Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project Recognizes Educators, Students, and Community Members for Activism and Service

Brian Stirgus, Student Organizer of Chicago Public School Closings Boycott, Receives Mary Beth Tinker Award

Brian Stirgus, the 17 year-old who organized hundreds of students to boycott Chicago Public School closings, was among the activists, educators, students, and community members recently recognized by American University Washington College of Law’s Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project for their support of public education and civic engagement.

The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project mobilizes law students to teach courses on constitutional law and juvenile justice in public high schools in the District of Columbia, and closes each school year with the William H. Karchmer End-of-Year Celebration. This year’s celebration was held Wednesday, May 15 at American University Washington College of Law, and was attended by more than 150 guests, mostly high school students from the Project.

Stirgus, a senior in high school, has received nationwide recognition for organizing protests of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed Chicago Public School budget cuts and closures. On his first trip to D.C., he gave a motivational address to the students in attendance about the value of student activism.

Stirgus has lived in Chicago his whole life, and says that the situation is dire when it comes to the budget deficit and violence. However, he disagrees with the Emanuel Administration’s justifications for closing more than 50 of the city’s public schools—specifically the use of standardized test scores to measure educational quality.

According to Stirgus, he worries about neighborhoods being dismantled and students feeling displaced or put in harmful situations while commuting to new schools. This led him to form Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, which has since garnered the support of more than 300 students. Together they have boycotted state tests, marched on City Hall, and held several rallies.

(Pictured left: Marshall-Brennan Project Associate Director Maryam Ahranjani, Brian Stirgus, and Mary Beth Tinker)

According to Stirgus he is just a “normal kid” who decided to put action to words.

“What’s stopping you from starting a movement?,” asked Stirgus. “We are powerful people and this is a pivotal time in our lives.”

Stirgus was given the Mary Beth Tinker Award by Mary Beth Tinker herself, a well-known activist and plaintiff in the landmark student speech U.S. Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines.

Promoting Constitutional and Civic Literacy

The work of the Marshall-Brennan Fellows was also recognized at the Celebration. Their high school students shared memorable moments from the year, from shooting an educational music video to getting to know their teachers.

“The Marshall-Brennan Project has revitalized the role of law schools in America as the engines for promoting the public’s constitutional and civic literacy," said Maryam Ahranjani, associate director, National Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project. "We send dozens of law students into D.C. and Prince George's County public schools to teach and motivate hundreds of students each year.”

Several of the high school students were also given awards for student activism through journalism, community service, and winners were announced for the Project’s annual essay, poem, t-shirt design, and art competitions.

Dr. Ian Roberts, principal of Anacostia High School, was given the Principal of the Year Award. The Marshall-Brennan Program has sent teachers to Anacostia High School for 10 years. Under Roberts’ direction, the school has seen an increased graduation rate of nearly 20%. Sandra Rose, social studies supervisor at Prince George’s County Public Schools, and Scott Abbott, social studies specialist for D.C. Public Schools were given the Community Partner Award for their support of Marshall-Brennan classrooms. Claire Griggs, the Project’s education law fellow for the last year, was given the Alumnus of the Year Award.

The awards ceremony was attended by the family of William Karchmer, a lawyer from Springfield, Missouri and the celebration’s namesake. According to his niece, Dr. Pamela Kaplan, Karchmer devoted his career to combatting racism, sexism, and homophobia, and encouraged young people to think for themselves and create positive change.

“This is just the perfect thing to name after him—I think of you as his children,” said Kaplan (pictured right) to the students in attendance.

Sponsors of the celebration and the Marshall-Brennan Project include the William H. Karchmer Endowment, Bernstein Family Foundation, and The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.