HP Schools initiatives focus on building citizenship

The Highland Park School District has expanded the three Rs by adding ad a fourth R:  Responsibility – as a citizen of one’s community.  The “Be the Change” program in the middle school and the “WISE” program at the high school are out-of-the-box, outside-of the-books initiatives that exist to build citizenship.

Be the Change

Under the guidance of 6th grade social studies teacher Nikki Ferringo, members of the 6th grade class at Highland Park Middle School have been diligently working for the past few months on a social action program they call “Be the Change”. Through an effort to better their local community, the students will be presenting their projects to judges and the general public at their “Be the Change” event on June 10 , 7 p.m. at the Middle School.

The program, meant to “impassion students about being responsible global citizens,” utilizes three distinct components to guide research. Students select an issue (Community Issue), conduct research about the issue to learn how it affects a community (Community of Need), and ultimately implement a plan of action to address the issue (Community Response) that will be presented to the public on the 10th.

Examples from this year range from international events such as the Syrian refugee crisis to topics with a more local emphasis, including literacy in Highland Park and animal abuse. For Ms. Ferringo, “It’s important that students learn to be responsible as citizens both locally and internationally.”

For many students, this will be their first attempt at formal research, and Ms. Ferringo and colleagues have devoted themselves to aiding the students confront crucial elements, which include: avoiding plagiarism, researching effectively, conducting interviews, and community involvement.

Although this program is the first of its kind at the middle school, Ms. Ferringo hopes to spread the initiative both interdepartmentally and among the different grades in upcoming years.


Through an initiative known as Woodlands Individualized Senior Experience (WISE), Highland Park High School, for the past 15 years, has been giving seniors the tools to  explore personal development programs. Throughout a four day period in late May this year, seniors had the opportunity to present their yearlong work to families, friends, and faculty. This year, WISE projects included topics like personal training, knitting, learning American Sign Language, woodworking, ballet, and working in a rape crisis center.

WISE, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development of high school seniors, encourages personal projects that allow for individual exploration and growth. At Highland Park High School, WISE is offered as a yearlong elective open only to seniors.

In the class, students begin by studying the fundamentals that the project involves: developing a research plan, drafting a proposal, and conducting effective interviews. In the second semester, students pursue projects and apply their research.

According to WISE task force member Amy Shakun, Highland Park High hopes to provide their students with “time for exploration of interests that may not fit into the regular academic rubric.” Additionally, the WISE program provides an opportunity to bridge the gap between high school and post-graduate pursuits by fostering intellectual independence, self-exploration, experiential learning, and collaboration. As a result, students learn how to think on their own and how to cope in an adult work environment. “For many kids it’s the one opportunity to get something very personal out of their 4 years,” said Ms. Shakun.

Since its creation 40 years ago, WISE has spread to 60 high schools, both public and private, with over 35,000 graduates. This year specifically, Highland Park High experienced their largest enrollment to date – an indication of program growth that faculty advisors hope to continue.

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