In order to celebrate both his memory and his life, students at John F. Kennedy High School spent part of November 22 reflecting on and discussing the American president for whom their school is named.
Though it took place on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, the focus of this tribute was not President Kennedy’s death, but rather the numerous attributes of his presidency.
“He accomplished a great deal in a very short time,” said Kennedy principal George Szkapiak, “especially given the turbulent condition of the country at that time. This was a chance for us to come together as a school community to better understand his place in history.”
Throughout sixth period on November 22 – the hour during which the president was killed – Kennedy students in every classroom studied the speeches and historical writings of America’s 35th president, analyzing his career and developing arguments on which could be considered his most significant accomplishment.
“This lesson was powerful in several ways,” said Teresa Alting, one of the IB teachers who helped create the school-wide JFK curriculum. “It connects students to our history, and participating in this activity all at once in the same building instills a sense of community.”
The literacy-rich activity aligned directly with the Common Core, as students were expected to use higher-order thinking skills to analyze and evaluate information and create written arguments. The accomplishments they discussed included civil rights legislation, the ban on nuclear weapons testing and Kennedy’s commitment to the space program.
“All of these attributes are part of what President Kennedy and our IB Program stand for,” said Alting.
Built around the time of the assassination, Kennedy High School was originally intended to be an expansion of nearby Kinzie Elementary. But like many new schools throughout the country at that time, it was re-dedicated in 1965 to bear the name of the fallen president.
“Our kids come and go every day from this building with President Kennedy’s name above the entrance,” said Principal Szkapiak. “We want to make sure that they understand who he was, what he stood for and the kind of impact his life and death had on our country.”