nature playspace, incorporating items found in nature over artificial structures. 


In Montessori education, the outdoor classroom is just as important as the indoor ones. While the COVID-19 mandated shutdown prevented COMS students from joining CCFP staff at the Cal-Sag that runs along the southern end of the school’s property as per our original plans, the collaboration still happened. The team of specialists taught students about crayfish and other invasive species to Illinois waterways through a different medium. On May 14th, 4th through 8th grade students of Council Oak Montessori School (COMS) completed a virtual program with COMS staff and Adam Kessel, the program director at Cook County Forest Preserves. 


When they are able to come together in person, COMS incorporates their natural spaces as an integral part of their curriculum. The school’s extensive outdoor space and proximity to the Cal-Sag allows students to engage with nature and become true stewards of local plants, wildlife, and prairie restoration. 


Illinois is home to 23 different species of crayfish, and the team of specialists set out to catch and identify some. Students learned that not all the crayfish they find in the wild are native. Instead, there are a variety of invasive species in Illinois which “bully” other species and disrupt local ecosystems. 


Some invasive species are introduced after being kept as pets and released into the wild, while others are migrating to new areas as our climate continues to warm. The goal of this team of experts was to catch and identify crayfish, monitoring whether invasive species are appearing in new areas, and containing those populations before they take over.  


Although no crayfish showed up in this field experiment (one of those realities of science), students did get to see a dragonfly nymph and two baby fish (called “fries”). Students also learned about anatomy of crayfish and how to identify different species of crayfish. They also learned to identify crayfish “chimneys” or tubes in the mud that they breathe through while they hide below. 


The specialists at the Cook County Forest Preserves hold special qualifications and permits in order to do much of the field work from this collaboration. However, they gave some advice for students interested in citizen science projects. If you find crayfish when you’re out on a hike, take a picture. You can then go onto websites like iNaturalist, and Chicago Wildlife Watch. If you’re interested in other citizen science you can check out eBird, and Project Budburst. 


Council Oak Montessori School is immensely thankful for everyone from the Cook County Forest Preserves for this wonderful opportunity to expand our outdoor curriculum. In the future, COMS hopes to continue using their garden and prairie restoration space for educating students about the world around them. For 30 years Council Oak Montessori School has been committed to educating the whole child in a way that makes learning inspirational. This partnership shows that this commitment continues even during distance learning. 


Council Oak Montessori School’s remote learning is continuing in a strong way through the end of the semester, including the outdoor program. They plan to return to our classrooms this Fall and also plan to have a simultaneous distance learning program. If you are interested in applying, or just want to learn more about Council Oak Montessori School, please email or visit their website at