More than 47 homicides were commuted in the City of Chicago last June. It was one of the bloodiest months all year.
This June, a group of charter and public school students working together have an ambitious plan to stop the killing, at least for one day.
Using student-made videos, showing gun violence that is both frightening and all too familiar, seventh graders at Polaris Charter Academy in west Humboldt Park hope to inspire the city.
“I really want to get the message out to our community that gun violence has to stop,” said Polaris seventh-grader Desiree Gabarin.
“We want them to feel like it’s time to stop. We are sick of it and it can really destroy other people’s lives and it’s can destroy yours too,” Gabarin said.
What these students see when they aren’t in class and the 500 homicides in the city of Chicago last year, inspired this unusual lesson. It’s blurring the line between teaching and learning.
“The teachers are learning from the students, the students are learning from the teachers,” said Polaris seventh-grader Ameerah Rollins.
Gabarin recently lost a uncle to gun violence. Rollins, 13, says she’s seen it up close and personal.
Daniel Bue-ee, 13, is especially troubled by younger children being shot and killed — kids like Hadiya Pendelton, a victim of mistaken identity according to police.
“It makes me worried and wonder how or what’s going to happen to me,” Bue-ee said.
The stories the seventh graders shared were eye opening for their teacher Francesca Peck.
“I felt that the learning was truly 50/50. I have learned so much from these students,” Peck said.
She had the difficult task of turning these experiences with and emotions about gun violence into something educational and empowering.
“I’m feeling very angry about this subject of people losing their lives and their innocence. They are losing their lives for no apparent reason. It really frustrates me,” Rollins said.
The students researched crime statistics in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood. They interviewed their alderman, Walter Burnett, along with other community leaders and they wrote scripts for their public service announcements about the Day of Peace.
Needing help with editing and filming, the Polaris kids turned to nearby Westinghouse College Prep. The public school has a full service television station and students with the technical expertise to turn the idea for PSAs in to a reality.
Senior Virgina Haner and other Westinghouse students worked the cameras, acted in the videos and shared their stories with the Polaris kids. Many had the same experiences, despite the age difference.
“Their story is like my story, too. They live in the same neighborhood I live in, so everything is all connected, the same things happening to them are the same things happening to me,” Haner said.
Knowing that kids their age spend so much time on social media, the polaris kids partnered with the 500 campaign on Facebook. It’s a grassroots effort using memes to send an anti-violence message. They also piggybacked on the campaign’s plan to promote a Day of Peace on June 10.
This entire project Day of Peace project will be part of a book the students are self-publishing. That book will eventually be in Chicago Public Libraries.
The kids say they need a little help to get this all done. If you want to volunteer or donate, click here.