- Youth, Media, and Justice Lessons from the Chicago Doc Your Bloc Project
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The following document is a reflective explanation of a semester-long collaborative media project between teachers and students at the Lawndale/Little Village School for Social Justice (SOJO) in Chicago. This high school is one of four schools within a building that was built in response to community pressure. Co-written by three students and a teacher (the class was co-taught with another teacher and there were a total of fifteen students working on the project), this article grows out of the writing section of the project. The class also produced a film, which was shared with community members through a presentation and an Internet posting.
Little Village, the Mexican-American neighborhood where the high school is located, is on Chicago's Southwest Side. The adjacent community of North Lawndale sits directly to the north. Currently, Little Village is one of the youngest and most densely populated neighborhoods in the city, with 4,000 children of high school age and two public high schools with a capacity for 3,400 students (Nambo 5). In North Lawndale, 18.6% of high school students are performing at or above the state standard. The high school graduation rate is 26.2%, with only 3% of its residents earning a bachelors degree (Nambo 6).
The Story of the Lawndale/Little Village Multiplex
Recognizing that the challenges of overcrowding and low graduation rates are of immediate concern, Little Village community members were organizing for a new high school in their neighborhood as early as 1995. After consistent pressure by the community, the school board allocated $30 million to build a high school in Little Village. Though the residents of Little Village requested that the city build a neighborhood school with open enrollment, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) overlooked their request and set plans to create four selective-enrollment high schools in other neighborhoods in the city. With admission to such high schools conditioned on performance, students who do not have the required composite score (a combination of student GPA and test scores) upon graduating 8th grade cannot take the entrance exam for selective enrollment high schools. Inevitably, students from the chronically underserved and under-resourced neighborhoods of Little Village and North Lawndale (relative to other areas in the city), would not be included in the larger redevelopment efforts (Lipman 2004).
Despite the Mayor's promise to allocate $30 million dollars to build a school for the neighborhood, by the Fall of 2000, no ground had been broken for the projected Little Village high school. Community members, following the request of the neighborhood's elected officials, sought to address the problem through the protocols of Chicago Public Schools. Outraged at the decision to build the selective enrollment schools instead of the projected open admissions one, Little Village residents approached CPS at its central board meeting only to be told that the funds originally allocated to build their high school had been spent. In response, members of the Little Village community decided to stage a hunger strike. The protest lasted nineteen days, beginning on May 13 and ending on June 2 of 2001. In the last days of the strike, the hunger strikers forced CPS to the negotiating table, resulting in the approval of the high [End Page 51]school originally set for construction in 1998.
Currently the building stands at the corner of 31 stand Kostner Avenue. Four schools are housed in the structure: (1) visual and performing arts; (2) math, science and technology; (3) world languages; and (4) social justice, all of them opened in the summer of 2005. All four are neighborhood schools with open admission. The only requirement for admission is graduation from 8 thgrade and residence inside the attendance boundaries designated for the building. Our own existence as a social justice high school requires us to constantly revisit our educational practice in the attempt to engage our students as valuable members of our school and the larger community. As facilitators and students in what came to be known as "Doc Your Block...