Second-year ETHS students learn civic engagement from community groups

Hundreds of sophomores from Evanston Township High School attended the Civic Fair Tuesday and Wednesday, taking part in an annual event educating students about civic engagement in the Evanston community.

This is the event’s fifth year, with more than 40 community organizations from Evanston and Chicago participating.

Organizations gathered at the “Hub” on the second floor of ETHS as civics classes filtered out. Students changed tables every seven minutes, moving from Evanston Made, Curt’s Cafe, the City Clerk’s Office, Rainbows for all Children and more.

Andrew Ginsberg (standing) hosts the event. (Photo credit: Debbie-Marie Brown)

Andrew Ginsberg works at ETHS as a professor of social studies and was both a moderator of the event and also one of its organizers.

“Civic education is a fun course because it teaches students how to change the world and engage in their community,” he said.

Ginsberg said his own childhood memories of outside speakers coming to talk to him really stuck in his memory.

“I think our students learn more, and it will stay with them…if they meet real people,” he said.

Organizations represented at the fair covered topics ranging from disability, racial justice, criminal justice reform, environmentalism, as well as a fair share of ethnic affinity organizations.

Willow Shaw represented the Evanston-Northshore branch of the NAACP on Wednesday. The local NAACP has been attending the fair for four years now and Shaw, who has been involved in civic engagement for more than 50 years, says she still looks forward to the event.

“Young people have been very engaged,” she said. “They asked a lot of questions.”

Lisa Zschunke speaks with students. (Photo credit: Debbie-Marie Brown)

Lisa Zschunke was seated at a nearby table representing the Evanston Grows organization, which she described as a collective of organizations in Evanston that come together to build gardens, grow food and share it throughout the community. She said the young people at the event were “energized”.

“We depend on volunteers, so we can do internships, maybe, for 2022,” she said.

Sari Oppenheimer and Lily Aaron, seniors at ETHS and members of E-Town Sunrise, were seated at a table at the event. Although E-Town Sunrise is not an ETHS-sponsored organization, many members are students of ETHS, Northwestern University, or Roycemore School.

Oppenheimer said their goal is to increase climate awareness among students and residents and push the city to adopt a climate action plan for resilience.

Aaron said she felt there was a lack of opportunity at ETHS to discuss climate change.

“This is a big global issue that affects us all and has so many intersections,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for students to talk with us and learn. There is a lot to do and we are here to answer.

Clare Kelly, council member for the 1st Ward, was also present on Wednesday morning. She said she was thrilled to have students ask her questions and wanted to focus more on listening to their concerns.

“I ran for councilman because I believe so much in community involvement and bettering Evanston, especially involving young people,” she said. “Without it, we won’t have a strong city, government or democracy.”

As the city continues its search for a new city manager, Kelly said she advocates having a student on the search committee to ensure young people in Evanston have a role.

Ella, a sophomore in high school, said it was her first year at the fair. She said most of her interests are environmental justice and she enjoyed the Evanston Grows station.

“I was looking forward to meeting a lot of prominent people in the community and learning, but a lot of things that I had never heard of before,” she said. “And as expected, I learned a lot.”

As she left the NAACP table, ETHS sophomore Annika told the roundtable that she also enjoyed learning about civics from different angles.

“I love that there are so many options for us,” she said.