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Resident Hopes to Connect CPS Students Through Arts Publication

By Paul Biasco | February 11, 2013 4:15pm

LINCOLN PARK — What started 20 years ago as a small black and white 'zine' of art, poetry and writings by the children of Cabrini Green has blossomed into a magazine called StudentsXpress, which now publishes 20,000 copies each quarter.

"I would print it out in a little black and white zine and print it out for them," recalled Lincoln Park resident Rachel Switall. "I saw how excited they got."

Switall was a graduate student when she started publishing the works in 1994 while talking to kids of the Cabrini Green public housing complex about how to solve problems without using violence.

Now, the magazine features the efforts of students from 24 Chicago Public Schools and is distributed to every city public library. Switall aims to get copies in every CPS building.

The free publication includes art, poems, stories, fiction, nonfiction and persuasive paragraphs. The next issue in March will be 32 pages.

"I think with everything going online, everyone can make a video and put themselves out there. But there is something to say about having your work in your hand," said Switall, now 42.

After recently getting StudentXpress into Chicago Public Libraries, Switall now hopes to gain sponsors or grants with its newly-attained 501c3 designation and expand to 300,000 copies distributed in every Chicago Public School.

"I've been doing this by myself up in my little office off the bedroom," she said.

At Thomas J. Waters, a fine and performing arts magnet school in Ravenswood Manor, students who had their work submitted mainly thought it was merely cool before they realized how many copies of their poems and drawings were printed.

Eleven-year-old Drew Ternovits, who hopes to be a professional artist one day, submitted her drawing of the "ideal teacher," which ended up in the winter issue of StudentsXpress.

"I was excited," she said when she found out her work had made the cut. "I really like drawing. It's one of my favorite hobbies."

Vicki Nissim, the reading coach at Waters, said that for the current issue, the school's students submitted about four times the material it did for the winter edition. Seeing their classmates' work in print motivated them to produce more.

"They were the stars of the show, the ones who were published," she said. "The students all went through them. I'm sure it's something they will save."