Ideas Day Motivates Students to Drive Change In Their Communities

There aren’t many things that get a group of high school students moving in the morning. But thanks to Chicago Tech Academy’s Class of 2017 delegates, Chicago Ideas Week YOU(th) program team, and dedicated administrators, faculty and staff, ChiTech students were on their feet last Wednesday for the first ever ChiTech Ideas and Career Day.

In the first part of the day, students listened to discussions between Josephine Lee, artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Choir, Israel Idonije, retired football player and philanthropist, and Mykele Deville, a writer, actor, musician, rapper, poet, artist and community leader currently reshaping the Do-It-Yourself music scene in Chicago. The CIW YOU(th) Ambassadors had a great time helping select the Ideas Day speakers and serving as their guides for the day.

A moving performance of Deville’s hit single “Peace, Fam” ignited students, reminding them that their voices are heard, and encouraging them to bring their talents and skills back to serve their communities.

The second part of the day featured speakers from STEM careers like aviation, product management, accounting and engineering. Each speaker was handpicked by ChiTech’s senior entrepreneurship students to expose fellow ChiTech students to all the ways they can leverage their education to better their world.

Giving Youth a Voice

Over the last five years, Rachel Graham has directed the CIW YOU(th) program, which works with high school students across Chicago to get them more involved in their communities. Wednesday’s inaugural event was similar to Chicago Ideas Week, bringing many ideas from many backgrounds together to inspire students.

ChiTech boasts several of these YOU(th) ambassadors, who initiated the event in collaboration with the entrepreneurship program at the school, led by ChiTech entrepreneurship teacher, Jon Bull.

“Our seniors wanted to leave a legacy to the school and also create a big final project for their business classes. We spent a lot of time talking about social entrepreneurship and civic engagement,” Bull said on planning the collaboration.

This desire to have the students build something of their very own was a challenge and a success for Graham and the ambassadors.

“Over the years, what I’ve seen is that as soon as one of our ambassadors takes any sort of leadership opportunity, you see an instant change in them,” Graham said.

“I think this gives them the platform to have a voice and it makes them feel heard, when a lot of the youth in our city don’t feel heard.”

A New Kind of Learning

The event also reinforced the hands-on model by which ChiTech operates. The school’s curriculum employs Project Based Learning (PBL), an alternative to teaching to the test.

Under PBL, students can exhibit their work in the real world to folks beyond their school, and ultimately develop a deeper understanding of the material.

“Because Ideas and Career Day was almost completely student driven, the ambassadors were able to show the community their accomplishments, expertise, and that they were able to solve real-world problems,” Kelly Jones, Executive Director of Community Engagement said.

But this ownership didn’t just benefit the ambassadors. All students in attendance were given the opportunity to see how talented they are, and how they could use their skills to make change.

“Our students took the lessons from class to the next level.” Bull said. “The Ideas and Career day was an important exercise in collaboration and sharing ideas. The students were able to impact the community and inspire their peers. It’s really inspiring to me, too.”


Check out photos from the event below, as well as over on our Flickr. To learn more about Project Based Learning and Chicago Tech’s curriculum, check out our academics. Questions? Contact Kelly Jones, Executive Director at


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