• Home
  • News
  • State Senate President Joins Julian Middle School Students for Policy Discussion

State Senate President Joins Julian Middle School Students for Policy Discussion

Julian Middle School welcomed Illinois State Senate President Don Harmon on Feb. 15, following an invitation by African American Studies teacher Ashley Kannan. The visit stemmed from a classroom discussion about a scene from “American to Me,” the 2018 documentary television series directed by Steve James.

“In our African-American Studies course, a consistent point of emphasis is how othering exists in our world in different ways and the varieties of paths people have to walk in order to interrupt these realities,” Kannan said. “One day, when we watched a scene from ‘America to Me,’ a character was talking about an incident they had with the police based on mistaken identity and our class was impacted by what was absorbed. A student broke the silence of our class discussion with, ‘What's the point? Like what can we do to stop this?’”  

Kannan had been in contact with Senator Harmon's office as a result of his work with Teach Plus, a non-profit organization that empowers teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that affect their students’ success. So, Kannan asked his class if they would be interested in sitting down with the Senate President, an Oak Park native, for a conversation centered on policy-based questions and aimed at addressing realities and concerns within their own community.

“We used about two weeks to develop questions, stories behind these questions, and create queries where their agency was met with the urgency of now in terms of something to be done with regards to issues such as resource allocation, the current challenges with new arrivals to Illinois, artificial intelligence, and gun violence,” Kannan said.

After Senator Harmon took his seat in the Julian media center, the students began the thoughtful conversation:

“What do you think we can do to ensure every student has access to educational opportunities no matter the income of the area or their zip code?” asked Tyler.

“How can we lower the high homeless rate?” asked Jack. 

“How are you and other Illinois legislators planning to help migrants find jobs and stable homes?” asked Evelyn.

Senator Harmon listened attentively, acknowledging the urgency of the students’ concerns and sharing his perspectives on each issue. He discussed policy proposals, community initiatives, and above all, the importance of youth advocacy in creating change.

Fittingly, District 97’s Chief Learning and Innovation Officer, Dr. Eboney Lofton, Senior Director of Teaching and Learning Dr. Tawanda Lawrence, and Senior Director of Student Services Donna Middleton, all of whom had worked alongside Kannan to develop the African American Studies class before it launched three years ago, listened in to the discussion, along with Assistant Superintendent of Middle Schools Dr. Luis Fernando De León and Julian administrators. 

Senator Harmon's visit to Julian Middle School exemplified the power of education in action, showcasing how a classroom discussion can evolve into a meaningful dialogue with a policymaker. The visit not only provided an invaluable learning experience for the students, but also the impact of the district’s systemic equity work, which led to the creation of the inclusive and anti-racist curriculum in 2020. As District 97 students continue their educational journey, they are empowered to use their voices to advocate for a more just and equitable society.