Sixth-graders learn, lead in NATO Lesson before summit

Chicago NATO Host Committee members Aarti Kota, center, and Ross Karp ask questions of sixth-graders at Disney Magnet School on Thursday. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / April 12, 2012)

Ms. Purdy’s students had been well-prepped. | Apr 13, 2012

by Mary Schmich

Are you smarter than a sixth-grader?

It’s safe to say that a lot of adults, given a quiz on NATO, wouldn’t have outsmarted Ms. Purdy’s sixth-grade class at Walt Disney Magnet School on Thursday.

“When was NATO started?”

It was late morning, and Aarti Kotak, one of the day’s guests, was peppering the students with questions they couldn’t wait to answer.

“April 4, 1949!” a girl cried.

“Why was it started?”

Another burst of waggling hands.

“To prevent World War III!”

“Who were we worried about in 1949?”

“The Soviet Union!”

“Who were the countries in NATO?”

In the torrent of answers — Britain, France, Slovakia, Slovenia — a few students had to glance down at their fact sheets, but, together, they managed to list all 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The founding of NATO might seem as ancient as the fall of Rome to some sixth-graders, but Ms. Purdy’s students had been well-prepped before Kotak arrived with a colleague from the Chicago NATO Host Committee.

The committee, the group charged with raising money to cover the local costs of the May summit, has a public-relations mission as well: to help the thousands of NATO visitors appreciate Chicago, to help Chicagoans understand NATO, and to help everybody understand how we’re all connected.

That’s why Kotak, a lively woman who is a real estate lawyer by profession, was at Disney on Thursday, in a classroom of 33 students who, like the city they inhabit, have roots all over the world.

“What things do we get from other countries?” she asked.

Food. Music. Clothes. The answers came fast.

“Most products are made in China,” a boy said.

“Well,” said another boy, “I don’t drink it — but coffee.”


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