Advertisements ad

January 18, 2009

Burnham’s plan used as way for students to learn city history

By Hilary Anderson


St. Bede the Venerable’s fifth graders are making no small plans. The students, whose school is located in Chicago’s Scottsdale neighborhood (83rd & Kostner), are learning as much as they can about the Lakeview community thanks to the Big Shoulders Fund’s Burnham Centennial Project and St. Andrew School, at Addison and Paulina streets.

The two are among 76 Catholic elementary schools in Chicago participating in the project, which will coincide with the city’s observance this year of the 100th anniversary of Daniel Burnham Plan.

In 1909 Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett collaborated with the Commercial Club of Chicago and others to create a new plan for the greater Chicago region, which gave residents a blueprint for major improvements and inspired new ideas.

Chicago’s Catholic schools were among those that took Burnham’s plan to heart and helped make the city a more desirable place to live.

“Our students will learn about the area from their participation in this project and about the very successful job that [inner city] Catholic schools have long enjoyed in Chicago’s history and will continue to do so in Chicago’s future,” said Tom Zbierski, director of school relations for the Big Shoulders Fund.

“The network of schools that we represent is a strong chain that weaves itself through the various neighborhoods, tying one community to the next through that shared faith that has called our schools into existence.”

Zbierski added that the core idea underlying the centennial’s theme, “Bold Plans, Big Dreams,” is to challenge students at schools supported by the Big Shoulders Fund to think and act beyond their local inner-city boundaries to advance the region’s quality of life.

“Beyond boundaries means examining the full range of new possibilities, having a regional mindset and reinforcing the connections that bring diverse neighborhoods together,” he said.

“Since inner-city students have few opportunities to learn about their own city let alone individual neighborhoods, we devised a program of study that involves students in active learning through which they can apply the vision of Burnham to Chicago.”

BSF assigned schools “pen pals,” ones located in communities that are somewhat diverse and a distance from each other. Students will research and report on the neighborhood they have been assigned. The report will include the past history, current situation and vision for the future of the assigned neighborhood.

“We wanted students to get to know each other, where they lived, how they shopped, what they did for recreation, where they went to church,” Zbierski said.

“It was up to the pen pals schools to decide which approach they used in meeting each other. They could write letters, visit in person or make contact via Internet blogs.”

DePaul University offered to help provide information and resources for participating schools and students.

St. Bede and St. Andrew were among the first schools to become involved in the Big Shoulders Fund Centennial Project.

Rich Guerin, St. Bede principal, sent letters to parents inviting them to join him along with his school’s 5th graders in making a field trip to St. Andrew’s. Prior to their excursion, students researched information about the Lakeview community.

“The visit to St. Andrew’s and the Lakeview community was a really cool experience for everyone — teachers, students and parents alike. Most noticeable was the diversity of our school as compared with that at St. Andrew’s,” he said.

As they walked the Lakeview streets, the St. Bede entourage also discovered their Scottsdale neighborhood seemed to have more individual parks, basketball courts, backyards with pools and gardens and just about no big apartment buildings.

Guerin said his students wanted to know where Lakeview kids ride their bikes, play ball, where they shop and if they were afraid of gangs.

“There aren’t any big shopping malls in Lakeview,” stated Guerin.

“That seemed incredulous to a few in our group.”

St. Andrew students brought pictures and information about some of their favorite Lakeview spots to share with St. Bede’s 5th graders.

The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce sent a life-long, knowledgeable resident of the community to talk with students about the history of the neighborhood including Wrigley Field and St. Andrew’s [church and school].

Some of St. Bede’s students saw Chicago’s lakefront, Burnham Harbor and Wrigley Field for the first time as they toured Lakeview.

“Can you believe that Principal Guerin wore his White Sox jacket while visiting here!” laughed Jack Percival, principal of St. Andrew School.

“It was a nice sharing of information. The kids asked questions, exchanged ideas and took notes. It was even a great experience for the 5th grade teachers. They were able to share information about what they were doing for the Burnham Centennial Project. Sometimes teachers don’t have the opportunity to meet with their peers while doing similar projects.”

Guerin says in just a few hours’ time his students were looking to Lakeview’s future, making big plans.

“Our students were talking about ways to make [Lakeview] more bike and eco-friendly for starters.”

Percival says St. Andrew’s fifth graders shortly will be visiting and learning about the Grand Boulevard community for their part in the BSF Centennial Project.

“This Burnham Centennial Project is a great opportunity to learn more about Chicago, its different areas of ethnicity and is a source of great cultural exchange. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Zbierski says there is yet another purpose to the project.

The collaborative learning experience about another neighborhood will be one of the focal points of Catholic Schools Week. Each participating school will display its Burnham Centennial Project, which in effect helps highlight another Catholic school.

“There is no competition among our Catholic schools,” he said.

“We hope this project will help celebrate one another. Each Catholic school has its own spirit. We have Catholic schools throughout the city where you can find your own special place. If not one, then the other.”