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Village Leadership Academy students raise $24,000 for billboard aimed at improving traffic safety

Village Leadership Academy students use billboards to improve traffic safety
Village Leadership Academy students use billboards to improve traffic safety 03:49

CHICAGO (CBS) - Billboards, you can't miss them alongside our streets and highways. CBS 2's Jim Williams reports two billboards in Chicago are the products of children sharing an important message from a school where their voices are cherished.

At 7 and 8 years old, they've just finished second grade. But they've already learned a lesson that will last a lifetime.

"It's amazing how so many kids are so smart," said Rhyan Walls, 8. "It doesn't matter what grade you're in or how old you are."

Walls and her classmates at Village Leadership Academy have earned that confidence. At this private school, all the classes, kindergarten through 8th grade, identify what they like about their neighborhoods and what they'd like to change.

"We call ourselves a social justice school," said Principal Dayo Harris. "For us it's really important for our students to understand that they are positive change agents now. So we really to seek to empower them culturally, but also in terms of civil engagement."

Positive change agents, no matter how young, identify problems, yes. But come up with solutions, too. Armel Boti's second grade class voted to improve traffic safety.

WILLIAMS: "Have you have ever seen a car accident?"

ARMEL: "Yes, I've seen fire trucks and police on the scene."

Antwan Reed, the second grade teacher, was their gentle guide.

"Most of this project, about 95% of it, is student-driven," Reed said. "I am just there as a liaison between them and their ideas."

So how do you get the word out to the community to drive carefully? The message had to be seen.

"If you put a poster in the school, only the kids at the school would see it," Walls said. "We want people that are actually driving to see it."

Their answer? A billboard. But there was a big hurdle.

"The billboard idea was great but we quickly realized it was not cheap," Reed said.

WILLIAMS: "How much was it?"

REED: "So it was anywhere between, for a 12 week billboard, anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000."

Mr. Reed knew the kids would have raise money for a billboard. So they held a popcorn fundraiser with a modest goal: $6,000. Within only a few days, though, they were shocked.

"I revealed to them that we raised $2,4000. They all go crazy, they're really excited," Reed said.

They had more than enough money for not one, but two billboards at 87th and Halsted and on North Avenue in Lawndale.

"We did way more than we expected," said student Katelyn Boffoe-Bonnie, 8.

WILLIAMS: "You did way more than you expected, right? You thought maybe one billboard."

BUFFOE-BONNIE: "Yeah, but we had two billboards."

"I think the biggest thing that it says to all of the students, not only in second grade, but all of VLA, is that change is possible," Reed said. "If you put your mind to it, you put in the effort, you put in the work, change is possible."

As part of their work the students in all the classes at Village Leadership Academy have to do research and dig into data to guide their solutions. The second graders, for instance, looked at traffic accidents in Chicago and the reasons for them.

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