Four students were honored with the Those Who Make A Difference Award at the D219 Board of Education’s December 3 meeting, and board members recognized their club sponsors as well.
Seble Maru and Nahom Tekeste, Niles North
Seble Maru, a junior, was nominated for the Make A Difference leadership award by Jonda Cherry, a Special Education paraprofessional who sponsors DREAM (Developing Resourceful ways to Encourage Alliances and Mentorship), an organization that encourages black, Afro-Caribbean, and African girls to gather together, share common experiences and form a sense of unity.
Last year, DREAM partnered with another club, NOTICE, to create a program called “Who Am I?”, which asked students to research and represent biographical sketches that highlight significant contributions black people have made throughout the history of the United States. The students presented their pieces in performances in the Niles North auditorium that were open to all students throughout the day.
Maru portrayed Madam C. J. Walker, an African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist who was considered the wealthiest black self-made woman in America at the time of her death in 1919.
Maru credited sponsor Cherry for challenging her and fellow students to recreate the stories of the historical figures, whose stories are not all well known.
The project “helped us learn about the important influence all these people had,” Maru said at the board meeting. She said that in her middle school there were not a lot of students who looked like her. When she came to Niles North and became involved with DREAM, “It made me feel that I matter more in this world, because there are other people who are like me and who share some of the same experiences as a black woman in America.”
Nahom Tekeste, a junior, was also part of the “Who Am I?” production. After researching the life of inventor George Washington Carver, Tekeste portrayed him in the production. He is a member of the NOTICE Club, whose name stands for Nurturing Our True Identity Commanding Equity. The club is sponsored by John Bias, a Special Education paraprofessional at Niles North, who nominated Tekeste for this award.
When receiving his award, Tekeste told board members that he credits NOTICE with helping him become “a better student and a better person.” He joined the club as a freshman and said that in the past two years he has seen the meetings evolve from simple conversations over lunch to more focused efforts to become more successful black students and young men.
Niles North Principal Jim Edwards said that the NOTICE Club made a big impression on the Niles North school community when, this September, the young men passed out roses to all female staff members on Women’s Appreciation Day.
Tekeste gave credit to sponsor Bias, who he said he considers one of his “uncles,” since he consistently emphasizes the importance of making good choices in school and in life. Tekeste also thanked club supporters Glenn Sevier, a Niles North social worker who helps students talk about important issues, and Anthony Whyte, a Special Education paraprofessional who conveys the experiences he had as a teenager and his ways of succeeding in college and life.
Tekeste says that NOTICE has helped him keep his grades up and makes him focus on being a better person. The club, he said, “is a real brotherhood.”
Students Mike Schuller and Hammad Memon and Robotics Sponsor Rob Foster, Niles West
“When I think of a strong team, it is made up of committed individuals who have a strong work ethic, perseverance, creativity, and motivation that contribute to the collective skill set of the whole team,” said Niles West Principal Karen Ritter, when introducing the December award honorees. “It is made up of humble people who are not afraid to fail often in order to improve. It is made up of people who are committed to making an investment in one another to build a community, strengthened by collaboration, sweat, and literally, nuts and bolts.
“The Niles West Robotics 321J Team, led by teacher Rob Foster and Team Leads sophomore Mike Schuller and senior Hammad Memon, has found the secret to a successful team,” she said. “With just one day of practice at school on Mondays, Mike and Hammad led their team to win the Mundelein Robotics Championship in October of this year, followed by the Skills Challenge at Von Steuben High School. They also recruited students who have skills in coding, building, driving, completing the engineering notebook, and developing strategy. If you ask them how they won, they will not talk about themselves, but they will instead talk about the team and the individual strengths everyone else brings to the team.
“When I asked Mr. Foster about Mike and Hammad, he said that they energize each other and they have created great chemistry on the team. Mr. Foster said, ‘You don’t create technology in a bubble. Being able to work with others builds the skills necessary to be productive people in society.’ Mike attributes their success to Hammad bringing on the right people, and Hammad recognizes Mike for bringing the team together on Friday nights at his house for pizza and focused non-robotics time together. At the tournament, they won despite having a broken motor with only three minutes to repair it.
“They appreciate Mr. Foster’s dedication to the Robotics Club, but acknowledge the fact that Mr. Foster’s support stops after supplying them with materials. The rest is up to them.”
Schuller and Memon then gave a demonstration of their robot for the Board of Education, showing off this year’s intricate task of picking up cubes, balancing them atop each other, and moving them collectively to a drop-off point.
Foster told the board that Niles West has about 50 students actively competing in Robotics this year. “They are not only learning problem-solving skills and collaboration, but students like Mike and Hammad are learning leadership skills. They are truly emerging leaders among their peers.”
Foster also recognized Skokie resident Mike Horowitz, who is not only an assistant coach of Niles West’s Robotics team, but also a grandfather of a Niles West student who was also on the team.
Horowitz said he got to know honoree Schuller when he was still at Skokie/Morton Grove School District 69’s Lincoln Junior High, whose Robotics team is one of the “Little Nine,” the nine elementary school districts that send their students to D219 schools. Next year all nine districts will have a competitive Robotics team.