The first-ever Civics Service Learning Fair, hosted by Oak Park and River Forest High School, turned out to feature a who’s who of local civic celebrities.
The fair, hosted for 550 juniors and seniors enrolled in Civics classes, included tables with two dozen local nonprofit and civic organizations where students could learn about how to get involved in their community.
It also featured a panel discussion where Congressman Danny Davis, Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, state representatives La Shawn Ford and Camille Lilly, and Oak Park Village President Vicki Scaman joined other local leaders to talk about the importance of young people doing service work.
“You don’t have to have gray hair before you engage,” Congressman Davis told the students. “There are many places in history where very young people got things changed, made things happen. You’re that group today.”
Rep. Ford pointed out that young people now have a critical tool that didn’t exist when he was in high school: social media.
“Every day,” he said, “we see something that needs to be changed, and your voice is bigger than you know. Use social media to change the larger society for good, for positive change in the world.”
The learning fair was put together by OPRF Civics teachers Matt Maloney and Steve Schwartz and pre-vocational education co-coordinator Brian Dubina. As part of Civics class, which became a state graduation requirement in 2017-2018, OPRF students must complete at least five hours of community service — but many of them don’t necessarily know how or where to do those hours. The fair was aimed at helping them make those connections.
As the panelists mingled with students while they visited the different organizations, senior Skyy Cast said her visit to the League of Women’s Voters table made the biggest impression on her. “I’ll be 18 and able to vote soon,” she noted. “I’ll be able to have my say instead of leaving it to someone else.”
Junior Thomas McNeilly said he noticed that many of the panelists graduated from OPRF, including Rep. Lilly, Pres. Scaman, and Opportunity Knocks’ Mike Carmody. “That’s something that’s been stressed at OPRF since day one — come back and give back to your community.”
Junior Jamari Thomas said he was especially pleased to see Rep. Ford and Rep. Lilly on the stage. “As a Black person, seeing two people with the same skin color as mine in that position is inspiring.”
OPRF history teacher Peter Ruzicka was deeply impressed by his colleagues’ efforts. “The state law [requiring Civics class] asks for speakers, service, and authentic community engagement, and they got this all wrapped into one dynamite package,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, yet they made it happen for our school, our students, our community, and our state.”
OPRF communications director