Suburban students to help state board with diversity, equity initiatives

Seven suburban youths are among the 21 high school students chosen to serve on the Illinois State Board of Education's 2021-22 Student Advisory Council.

The council includes 13 new and eight returning members from schools statewide.

Student advisers will help the state board address the academic and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. They will focus on developing ways to respond to the achievement gap that has widened due to the pandemic, creating a diversity, equity, and inclusion framework, ensuring the safety and emotional well-being of students, and strengthening teacher recruitment efforts. 

“Last year, we really focused on pushing for training teachers and to help create trauma-responsive teachers,” said Serena Thakkar, 17, of West Chicago, a senior at St. Charles East High School who is a returning member. “You shouldn't expect teachers to be able to see these signs ... and help students with mental health if they're not trained.”

Eric Veal Jr., 17, of Lombard, a senior at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, and Araha Uday, a senior at Schaumburg High School, also are returning members.

Veal said he hopes to work on disparities in schools' disciplinary practices and why certain students disproportionately are affected, particularly those from marginalized groups.

New members

Among the new members of ISBE's Student Advisory Council are:

• Amulya Jonnalagadda, a senior at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville

• Lori Martinez, a senior at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights

• Dhruv Patel, a junior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora

• Murad Shahzadah, a senior at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire

Shahzadah, 17, of Buffalo Grove, said he is motivated by the council's focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and mental health.

“People are starting to talk about (mental health) a lot more and starting to recognize it as a legitimate problem,” he said. “I also go to a super-competitive high school, academically, where there's seemingly lots of pressure to succeed.”

Patel, 15, of Schaumburg, also has been involved in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at IMSA. It's something every school district should be prioritizing, he said.

Pride fund

A recently launched nonpartisan political action committee, the Northwest Suburban Pride Action Fund, aims to ensure suburban LGBTQ+ residents have representation and support from their elected officials.

“The goal is to try and ensure that we have true representation,” said Austin Mejdrich of Arlington Heights, the fund's founder.

Mejdrich said recent examples of “banning or tucking away symbols of support” for the LGBTQ community accentuates the need to elect more supportive leaders.

Arlington Heights' recent adoption of a new flag display policy, essentially not allowing a Pride flag to be flown at village hall, prompted the fund's creation.

“I know firsthand how much change we can make when our leaders reflect the makeup and needs of our communities,” said Debbie Smart, fund chairwoman and Arlington Heights Library Board trustee, the first openly gay elected official in the village.

Mejdrich said visibility and representation help create a positive environment for LGBTQ+ youth.

“There is a lot of good work being done throughout communities in the Northwest suburbs,” Mejdrich said.

For the first time, Des Plaines raised a Pride flag at city hall in June, and several suburban towns, including Arlington Heights, Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Glenview, Palatine and Northbrook, have issued proclamations recognizing June as Pride Month.

Pride Fest

Harper College in Palatine will host its first Pride Fest today.

The event originally was planned in the spring but was postponed due to weather.

It is being held in honor of LGBTQ+ History Month observed in October and National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, said Erin Morettes-Graff, Harper interim associate dean of students.

A socially distanced outdoor ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. on Harper's main campus, 1200 W. Algonquin Road. The program will include a flag raising at 1:30 p.m., followed by a Pride Parade and a yoga class at the outdoor pavilion.

“Hosting Pride Fest is really a way to show support and build that community ... that at Harper College you can be who you are and you are accepted and loved for the person you choose to be,” Morettes-Graff said. “This event is really to honor those who have paved the way in terms of the March on Washington that initially started the movement for gay and lesbian rights.”

For the first time, Harper will fly the “Progress Pride Flag” on campus. It's an updated version of the classic rainbow Pride flag, including a five-colored chevron. The black and brown stripes represent marginalized LGBTQ+ communities of color, and the colors pink, light blue and white represent the transgender Pride flag.

Preregistration is required. Sign up at

To attend virtually, visit

Immigrant rally

Wheaton-based Immigrant Solidarity DuPage is urging DuPage County-area Latino residents, houses of faith and community allies to join a Tuesday rally in downtown Chicago supporting the legalization of suburban essential workers who are here without papers.

Its part of an effort to convince lawmakers to include a path to citizenship for millions of “undocumented” people in the federal budget reconciliation package.

“There has not been sweeping immigration reform in close to 40 years,” said Cristobal Cavazos, general coordinator of Immigrant Solidarity DuPage. “Is it really fair that in the midst of a crisis, many of our area's front-line and essential workers continue to be unauthorized workers?”

Last summer, Latino workers in DuPage County warehouses, restaurants and factories were hit hard with COVID-19 infections at five times the rate of the general population, he said.

• Share stories, news and happenings from the suburban mosaic at

Murad Shahzadah
Serena Thakkar
Eric Veal Jr.
Amulya Jonnalagadda
Araha Uday
Lori Martinez
  Roughly 100 people protested Arlington Heights' decision not to fly the Pride and Juneteenth flags at village hall in July. Now, a nonpartisan political action committee, the Northwest Suburban Pride Action Fund, aims to ensure suburban LGBTQ+ residents have representation and support from their elected officials. Paul Valade/
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