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CHICAGO — Community Youth Creative Learning Experiences (CYCLE’s) Sophie Germain Project has brought top honors to the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC), which funded the project as part of its recently launched Humanities Youth Projects (HYPe) program. Through this program a group of elementary-aged girls from Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood researched and developed a biography of 18th-century French mathematician Sophie Germain and presented their findings to their peers through a play and website.

The Illinois Humanities Council was awarded the distinguished Schwartz Prize for the Sophie Germain Project on November 16th during the National Humanities Conference in Minneapolis. The prize, given by the Federation of State Humanities Councils, is one of two awards for excellence in public programming awarded annually in the United States and its territories. The Schwartz Prize is made possible by former Federation of State Humanities Councils board member Martin Schwartz and his wife, Helen. The couple established an endowment fund in 1981.

“The Sophie Germain Project is a wonderful example of how engaging young people in the humanities in a personal way can educate and inspire,” said IHC Executive Director Kristina Valaitis. “The IHC nominated the Sophie Germain Project for this award because the girls not only gained an understanding of how to conduct a public humanities project, but also how to educate themselves and their community.”

The Sophie Germain Project was a youth-directed initiative involving elementary-aged girls who were enrolled in CYCLE’s “Girls Love Math” program. While studying mathematics, the girls worked with students from the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, curriculum designer Judith Reymond from Loyola University Chicago, and humanities scholar Rima Lunin Schultz, Professor of Women’s History at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to research the life of Sophie Germain, the first woman in France to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics and author of the Germain prime. The study of Germain’s life was a way of getting girls interested in math.

CYCLE is a 40-year old community based educational organization serving the youth of Chicago’s public housing project, Cabrini Green. The “Girls Love Math” program enrolls girls in kindergarten through second grade and aims to assure the advancement of those students who show exceptional skills in terms of state and national math and science standards. Another important goal of the “Girls Love Math” program is to address the shortage of African-American and Latino women in the fields of research science and theoretical mathematics by boosting the girlsí confidence in their abilities, so that they understand that they are indeed very intelligent and capable of outstanding work in research science and theoretical mathematics.

According to CYCLE’s CEO, Connie Van Brunt, “Sophie Germainís story was chosen because her life was one of a girlís will and determination to overcome the prejudices of the time that prevented her from seizing her destiny. This was an inspiration and a surprise to our WIZ Kids when they learned that women may face similar obstacles today.” This project allowed the girls to exercise their skills as mathematicians and scientists while also learning how to do historical research and writing.

The IHC is currently funding a new program housed at CYCLE, The Urban Anthropology Project, that celebrates the differences and commonalties of low-income urban children of color around the world. Twenty-two children (ages 8-14) depict their lives in the housing projects of Cabrini Green and the Central American village of Portobelo, Panama as well as in Tokyo, Japan through their poignant photographs and dynamic performances. The children are working with noted educational anthropologist, Dr. Aisha Ray of Erikson Institute, to learn “ethnographic methods,” including interviewing. In addition to communication through the Internet, the children of these two communities have studied each other’s cultures and produced videos and performances that integrate their cultural differences and similarities.


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