Agassiz students in Lakeview spend time giving back to community

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

Agassiz eighth-grader Amirah Elechi prepares to give a high-five to a Little Marvels youngster during the Chicago school’s visit to the preschool. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

From beach work and books for preschoolers to puppy toys and park cleanups, students in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood spent a week helping their community.

Students at Agassiz Elementary School spent a week cleaning, creating and caring as they launched their first Agassiz Gives Back Week.

Agassiz, like many other schools, regularly did a planting or cleanup project as part of Earth Day, but students felt they should take the effort a step further.

“Our Student Council decided to do more, that they wanted other opportunities (to serve),” said Freeda Pirillis, the International Baccalaureate coordinator at the school and one of the organizers of the service week. “Students came up with ideas on how to serve the bigger community.”

During the week of April 22, Agassiz students were involved in: cleanups at Loyola and Montrose beaches, around their school, and at Weisman, Martin and South Lakeview parks; reading to local preschoolers; and making chew toys for dogs housed at the Anti-Cruelty Society.

Students worked with their teachers to figure out what project their class should tackle. In the case of the Agassiz eighth-graders, they could chose between reading to preschoolers at nearby Little Marvels Early Childhood School or making dog toys at the Anti-Cruelty Society.

Lenny Knapp, an eighth-grader at Agassiz Elementary School in Chicago, reads to Melanie Caceres, 4, during a visit to Little Marvels Early Childhood School as part of Agassiz Giving Back Week. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

“They had input into how they were going to give back to the community,” Pirillis said of each class’ project decision.

Agassiz students of all ages from preschool through eighth grade participated in projects, divided up by grade level.

“We want them learning not just academics, but the importance of community service,” Pirillis said.

Daniela Caceres, director of Little Marvels, said she had been looking for an opportunity for a multi-age experience for her students and was thrilled when Agassiz reached out to her.

“I think it is a wonderful experience for older and younger children alike,” Caceres said as Agassiz eighth-graders read individual books to her preschoolers on Friday morning (April 26).

She noticed that during the Agassiz students’ visit some of her youngsters less likely to pick up books were mesmerized by the stories coming from the older visitors.

“Some of the children who are not that interested in books are a captive audience,” Caceres observed. “Part of it is the younger kids love having older kids around.”

The Little Marvels director said both the Agassiz students and her preschool children got something out of the experience.

Gabriella Weffer reads to a Little Marvels preschooler during Agassiz students’ visit. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

“It’s a win-win for both groups,” Caceres said. “Any time you can bring generations together there’s enormous benefit for both sides.”

During their work at the Anti-Cruelty Society, Agassiz students cut up old T-shirts and made them into chew toys for dogs at the shelter.

“It is good for students because they get to make things for the animals and the Anti-Cruelty Society benefits because we have toys for the animals,” said Avi Kulla, community program specialist for the Anti-Cruelty Society.