Christopher Edison stood in front of his classmates at Vanderpoel Humanities Academy on June 7 and eloquently presented in a concise, articulate video his idea to implement an after-school yoga program for students and teachers.
His pitch came as part of the school’s inaugural Hackathon, and it earned him first place—along with $500 to start the program.
Edison, a seventh-grader from Beverly, was among five winners in the contest, in which students shared their ideas with judges on projects that would make the school a healthier place.
He was grateful, but he praised all the students that presented their ideas.
“It feels great,” Edison said. “I liked everyone’s Hackathon projects. All of them were nice ideas. I just really want to thank my teachers and my friends for helping me out.”
Vanderpoel, a Chicago Public Schools magnet school at 9510 S. Prospect Ave., in Beverly, kicked off the
Hackathon with an assembly in April. It was inspired by Dejah Powell, a 2010 Vanderpoel graduate who returned to the school in 2017 to plant a community garden to provide fruits and vegetables to people living in nearby food deserts.
She said she wanted to empower students, and she joined teachers in judging the presentations.
In all, 12 groups presented their ideas on June 7, stating whom their project would help, how they would market it and how they would utilize their $500 budget.
Edison calculated that his project would require 17 each of yoga blocks, straps and mats, coming in at about $492.
He said his school needs the project.
“I noticed a lot of people in my classroom don’t really have exercise equipment at home,” Edison said. “My idea was to bring exercise to school, so that they could stay after school and do some exercising.”
He and the other four winning groups, who will also receive $500 donations for their projects, were announced on the P.A. system at the end of the school day.
Edison’s emotions ran the gamut.
“It was top five, so when I didn’t hear my name, I got kind of scared,” he said, “but when I heard first place, I was like, ‘Oh, well great!’”
Teacher Tina Caponigri, who joined counselor Kim Page, teacher Elyssia Evans and student affairs administrator Kimberly Donson in organizing the project, said Edison stood out for his poise during his presentation and because “the community can benefit from what he wants to do.”
She said he is always well spoken, as if he works for CNN.
“He’s just a little gem,” Caponigri said. “He’s very modest.”
Other winners included second-place finishers Evon Foxx, Antoine Smith, Eden Collins, Christopher Henderson and Bryce Lanagan, who will implement a recycling program; third-place finisher Mikail Flournoy, who requested better technology for the school’s humanities program; fourth-place finishers Kira Gaines and Morgan Folks, who will give the girls bathroom a makeover; and fifth-place finishers Sophia Daniels, Caroline Hill, Daniel Black, Jordin Funches and Patrick Stimphyl, who will have a filtered water fountain installed on the second floor.
Caponigri said she was impressed at students’ ability to present their ideas eloquently and address real-life issues.
She hopes their brainstorming continues.
“The extension of this is to really start getting the students to focus on how to better their school,” she said, “and also how to find the funds and fundraise for themselves.”
Donors included Black and Well, a coalition that Powell formed with fellow Vanderpoel alumni Kaysi Gray and LaNae Plaxico; former NFL player Darius Fleming, a Clissold Elementary School graduate who visited the school during the April assembly; Third Baptist Church, 1551 W. 95th St.; Marc Campbell, the brother of Vanderpoel Assistant Principal Nyree Tucker; and Principal Kia Banks, who announced that she would be contributing on the day of the presentations.
Other ideas included purchasing pedometers; creating a school library and school store; and using the school garden for student meals.
Banks told students the project enabled them to “take ownership” of their school. If students want improvements, they can think of ways to make them a reality.
“Nobody can love your school better than you love it,” she said.
Edison, who has attended Vanderpoel since kindergarten, embraced that challenge. He will graduate next year, but his work at the school, he said, is far from done.
“I really want to give back to the school what they gave to me,” Edison said. “When I grow up, I might come back and try to implement other programs while I’m at it.”