Rowe Middle School Scholars Take on This Year’s Biggest Challenges

Mr. Morikis grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Purdue University and studied social studies education. He taught 7th grade social studies in Cleveland for one year before moving to Chicago. He’s now in his second year teaching 8th grade social studies at Rowe Middle School. Earlier this year, on top of his regular social studies classes, he tutored a small ELA group and led an advisory. He loves teaching at Rowe Middle School, where he gets lots of creative freedom in what he teaches and how he teaches it.

Part of his 8th grade curriculum involves The Mikva Project. This project’s goal is to get students involved in politics and local policy by inviting them to take part in real-life democratic activities. This way, they will become informed citizens and strong leaders. Its structure involves the students identifying a local problem, researching and planning how to solve that problem, and executing their solution to the problem. This goal is really more about the journey and experience of participating in the democratic process than the actual final product.

When Mr. Morikis started teaching at Rowe Middle School, The Mikva Project was already in place there. He took it on and embedded it within his 8th grade social studies classes. He found it to be the perfect compliment to the existing curriculum because 8th graders spend the year learning about different types of government. The Mikva Project gives them an opportunity to get involved in local government.

Each class votes on what type of challenge they’d take on. The class projects last year were very different from one another. One class noticed that the streets that surrounded their school were busy and dangerous. They put a proposal together for a yield sign in front of the school. They sent it to their local Alderman. Unfortunately, the Alderman’s office didn’t have the budget to do it, but it was a great experience for our scholars to go through. Another class focused on mental illness, specifically depression and addiction. They researched and found that people struggling with mental illness also struggle to find resources to help. This class started a social media campaign that pointed people in the direction of resources that could help and contact.

Mr. Morikis and his students know that this type of local civic engagement is more important now than ever. Even though all learning at Rowe is currently remote, that hasn’t stopped the students from participating in this exciting project. Because of the limitations from the COVID outbreak, the Mikva project for the year has been modified to be more of an individual based project. Students are identifying an issue in their community that is happening because of COVID, whether it is an issue that affects their family, neighbors or general community. Students then create and take action steps to improve these issues and situations in any way that they can.

Several students are in the process of making masks that will be delivered to hospitals, preparing food for homeless shelters and helping out parents by watching or providing activities for children. Throughout these challenging times, students have taken action to improve the lives of those around them.

As Mr. Morikis’ classes continue to increase awareness, accountability and action around inequality, the Mikva project will be an opportunity for students to have their voices heard; they’ll gain firsthand experience interacting with their local government and community to create the changes they wish to see.