7th/8th Graders Moderate a Panel of Experts on the Accessibility of Safe Water in Chicago


by Aaron Marcus, 7th/8th grade teacher

"All the years of hard work empowering students truly paid off when the 7th and 8th graders hosted and led a panel about water science, law, social justice, and policies. They were truly comfortable, capable, confident, and professional in bridging the art of presenting with the science of a current and relevant issue." Yelena Spector, parent

It wasn't C-SPAN. Nor was it PBS. If you joined Akiba-Schechter online on Thursday, June 3, you witnessed the 7th and 8th graders moderating a panel discussion entitled “How Accessible is Safe Drinking Water in Chicago?” It was the culminating project of a nine-week interdisciplinary study.

For more than an hour, the students grilled a distinguished panel of experts about science, civics, history, and law. The panelists included: 

  • Illinois State Senator Robert Peters (Hyde Park's very own representative) 
  • Dr. Helen Binns, Director of the Lead Evaluation Program at Lurie Children's Hospital 
  • Justin Keller, member of the Water Resources Team at the Metropolitan Planning Council 
  • Dr. Rachel Havrelock, founder of the Freshwater Lab at UIC
  • Mark Vazquez, a class-action attorney at Hagens Berman, who had participated in a lawsuit against the City of Chicago regarding lead poisoning.

In the weeks leading up to the event, the students learned about the infrastructure that purifies and delivers our water, the science of lead poisoning, and the biological impact of other toxins. 

They also learned about the history of class and race in relation to the aging of Chicago's water infrastructure, the legal theories relevant to assessing accountability, and the governmental policies that might be available to public officials attempting to address all these issues.

The students divided into four groups (Governance, Social Justice, Medicine, and Law), prepared questions for the visiting experts, and spent time learning how to conduct an interview: how to speak, listen, respond, and follow up.

Following the interviews, the students moderated a Q&A, in which those attending the Zoom discussion could also ask questions of the panel. You would not have been wrong in thinking you were watching C-SPAN or PBS. There were two sets of experts involved in the program – those answering questions and those asking them.

"The depth of the students' knowledge was evident by the questions they asked the panelists. I also was struck by how well the students presented themselves. They were composed and professional and facilitated the panel beautifully." Carla Goldberg, Early Childhood Director

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