The effort to teach Chicago's students about the world and get students in the city that is hosting next month's NATO Summit to teach the world about Chicago kicked off in earnest Tuesday when former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited a high school on the South Side.
Appearing at Lindblom Math and Science Academy as part of her duties as co-chair of host committee for the summit, Albright's appearance was part of a push to get students interested in international events, including the summit — and to turn the students into ambassadors for Chicago.
Students took turns telling Albright about their travels to Qatar, China, and about their political science, history and Arabic studies classes.
"The most important thing that we have to do is what you're doing: to learn about Arab culture and history and learn the language and basically try to put yourselves in their shoes," said Albright, who told reporters how impressed she was with the students.
Equally important for the city is the role students will play in the weeks ahead of the summit to drive home a message that adults have been trying to send but with limited success: The Chicago that was once a gritty, industrial hub of belching smokestacks has turned into a sparkling metropolis.
"There is no better way to hear about the city than through the voice of a child," said Jennifer Martinez, a spokeswoman for the host committee.
That is a big reason why the city, over the next several weeks, will have events that include a contest in which students will put together videos to show what they like about Chicago and how the city that is home to so many ethnic groups makes them feel welcome.
Representatives from NATO and the State Department will visit public schools across the city to teach students about NATO and discuss world events. And one of the more unusual events is a concert in which students in a Chicago school will perform via a video link-up for students at the Afghanistan Institute of Music in Kabul, then watch a similar performance from the students in Afghanistan.
"Rebuilding local institutions is of major importance in insuring countries like Afghanistan can operate after a military withdrawal and so this cultural exchange between our city and their city is really important in exposing children on both sides to the value of culture and how technology and music brings a very large world down to a very small place," said Lori Healey, the executive director of the host committee.
Some people in the city have raised concerns about likely protests. But the White House's decision to move the G-8 Summit from Chicago to Camp David has lessened some of the concern that things might turn violent.
Many students interviewed Tuesday said they saw hosting the NATO Summit as a positive.
"It's like being able to see history in front of your eyes," said Devonta Dickey, a 16-year-old sophomore.
But 17-year-old Abel Larralde noted one downside.
"We're supposed to have our prom at the same time at (a downtown hotel) and we've heard we might have to cancel it or move it," he said. "That would be bad."