Monday, April 1, 2013

CPS Students Learn/Serve During Alternative Spring Break

Twenty-five CPS high school students spent their 2013 Spring Break in the community of Pilsen, a working-class neighborhood on Chicago's south side, that has been a port of entry for Mexican immigrants for decades.

The purpose of the CPS Alternative Spring Break is to expose students to one of Chicago's fascinating communities and enable students to explore that community in some depth.  As they learned about Pilsen, students served in community organizations - a senior center, homeless shelter, children's program, art program, environmental justice initiative and community activist center - and met with community leaders to learn about their commitment to Pilsen and how they personally work to serve the community.

The week began with community building at a local park district site.  Students were challenged to get to know their peers from around the city, identify their core values, engage in problem solving, and have fun with each other.

Students debrief a community building activity
Students also had an opportunity to learn about and practice their first amendment rights.  They created signs and posters for the children's march for immigration reform, a 1500 strong demonstration in Chicago's Loop, and, subsequently, marched with teachers, parents, and other students the following day to protest the closing of 53 schools in Chicago.

Students express their solidarity with immigrant families facing deportation
As students studied the community, they learned about the issue of gentrification.  Pilsen, over the last decade, has lost some 25% of its Mexican-American population as more white people move into the neighborhood.  The process of gentrification has raised rents and property tax levels forcing some former residents to leave the community.  To gain some insight to the problem, students listened to a report by WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton that provided some context to the issue:  Students participated in a "philosophical chairs" discussion designed to strengthen active listening skills as students discuss their own thinking about gentrification.  The level of sophistication with which the students argued was impressive indeed.

Students at St. Pius Church discussing community issues
Students completed the week by participating in reflection and evaluation exercises.  They gave high marks to CPS for a week that gave them new insights into the community of Pilsen and their own capacities to make change in the world.

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