McCracken School walk felt around the world
Students start their round-trip walk last week from McCracken Middle School to sister Middleton School and back to raise funds for children in Ghana. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
WHAT: McCracken Middle School’s Aiding Children Together (A.C.T.) student group works throughout the year to raise funds for children in need in Ghana
ADULTS: Social studies teacher Jen Ciok with the help of Bethany Blades brought service learning into the lives of students. Middleton School second grade teacher Shelley Nizynski has served as a role model for her extraordinary work in Ghana.
RECOGNITION: Nizynski this year won the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s Power of One Award. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) recognized A.C.T. by making a statement in the U.S. Congressional Record.
RESULTS: The A.C.T. students this year helped raise more than $6,000 for Ghana children after completing their third walkathon.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Visit www.abetterlifeforkids.org and aidingchildrentogether.blogspot.com for more information.
Updated: July 8, 2012 8:19AM
When 400 middle school children take to the side streets for a healthy walk of nearly a mile, it’s hard not to notice.
In the case of McCracken Middle School students, such a walk will change and even save lives.
McCracken’s third annual walkathon last week — a round-trip stroll from McCracken to sister Middleton School and back again — benefits children in Ghana, Africa where there are as many preventable deaths as anywhere on the planet.
Sponsored by McCracken’s Aiding Children Together (A.C.T.) student group and spearheaded by teachers Jennifer Ciok and Bethany Blades, the walk and other fund-raising efforts generated more than $6,000 this year for children in Ghana.
“These kids have been phenomenal,” Ciok said. “They’ve done so much work. It just seems to get bigger every year.”
The first walkathon was sponsored primarily by sixth- and seventh-grade students after they researched and learned about children exploited around the world. A.C.T. in year two became tied to the mission of Middleton second-grade teacher Shelley Nizynski.
Nizynski has spent years helping an orphanage in Ghana, having first visited there alone. Since then, she traveled to Ghana several times and helped create a foundation called A Better Life For Kids.
Linking McCracken’s service learning project with Nizynski’s effort galvanized the students. This was the second year all three McCracken grade levels participated in the walkathon.
Ciok said this year’s efforts were more student-led than any past year. “They’ve come up with so many different ideas,” she said.
Although many of the A.C.T. students are eighth-graders, Ciok says the walkathon might not signal the end of their participation.
“The hope is they’ll take it over to high school now,” she said.
Eighth-grader Nora Gaul wants to do just that, even if this was her first year in A.C.T.
“I was inspired by last year and I wanted to join,” she said. “I was told by people last year how fun and important and it was and it’s all been true.”
Eighth-grader Gabby Younan has been in A.C.T. for two years.
“I like to help other people,” she said. “It means a lot to me because they’re over there and they don’t have a lot of things that we have. I just really want to help them.”
Eighth-grader Sean Loach said he never thought he would be able to help children so far from where he lives.
“It’s just blowing my mind,” he said.
The walkathons have benefited from three straight years of near-perfect weather. Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen last week joined the children step for step — just as he did in 2011 and 2010.
“This is a great training ground for teaching young people social activism,” the mayor said. “They have a quality teaching staff that energizes the kids and is able to get them and their parents motivated for social good.”
Before the walkathon, a student slide show educated audiences about the plight of children in Ghana, about Nizynski’s work and about their own involvement. A.C.T. students also took turns reading from an eloquently prepared script.
“I can’t even put into words how much this has meant to me on both a professional and personal level,” said Ciok who came with her children for the third year. “I’ve been able to take my love for doing service learning and bring it to these kids and even bring it to my own kids. It still amazes me.”