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Teen Journalism Students Study Violence in Chicago

SOUTH LOOP — When the five-person investigative team in Columbia College's teen journalism program, Columbia Links, presented the findings of their months-long study on violence in Chicago, they made an important edit to an earlier project's title, "Don't Shoot: I Want To Grow Up."

"The teens scratched the word 'want' and replaced it with 'must,' " said Brenda Butler, the program's executive director. 

This week, the students will publish the results of their research on violence in Chicago, which they approached as a public health problem, Butler said.

"Treating the Violence Epidemic," from the fall 2012 class, comes on the heels of the summer session's "Don't Shoot" series, and includes the results of interviews with victims of violence, members of the intervention group CeaseFire and officers with the Chicago Police Department, including Supt. Garry McCarthy.

The white paper includes a report by Matthew Wettig, a junior at Lane Tech High School in Roscoe Village, examining the impact of block clubs and neighborhood watches in Beverly, where they've long-proved effective, compared to Chatham, where block clubs are just gaining traction, and Pill Hill, where their absence creates an environment susceptible to violence.

Another member of Columbia Links' fall 2012 I-Team, Northside College Prep High School sophomore Lily Moore, reports on the lasting impact of gun violence through the lens of brain injuries and lasting neural effects in "Paralysis, Brain Injures: The Carnage Lingers Well Into Adulthood."

"They say when you gangbang, the outcomes are either death or jail," Joel Irizarry, who was paralyzed by a gunshot at 17 and founded "In My Shoes," a nonviolence education program, told Moore. "I never thought about this as a possible outcome. They never tell you this."

In each of Columbia Links' six-week sessions, students are given an overarching theme, and have the freedom to choose their projects broadly within that theme, Butler said. But the previous two sessions' emphasis on violence in Chicago struck a nerve with students, and Butler says Chicago teens are leaping at the chance to sound off on the topic.

For the first time, the program has had to develop overflow offerings to meet the growing interest. Two day-long intensive "j-camps" are in development for interested students who aren't accepted to the full-time program.

"Right now, we're in the process of interviewing 171 applicants for the winter session," for 14 available spots, Butler said. The spring session, an education study titled "Report Card," had 76 applicants.

The application period for the winter session is now closed, but interested students will soon be able to apply for future Columbia Links programming on their website.