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Parker students share the importance of the census with their families

Parker Junior High seventh graders Ben Rodriguez, left, and Memo Lopez, right, work on statistics to help them with charting a census question. (Provided photo)

Parker Junior High students in Flossmoor went home with a specific task from their social studies teachers: make certain their families file information with the U.S. Census Bureau.

Census forms were mailed to households in the Homewood-Flossmoor area in mid-March. Information can be filed online and by mail. The official start date for the 2020 census is April 1.

Lessons on the importance of the census were included this year in Parker’s sixth grade geography lessons, seventh grade Constitution and civic service lessons and eighth grade math lessons, thanks to teacher Linda O’Dwyer, who is serving as an ambassador for the Census Bureau.

The census form is short  —  just five questions  —  but seventh grade social studies teachers are trying to stress the importance responding.

“The answers are going to impact how much federal funding our area receives and how our Congressional representation is decided,” O’Dwyer said. She said it is believed the South Suburbs are underrepresented by as much as 25 percent.

Parker Junior High teacher Linda O’Dwyer points to Illinois on a map provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. She has had her classes working on census issues. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

The social studies teacher has been working with iCivics, a nonprofit organization founded in 2008 by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to help promote civic education and encourage students to become active citizens. 

iCivics has developed specific programs to raise awareness in schools about the 2020 census.

In summer 2019, when Parker students went to Washington, D.C., to compete in the National History Day contest, they had a chance to meet with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, who represents Homewood and Flossmoor in Congress. 

O’Dwyer and her students were invited to sit in as a Congressional committee debated whether the citizenship question should be part of the census. 

“That prompted me to think this is a big deal,” she said.

The courts blocked the Trump administration in its attempt to get the question included in the 2020 census.

In August, O’Dwyer got a box of materials for the Statistics in School project from the U.S. Census Bureau. It included 67 different activities teachers can use to teach students about the census. She shared with fellow social studies teachers Janet McKenna and Joseph Mailhiot. 

The teachers focused on the five questions on the census: age, race, sex, relationship and housing tenure. O’Dwyer organized several 90-minute lessons. Students used the 2010 census information to learn how the government puts the data to use and then tried to assess the information to suggest changes on the 2020 census. 

As the lessons went along, they would ask “Why do they need to know this?” and that, O’Dwyer said, would lead to new discussions on how statistics play a role in government work.

Students used computer programs to make pie charts and PowerPoint presentations.

“I feel like they did a pretty deep dive into all of these categories and they know why these questions are being asked and why it’s important to participate in the survey,” she said.

On the race question, the 2020 census has ways for biracial people to be counted, but a transgender question isn’t included, O’Dwyer said. 

Bridget Wachtel, the Flossmoor village manager, was a special guest in the class. She explained for the students how the village gets funding based on its population collected by the census. The money is used to pay for village services like police, fire and public works.

Flossmoor’s Community Relations Committee did a door-to-door canvas in March to remind residents about the census and encourage them to file their information.

In addition, the village had an informational video produced. It can be viewed on the Flossmoor village website at www.flossmoor.org.

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