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The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

From Public Housing to Quantum Mechanics

Two seniors discuss their independent studies
Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

Parker students have an incredible array of interests. From learning about real analysis and quantum mechanics to trying to dismantle stereotypes around public housing, independent studies are a way for students to go deeper into these passions with structure and guidance from an advisor. Seniors Genia Jefferson and Grant Koh are two students who took on independent studies during senior year. Their separate efforts display the remarkable spectrum of Parker students’ pursuits.

Jefferson researched how to get more public housing units into neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast. She studied issues in the managing and screening processes of the units and looked at incentives to get people in communities in neighborhoods like Lincoln Park to want public housing near them. Outside of public housing, Jefferson wanted to raise awareness about how Chicago is still a very segregated city. She studied the history of redlining and wanted to learn more about how Chicago became so segregated since she believes many people don’t understand that segregation is still a reality today. Jefferson said that when sharing to the Parker community in a presentation to the senior class, her goal was to “dismantle stereotypes people typically have against public housing.” 

Jeffferson’s interest in bringing public housing units to mixed-income communities sparked after she took a class at Washington University on sociology where she learned about inequalities through lenses of racism, sexism, and classism. After taking the class, she wanted to dive deeper past the idea of “isms” into a more concrete issue which she could try to find a solution for. 

Inside the concept of public housing Jefferson chose to focus on increasing public housing in mixed-income neighborhoods because she thought it was important to have public housing in areas where there is better access to jobs, transportation, and grocery stores. Jefferson said that areas like Lincoln Park are “just more resourced in general,” and that “the whole purpose of public housing is that people are supposed to stay there for a little bit and then move out.” Jefferson said that when people are not given proper resources “you’re just stacking poverty on top of poverty if you’re not allowing them to get out.” 

A unique aspect of Jefferson’s independent study was her guidance from both an in-school and out-of-school advisor. In school, she chose Andy Bigelow, a high school history teacher and history department Co-chair, to help structure her studies. Jefferson said that Bigelow always supported her interest in civic engagement through introducing her to a summer class in policy-making and writing recommendations for her to attend summer programs. He also introduced her to her out-of-school advisor Amy Khare. 

Khare is the mother of juniors Cameron Khare and Maya Khare and is a scholar activist who is currently a Research Director of the National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities and a Research Assistant Professor at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. Jefferson was initially introduced to her for an interview but liked her so much that she asked to meet with her more. Over the course of three meetings, Khare advised Jefferson on how to put together her presentation, providing her own research and articles, and told Jefferson about different coalitions going on in Chicago such as the “Bring Chicago Home Coalition” which Khare is involved in. Jefferson is now involved in the coalition and has brought the Parker community into her work. 

Khare believes that involving young adults like Genia in work like hers is incredibly important since she thinks that “young adults challenge us to question the status quo and teach us to reflect on our values.” She added that “there is no doubt that political activism on college campuses impacts the national debates about important social issues, such as climate change, immigration policy, and economic and racial justice,” which is why young people’s opinions have influence and power.

Along with looking at Khare’s work, much of Jefferson’s research was listening to personal stories. She listened to podcasts and watched videos to try to learn the real story of what it is like to be in public housing. One of the biggest takeaways she had from her study was because of this research method she followed. Jefferson said that “changing her narrative” was one of the most important things she learned, and she hoped to teach that to the seniors who attended her presentation. An example she gave was how police brutality was a reason why gangs were created, and that for many people, gangs were a form of protection for them, not something they found scary. Jefferson also recalled the moment where she learned to think of public housing truly as someone’s home. 

Jefferson worked on a project during her independent study where she asked people in the Parker community, “what do you think of when you hear public housing?” She said that in response many people “just named rappers.” After collecting responses, she compiled them into a word-cloud which makes words bigger and bigger the more they are entered. “Poor people” was the most common response. Other responses included high-crime, corrupt, and projects. The word-cloud reinforced Jefferson’s goal to try to broaden the senior class’s perspective through her presentation.

Jefferson also talked about learning the harsh realities of working to increase public housing in mixed-income communities. She said “it kind of shocked [her] how much money needs to be involved to do something like this.” Jefferson added that “Amy and Mr. Bigelow told me… sometimes you just have to follow the money, and that’s how you get people to do things.”

Rather than searching outside of school subjects in his independent study, Koh dove deeper into Math and Physics to fill in the gaps of knowledge that the curricula doesn’t cover and go beyond the curricula as well. He took on both a physics  independent study on quantum mechanics, and a math independent study on real analysis. 

Koh explained that real analysis was basically “calculus with proofs,” and that in high school calculus you can prove some things, but others you just accept to be true without being able to prove them. Real analysis expanded his understanding of the results which he had once taken as fact to results which he could understand how to get. Koh explained that quantum mechanics was a “model for understanding the world” just as gravity is a model to understand why when you drop an object it falls to the ground. He said that quantum mechanics is especially to explain phenomena regarding very small or very cold things.

Koh uses MIT OpenCourseWare to guide his learning and checks in with his math advisor Ethan Levine who is an Upper School math teacher and department Co-chair. is physics advisors are  Xiao Zhang, Upper School science teacher and Christopher Riff who is an Upper School math teacher.

Koh thinks that he will pursue math in his future and says that physics is just “a fun thing to do,” Because he enjoys math so much, he says that physics is “enjoyable” and that it comes “reasonably easily” to him because of its mathematical nature.

Koh said that his first exposure to proof-based math was in fourth grade when his dad got him a book called “The Magic of Math” which covered some high school math topics with proofs. Since his studies are beyond what much of the Parker community has learned in these topics, figuring out how to have a sharing component to his independent studies was a bit difficult. 

In his real analysis independent study, he went into a pre-calculus class and presented a theorem that  helped prove a result which the class used without knowing why it worked. Outside of presenting to classes, Koh says that it is “an added layer of difficulty for [him] to talk about the information at a high enough level and lose enough detail to make it followable up for general audiences,” but that if there is a lot of interest, he would try to do that. By the end of his high school career, Koh will have completed seven independent studies. 

From public housing, to quantum mechanics and real analysis, Jefferson and Koh don’t let curriculum restrict their learning, and they demonstrate their curiosity and passion while gaining skills and knowledge that go beyond what is offered in Parker classrooms. 

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About the Contributor
Lula Notz
Lula Notz, Copy Editor
Lula Notz is so excited to start her second year on "The Weekly" as a copy editor. When she isn't trying to come up with an interesting lede or looking up synonyms for words to make them sound smarter, she can be found on the tennis court, sipping an iced beverage, or sending her friends cute photos of her cats.