Friday, April 24, 2015

Stand Against Racism

On Friday, April 24th, our students took part in the Stand Against Racism.  Instead of standing outside, the students made statements about how they can stand against racism and had those papers "stand" on their lockers.  Even though this wasn't an ACT event, it was neat to see how the video that ACT had made manifested itself in the activity that afternoon.  Thanks to the members of ACT who put together the video that inspired students to make pledges against racism and indifference.  The lockers will remain decorated with these upstander statements.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Stand Against Racism

On April 24th, our students will be joining in a community wide Stand Against Racism.  Some of the students in ACT put together this video showcasing the reason for the stand and what to expect on Friday.  Make sure to wear orange and take a stand against stereotyping, racism and making people feel inferior.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

5/6th Grade Student Leadership Day at the IHMEC

On April 21, six ACT members in sixth grade had the pleasure of attending Student Leadership Day at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  The day began with defining our own identity in six words.  Students, teachers, and parents then turned this into their "rap" or poem describing who we are.  The poems were amazing for only having about five minutes to complete the task!  After that, Dr. Bettina Love inspired the audience with her keynote speech about how storytelling is used to make a difference.  She used the history of hip hop to share how throughout history, the roots of hip hop have been used to change the world.  From slave songs to modern day rap, people have used this medium to spread awareness and make a change.  Dr. Love also shared other forms of art that can be used, such as spoken word and graffiti.  We all have a story to tell!

We also had the pleasure of hearing from Aaron Elster, a Holocaust survivor, who has an amazing story to tell.  Out of perseverance, hope and the kindness of strangers, he survived two years in an attic to tell his story.  His message is always the same, "Be kind to others."

Exelon also joined us for the day!  Some of the employees shared their stories of volunteering, while asking the students for their own stories.  During our question and answer session, two of the students, along with Mrs. Ciok and Mrs. Keipert, performed a small portion of "Shine A Light" to demonstrate how you can use your talents to make a difference!

The schools also had time to tour the museum and see the Harvey Miller Youth Exhibit.  They learned how different people have made a difference and what it takes to get something done.  Working together can make all the difference!

Finally, we ended the day by all 100 people sharing one word about the day.  Words like inspiring, social action, challenging, awesome, service, and volunteerism were used to describe this powerful day.  Thank you to the IHMEC for challenging students to think beyond themselves and make a difference in the world!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Save the World Week!

In celebration of Earth Day, ACT decided to plan a Save the World Week.  During this week, we are challenging students and staff with different ways that they can save the planet.  Please think about making the world a better place by using water bottles, walking instead of driving, and turning off electronics!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Leap for Ghana

On February 26, 2015, McCracken Middle School sponsored the A.C.T., “Shine A Light” concert. In total from that night, the District 73.5 community was able to raise a whopping $2,500! All of the profits will be donated to children in Ghana. A.C.T. is deeply grateful for those who attended Leap For Ghana 2015 and those who donated. Thank you! Some special guests included Mayor Van Dusen, Patrick Nyarko from the Chicago Fire Soccer Team, professional singers Wendy Morgan & the Band, Amanda Friedeman from the Illinois Holocaust Museum, and Mike Isaacs from the Skokie Review.

You can now purchase the song, “Shine a Light,” which was performed by McCracken’s choirs either online or in the form of a download card. The song was generously written for A.C.T. by Wendy & DB. Here's a link to download the song! Shine A Light Middle School Version

Check out the article in the Skokie Review for a preview of the song!

The Shine a Light Concert on the 26th included a variety of music by solo singers, quartets, groups, and even some instrument solos. Wendy & DB, the band who helped McCracken choir students and ACT record “Shine a Light”, performed their formerly written song, “People are People”, and then sang along with a few risers full of students in a rousing chorus of “Shine a Light.” The song was formerly recorded at The Mayne Stage, a venue in Rogers Park with group of students, and the song had been written especially for the occasion, as Wendy was inspired by Mrs. Ciok's appearance on NPR in the spring of 2014 and the work being done by our students. 

Leap for Ghana!  Shine A Light!
Items for sale!
T-shirts for sale!
Poster making!
The Blades family makes great popcorn!
Opening speech by Grace
Beautiful solo performances- what talent!
Everyone was moved by this year's performances!
Great turnout of students and community members!
What we've accomplished so far...
Ending speech
Wendy Morgan of Wendy & DB
Shine  A Light Performance
Shine A  Light Performance
Patrick Nyarko from the Chicago Fire!
After recording, Wendy & DB announced that they will be donating 5% of their upcoming album, A Doo Da Day, to A Better Life for Kids. This album has a recording of Shine A Light on it, performed by the band with the McCracken students singing the chorus.  All profits from the recording done completely by McCracken students benefits A Better Life for Kids. In the concert, performing students who weren’t already there came up onto the risers, all in matching  personalised t-shirts, and joined the band for one last song. “It was an incredible experience singing “Shine A Light” for everyone at the concert,” says Abigael P, a 6th grader who sang that night.
Thanks for coming Amanda from the Illinois Holocaust Museum!

Always great to see alumni!
More alumni!
Jen Ciok, Patrick Nyarko, Shelley Nizynski

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Leap for Ghana Speeches

It is always such a pleasure to see what the students write for the Leap for Ghana concert.  Here are the three speeches that were given that night.  They encapsulate the work being done by A.C.T., along with the students' understanding about how they are helping to make the world a better place.

Opening Speech:

My name is Grace, of ACT and also McCracken Singers. On behalf of Ms. Ciok, Ms. Nyzinski, and all the members of ACT, as well as all of our beneficiaries in Ghana, I would like to welcome you to the 4th annual Leap for Ghana Concert.I’m sure most of you know that ACT is a charity organization here at McCracken, run by Ms. Ciok and supported by 8th grade choirs under the direction of Ms. Keipert . This organization is populated by students of all grades here. 

We are a small branch of the real orphanage in Ghana run by A Better Life for Kids, started by Ms. Shelly Nyzinski. We have been working very hard through our years here to raise money for the orphans. Our money, every cent of it, goes directly to the children and their needs across the sea. It funds many different things, which you will hear more about later, in order to fulfill the orphans’ everyday needs such as food, water, home, medicine, as well as more advanced issues such as education. ACT continues to set goals for the future to do more with less, and do as much for the children in Ghana as is humanly possible. 

Tonight, you all came to see a concert. Yes, the singing is important and wonderful, yes you came to have a good time and support your kids or friends. But the real reason you are here is much simpler. The reason you are here tonight is because you want every child to have a good life. To have food, everyday. To have a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear, a roof over their heads. To be able to have an education, and to be happy. So yes, you came for the concert, but really, you came because you saw the chance to give some nice child out there that you’ve only heard about a good life, just because you know its right.   

Jewah lost his parents through malaria, due to the result of not having the money to go to the hospital in time.  This left Jewah under the care of his poor grandparents. His grandfather is crippled and pushes his wheelchair to gather termites in the bush to feed their chickens. His grandmother is not healthy, but makes and sells local cakes she fries to feed the family.  This is not enough to pay for his educational needs and feeding.  His sponsorship through A Better Life for Kids has given him a hope for a future.  Jewah has done very well in school and excels in math.

Beatrice is an adorable little girl who has been living at an orphanage since she was just one day old. Her mother died immediately after childbirth and her father was a poor farmer who could not care for her.  In addition to providing Beatrice with baby formula, nutritious food, and medicine through A Better Life for Kids, we believe that the relationships we are building with her will significantly impact her life. When visiting Ghana twice a year, Shelley makes it a priority to spend time with Beatrice because she seems especially detached and lonely. Her ongoing visits are essential in showing her that she is loved.  We believe that by developing a connection with us, she will be able to build relationships with others in the future.  For Beatrice and children like her, activities like blowing bubbles together and playing with balloons, opens the door to the beginning of relationship building.  

I want to thank all of you for donating your time and money to our performance, and to assure you that even though it seems small to you, your donation is making someone happy. With your help, we can aid the children together.  It’s that simple, yet it’s true. So thank you all for coming, and I hope you enjoy our show!

About our work:

ACT and A Better Life for For Kids has been raising awareness and money to support children in Ghana for several years now. We have been successful with creating a lot of connections to help us support the orphans in Ghana. Some of the people and companies that have sponsored us have played a huge part in ACT. 

A few of the people that continue to be extremely important to the process of raising awareness about A Better Life for Kids and the work that ACT does include Mayor Van Dusen, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Patrick Nyarko of the Chicago Fire, Mike Isaacs from the Skokie Review, Steve Bynum and Jerome McDonnell from NPR’s Worldview for their coverage, and Wendy and DB Vocal Gymnasium. We would also like to thank the Abraham family for their creation of the t-shirts each year and the Klein family for continuing to support our efforts through the notepads that are on sale this evening. We’d just like to say thank you for all that you’ve done to help ACT. What you’re doing is not only helping children in Ghana but also, Ghana itself.  You are helping to Shine A  Light for these children’s future.

We would like to acknowledge some of the people that have helped us a lot along the way. One person we’d like to thank is Patrick Nyarko, a Chicago Fire soccer player, who has repeatedly donated money over the years. Recently he has donated $500 to ACT which is an extremely incredible contribution. Patrick, please stand so we can recognize you.

Another person that really contributed is Mike Isaacs from the Skokie Review. He has covered many stories. He’s been here at many of the ACT events and interviewed and captured many great times.  Please recognize Mr. Isaacs for his continued support.

Another person who has really helped out with ACT is Mayor Van Dusen. He has attended many events and listened to many of our ideas and we’d really like to say thank you for consistently helping our organization. Let’s give him a hand.

And finally thanks so much to Wendy Morgan and Daryl Boggs, from the recording company Wendy and DB Vocal Gymnasium, who have helped ACT in creating a song specifically for ACT. This year we have had the opportunity to work with them in recording the song, "Shine A Light", with kids from all three grades. On December 9th we went to the Mayne Stage to record the song professionally. This was a really great experience, so thank you for giving us that opportunity and for helping to raise awareness for the struggles of the children halfway around the world. Also, thanks to Mrs. Ciok, Ms. Keipert, and Mrs. Nizynski who came with us to the recording studio. Thank you again to everyone who has been a part of ACT and everyone that continues to help. And now, here’s "Shine A Light".

End of the night speech:

When I first met Mrs. Nizynski, I was attending Middleton Elementary School. She was an astonishing 2nd grade teacher with a fantastic personality. When I was in elementary school, I was told about the organization she had created, A Better Life For Kids. I wanted to get involved because I heard that there were orphaned children in Ghana who weren’t able to afford three meals a day, let alone 2. I have been in ACT this year and it has taught me a lot about how fortunate we are and I am so excited to participate in Leap for Ghana. Being in A.C.T. has educated me so much on how children in Ghana are being treated and it’s heartbreaking. I love the idea that being in ACT is helping struggling children have meals and get an education each day. A.C.T is an eye opening experience to help people and it is one of the best groups to participate in at McCracken. Mrs. Nizynski’s organization has given us the opportunity to be better people and to give children a chance.

Together as a McCracken community, we have learned about charity and giving back, and it has changed us forever and has given us a positive impact. We would like to thank Mrs. Ciok for guiding, teaching, and helping us through this journey of ending hungry children in Ghana. We would also like to thank Mrs. Nizynski for showing us what it really means to be a good person and to take leadership. A special thanks to the administration of McCracken Middle School and District 73.5 for giving us the opportunity to give back and help others. If you would like to know anything else about ACT, please visit our blog at or a Better Life for Kids at Thank you very much for attending Leap For Ghana, 2015. Have a lovely night.

From Mrs. Ciok:

I am so proud of all of the people involved in tonight’s program.  It takes a village to put on a performance like this; just as it takes a village to Shine A Light for the children in Ghana.  So many people have helped ACT over the years, and so many of them helped with this concert tonight.  I hope I don’t forget anyone, but here it goes… thank you to the students who used their talents tonight to share this beautiful music, ACT for their planning, Wendy & DB for their amazing song and support, Amy Keipert for her preparation for tonight, Bethany Blades for working with the food, Organic Life for their donation, Zach Brown for his donation of snacks, the Klein family for their donations over the years, the Abrahams for the amazing shirts, Mike Isaacs for his news coverage, Mayor Van Dusen and Patrick Nyarko for their continued support and to Shelley Nizysnki for inspiring all of us to carry on the mission of A Better Life for Kids.  I have been so honored to lead ACT for the last six years and working with amazing students, parents, community members and teachers who want to make a real difference in the world.  Thank you to you all.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Getting Ready for Leap for Ghana

On February 26th, we have our big concert of the year, Leap for Ghana!  We are so excited for this event!  Shine A Light will be performed for the first time LIVE!  I know I can't wait for everyone to hear it!

On Friday, the 20th, we had our last meeting before the big event.  At this meeting, we had to finish posters, video announcements, movies and speeches!  It was a high energy meeting where everyone had a job to do!  Check out our final meeting before the big event!  Join us on Thursday to see how all of it comes together!

Video Announcement:

Poster, speech and video making:

Final T-Shirt Design (on sale at Leap for Ghana for $8):

Shine A Light Flashlights!