When seventh-graders at Stratford Middle School in Bloomingdale look at next year's school calendar, they'll know they're responsible for one new addition: Explorers Week.
The students actually petitioned the Carol Stream Elementary District 93 school board to change Columbus Day to Explorers Day, saying their research on a class project led them to believe the historic voyager should be remembered, but not celebrated with a holiday all his own.
The school board didn't run with the students' idea as presented.
"Even though you had great information, we will not be changing Columbus Day to Explorers Day," school board President Keith Briggs told the students Thursday as they gathered in Helen Verdun's English language arts and humanities class. "We've decided to have a total Explorers Week."
Briggs told students not to be disheartened by the denial of the Columbus Day for Explorers Day swap. He called Explorers Week a compromise that takes into account the perspectives of students, who want a more inclusive celebration of exploration, and of the wider community, including Italian-Americans, who have adopted Columbus Day as a heritage celebration.
Students took Briggs' advice to heart and seemed proud their advocacy led to a tangible change.
"I'm still really happy with the result," student Mya Barone said. "I think a week is a lot more important than a day."
Briggs said board members were swayed to create Explorers Week because of the students' research, which included contacting eight professors at universities across the state and compiling a list of sources two pages long as they investigated Christopher Columbus' accomplishments and the consequences of his actions.
"You're definitely an example of our expectations of our students in District 93," Briggs said.
During their project, which began in October, the students recognized that Columbus' voyages to the Americas helped start a new exchange of crops, goods and religious beliefs between the new world and Europe. Verdun said they learned the exchange brought positive and negative effects: increased trade and migration came with disease and the conquering of territory. The students thought the negatives outweighed the positives, but Briggs cautioned them about their view of the past.
"A lot of things in history may not have been perfect," he said, "but they still affect us."
Students began their dive into Columbus' legacy to write a persuasive essay defending whether the famous navigator was a sinner or a saint. Verdun said they learned research and teamwork, used technology and got an introduction to the civic process, even appearing before the school board with a 12-minute video to promote their pitch.
"Your work caused District 93 to have a week every year, forever, called Explorers Week," District 93 Superintendent Bill Shields told the students as he handed out certificates honoring their accomplishment.
The district is likely to hold its first Explorers Week Oct. 10-13, after a day off Monday, Oct. 9, which will continue to be marked as Columbus Day. While Briggs and Shields said officials have not finalized the dates, they say the week will be an opportunity for exploration to be discussed in all subject areas, bringing to light the accomplishments of trailblazers from all eras.
Students suggested an increased focus on Leif Eriksson, a Viking leader who made a voyage to Newfoundland around the year 1000; Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator and mapmaker who determined the Americas were a separate landmass from Asia; Robert Peary and Matthew Henson, who discovered the North Pole; and astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.