The Student Voice Committee (SVC) at Sullivan High School in Rogers Park knows a bit about community politics. This group of 15 youth leaders has dedicated the year to instituting youth voice in the participatory budgeting (PB) process in the 49th ward and showing their community their dedication to bettering the neighborhood. The youth group played a key role in the PB process this year by helping the community decide how to spend $1 million of the ward budget.
Participatory budgeting is a process that started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. The idea is simple: ordinary people decide how to allocate a portion of public money. In the 49th ward, under the leadership of Alderman Joe Moore (who is credited with bringing the PB process to the US) residents over the age of 16 are able to vote on how his discretionary infrastructure funding is spent each year.
Sullivan SVC first got involved with participatory budgeting last year when they teamed up with PB Chicago, an organization that supports local groups in the PB process, and together, launched a major school-wide campaign to get students to participate in PB voting. This year, the SVC has continued the movement by adding a project proposal to the PB ballot. They proposed adding bus stop benches along major bus routes near the school.
In order to prepare for PB, the SVC spent the fall semester identifying the assets and deficits of Rogers Park and brainstorming ideas about how they could use PB funds. They did observational research through walking tours around the neighborhood, along with conducting focus groups and a survey to get peer input on neighborhood issues. Once they narrowed down to the top ten project ideas, they sent them to Principal Chad Adams and Alderman Joe Moore to get feedback from them about feasibility.
By Winter Break, the SVC had a final list of top 5 ideas, including their proposal to improve alley lighting and another to add bus benches, and the group decided to tackle both ideas. The SVC braved cold winter evenings to examine and rate the quality of alley lighting in all of the areas proximate to their school campus and identified two key danger zones with dim or no lighting. They partnered with another group of community representatives in the Safety and Transit Committee to create a comprehensive list of locations around the ward needing additional lighting. After submitting their findings to the ward office, the SVC found out that the funding to improve the alley lights would actually come from a separate fund in the ward budget. This was a major win for the SVC — the alley lights may not have been addressed without the group conducting and sharing their research.
The process of developing a proposal has been a learning experience for the SVC students. Youth leaders found out how much each bench costs, and discovered that benches cannot be installed at certain stops where the sidewalks are too narrow. Then they surveyed their peers during lunch about the bus routes that are most frequently used by Sullivan students, and learned that the 22 Clark bus and 155 Sheridan bus are key lines. A very special thanks to the continued support from Maria Hadden of PB Chicago and Bob Fuller and Cecilia Salinas from the 49th ward office as students navigated the nuanced ins and outs of this process!
In getting ready for PB voting, our democracy super stars presented their proposal in three community-wide Project Expos. These Expos sharpened their communication and public speaking skills and also helped students get feedback on their proposals before they were finally printed and included on the official ballots. Monica, a student who was initially one of the quieter members of the group, volunteered to present the entire presentation for the Spanish Language Project Expo on her own.
Monica certainly isn’t the only student who has transformed as a leader in the Sullivan SVC. Another freshman, Asia, use to be actively disgruntled about having to attend SVC meetings with her older sister, Alexis, but has become one of the strongest and most outspoken members of the group. Frantdzy, a senior, has used PB as an opportunity to push himself with public speaking and networking skills. He has regularly driven himself out of his own comfort zone to tell his peers about PB and to spearhead school-wide surveying efforts.
In the final days leading up to the PB vote, students have been flyering the neighborhood and school, and have been persuading their 300 eligible peers to cast their ballots during school hours. Students are especially excited to GOTV because any Rogers Park resident over 16 years old can vote regardless of citizenship status, which is a critical difference from traditional electoral politics.
Regardless of the PB voting results, the Sullivan SVC has already had tremendous impact on their school and community. As a result of the students’ commitment to PB, Principal Chad Adams had set aside $25,000 of the school’s budget for discretionary funding, with the use determined by the student body. Currently, SVC members are training another student group to facilitate this internal ‘PB’ process.
Will the Sullivan SVC’s proposal pass? Check back in a week to find out!
For more information on participatory budgeting, check out www.pbchicago.org
Results are in for the 49th Ward PB process!
The Student Voice Committee at Sullivan High School had a huge win! Their proposal to add more benches to the major CTA stops in the Rogers Park neighborhood won the votes needed to pass. We’re so proud of the Council and all the adult partners who supported our youth leaders throughout this process.