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Today marks 16-year formal partnership with Dixon Elementary

Published March 17, 2020
Dixon Elementary

Standing at front, Natalie Mills, civil engineer and project manager, conducts an engineering exercise at Dixon Elementary while Joy Dillard, science teacher, assists another group, February 2019.

(March 17, 2020) – Today marks the 16th anniversary of the district’s formal partnership agreement signing with Dixon Elementary, a Chicago Public School on the city’s South Side. But the relationship with the school began many years before that.

The formal partnership, signed by then-District Engineer Col. Gary Johnston and then-Dixon principal Joan Crisler, was formalized during a program in the school’s auditorium in front of more than 100 students on March 17, 2004.

The school, with 575 students in grades K to 8, started reaching out to the district 25 years ago with requests for speakers and science fair judges.

"We've partnered with the school on projects ranging from science fairs and guest speakers to planting plants in celebration of Earth Day,” Patrick Bray, chief of the district’s Public Affairs Office, said. “Every opportunity to interact with the students is special and their enthusiasm is amazing."

Joy Dillard, science teacher at Dixon for 26 years, was the first to reach out to the district for a science fair back in the spring of 1995.   

“I remember reaching out to the Corps’ Public Affairs Office way back when to request judges for my science fair,” she said. “And I still do to this day. I am grateful for this partnership. It’s very important to our school and students.”

The district has also brought its engineers to the school to speak Dillard’s Students-Engaged-in-Engineering club. And Dillard said that’s the reason some of her former students are now engineers.

“Through this partnership, our students have been introduced to engineering,” she said. “Our students now know that they can become engineers. Through the years, we have had engineering presentations and hands-on activities that have been very engaging. These activities got the students hooked and interested. Without this partnership, many students would not know that engineering is a possibility for them. I tell them all the time that I wished I had been exposed to engineering when I was in elementary school.”

Natalie Mills, civil engineer and project manager, has participated in science fair judging and career fairs at Dixon since she started working at the district in 2001.

"Working with the students has been a rewarding experience for me throughout the years,” Mills said. “Their excitement to learn about and engage in engineering activities is infectious. Through all my interactions, if I can encourage at least one student to become an engineer, then my efforts are worthwhile.”