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Friday, June 13, 2014

Our American Voice Summit Celebrates Students' Civic Engagement

On June 10, 2014 more than 300 Chicagoland middle grade students from 18 different schools convened for the third annual Our American Voice (OAV) Summit at the UIC Forum in Chicago, IL. The purpose of the Summit is to bring together OAV student participants to share and celebrate their successes and accomplishments.

The OAV program sponsored by the Barat Education Foundation teaches students the four core principles of civic engagement and gets them immersed in working on projects that matter to them, their school and community.  These school initiatives completed in collaboration with community agencies and elected officials include: creating safer surrounding environments for students walking to school; cleaning up neighborhoods; putting an end to bullying; assisting and becoming more respectful of others. 

"Our OAV participants with guidance and support of their teacher/facilitators have worked diligently to make a difference and to positively impact their communities," says Sheila A. Smith, Barat Education Foundation CEO and Chair. "We are pleased to host this summit to recognize their achievements and contributions as young citizens." 

The following schools participated in the 2014 OAV Summit: Mary E Courtenay Language Arts Center; John B. Drake Elementary School; Charles W. Earle Elementary School (Earle STEM); Emerson Elementary School; Evergreen Academy Elementary School; Freedom Middle School; Lionel Hampton Fine and Performing Arts Elementary School; Heritage Middle School; Hiawatha Elementary School; Edward N. Hurley Elementary School; Irving Elementary School; Komensky Elementary School; Arthur A. Libby Elementary School; Irvin C. Mollison Elementary School; Pershing Elementary School; John J. Pershing Elementary Magnet School ("Pershing East"); Piper Elementary School and Ida B. Wells Preparatory Elementary School.

The OAV Summit included Opening Remarks by the following: Sheila Smith, Chair, Barat Education Foundation; Suzy Evans, Program Manager, Our American Voice; Dr. Mara Grujanac, Director, Barat Education Foundation and Jacques Agbobly, former OAV participant.  

Throughout the morning and afternoon sessions, the students engaged in four activities:

  • Activity 1: Who are We? 
  • Activity 2: Most Important Thing About Our American Voice
  • Activity 3: Our American Voice in Words: Capturing the OAV Experience
  • Activity 4: Our American Voice in Images: Evoking OAV Through History

followed by a Panel Discussion with Our American Voice Civic Capitalism Participants.

In the afternoon, Suzy Evans, Program Manager, Our American Voice called each school up to the podium to be recognized for their project work.  The OAV came to a conclusion when Karina Giraldo, Piper Elementary School introduced the topic: Where Do We Go From Here?.  One of the participants answered: "I pledge to stay involved and find ways to stop the violence in my community".  Never were words so powerfully spoken and meaningful!  This was from just one of over 300 middle grade school students, who have learned how to creatively solve problems in their communities due to their participation in Our American Voice!

Top - Bottom: OAV Registration; participants get settled;
Activities; Jacques Agbobly addresses the audience;
18th Ward Alderman Lona Lane with students; three young participants;
Dr. Allan Gitelson with Sheila A. Smith, BEF Chair

The Our American Voice Program is a nonpartisan, in-school/after-school project based learning initiative that links the basics of American history, government and civics with technology and community involvement to educate, engage and empower elementary and middle-grade students to become participative citizens in their communities.  The Program teaches students critical thinking, collaboration, leadership skills, and that citizenship starts not with the big issues but with issues that are close to home.  More than 1500 young girls and boys across the Chicago metropolitan area, as well as in Roanoke Virginia and southern New Mexico, have participated in Our American Voice.  

OAV is operated and licensed by the Barat Education Foundation and receives partial support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the Alice B. Drake Endowment.  For more info about the Our American Voice program, visit

Further reading published on June 13, 2014: "Berwyn kids clue in the adults" by Marlen Garcia, Sun Times Reporter 

Photo Album of the Our American Voice - 2014 Summit
click on center to start slideshow 


The Barat Education Foundation is an independent 501(c) (3) organization that develops and seeks support for innovative scholarships and entrepreneurial educational ventures which reflect the deep commitment to: intellectual, spiritual, and ethical values; empowerment of women; social awareness that impels to action; and the building of community.  For further information and/or to help support the BEF, please visit

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