SJS Student Helps Pass State Law

Hilary Anderson, Freelance Reporter, December 13, 2016

Chris Payne enjoys making history come alive. The St. Joseph School eighth grade social studies teacher did just that last school year when he gave his classes an assignment that ultimately resulted in one of his students creating a project that will become Illinois law Jan. 1, 2017. “I’m a history buff and enjoy passing my passion on to my students,” said Payne, who has been teaching 27 years, 16 of them at Wilmette’s St. Joseph School. “Students are always interested in the world around them especially if you can make what they are learning about relevant to them.” He likes combining social studies with literature. “I have students read a novel related to the subject and in this case it was about the Illinois constitution and government,” he said “This makes them more interested. An event may have happened long ago but there are similarities to people who lived then and now.”

Payne was at an Ohio teacher’s conference when he came up with the idea of assigning students to research Native American artifacts that have relevance to Illinois. “There is the official state motto, bird, flower and dance in the Illinois Constitution,” he said. “Most of these are the result of the work and ideas of school kids. I decided to make this a student project to find an artifact that is relevant to Illinois.”

Payne then instructed his classes to write a two-page research paper, make a poster with captions and then write a persuasive letter to Laura Fine, Illinois State Representative (17th district), about why the artifact about which they are researching should become the official state artifact. “All of my students did an excellent job,” Payne said. “I then asked our school faculty to vote for the three top projects.” The faculty chose eighth-grader Alyanna Arlegui’s project about a Native American artifact, a — pirogue a narrow canoe, which made the most difference in the history of Illinois. “I researched which Native American tribes were here in Illinois from the very beginning,” Arlegui said. “I discovered there was the Illinois Confederation, a group of Native American tribes also called the Illiniwek.”

She researched their history, where they lived and what kinds of tools they used. “I found they used a pirogue, which is made from a tree stump, hollowed out with fire,” Arlegui said. “The pirogue was unique to the Illiniwek. They used these to navigate the Illinois River. Other tribes had different ones light birch bark canoes. This is important because the first people in our state used the pirogues. It celebrates those who came here before us.”

She made a poster and presented her findings in class. “The project was interesting and it got me extra credit points but I never expected anything else would happen,” Arlegui said. Payne sent Arlegui’s project to Fine in September with her proposal that the pirogue should become Illinois’ official state artifact. Fine contacted Payne last February and said she planned to send the material to the Illinois House’s representatives. “This was a great experience for the students,” Payne said. “They saw and received first-hand knowledge of the step-by-by process by which resolutions are voted on, particularly something in which they participated. State Rep. Laura Fine did a great job and helped the students become more interested in their government.”

Arlegui’s proposal that the pirogue become Illinois’ official artifact became House Bill 538. It passed the Illinois’ House in April and the Illinois Senate in May 2016. Governor Bruce Rauner signed the bill in July 2016. “We saw a painting of a pirogue on a mural in the Illinois State Capitol Building when our class went to Springfield this past spring,” Arlegui said. The pirogue will officially become Illinois official state artifact on Jan. 1, 2017. “My family and I want to go back to Springfield this coming January when the Illinois legislature is back in session and see where it happened [the bill passed],” Arlegui added. “I really enjoyed this project. It was very informative and I learned so much about Illinois.”

More information about what the original HB 538 contains can be viewed at General Bills and Resolutions.

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