BUCKTOWN — Before Drummond Montessori school kids started an art project that involved learning about city community areas and assembling them into a map, questions about school closings, gentrification and perceptions of various neighborhoods started to bubble to the surface.
"We had two columns, and they went off in groups and wrote down what they thought good neighborhoods are and bad neighborhoods are," said Drummond teacher Anne Carlson, who teaches a class of 35 fourth, fifth and sixth graders with fellow teacher Jessica Binhack.
As part of the Chicago-themed lesson, kids talked to members of the community and soon learned that even some of the blocks around their school were once considered dangerous or "bad."
That eventually led to the idea, "Why not create a map that shows there are no such thing as good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods? Every neighborhood has a story," Carlson said.
Emily Morris discusses the project on DNAinfo Radio:
The posters, which the students created over the course of about three weeks at the magnet school, 1845 W. Cortland St., are for sale for $30 through at least Friday as part of the annual Drummond Montessori Matters fundraiser.
After last year's budget cuts led the school to lay off its Spanish teacher and reduce some other employees to part-time, Drummond is raising money in an effort to preserve its art, music and library programs. Drummond's Local School Council is meeting Monday night to discuss next year's budget.
It was the students' idea to make copies of the original art piece, which was auctioned off for $250, to raise more money for the school, Carlson said. Within the first day, Carlson said the students raised nearly $400, well over expectations, and she expects the school will extend the sale.
"They were discovering something on their own," Carlson said. "I think that's what got them excited about it."
Ellen Gradman, an art educator who runs various workshops for kids and has lately focused on creating city maps, helped the class assemble the project. Each student was assigned North Side and a South or West Side neighborhood to learn about and create the art for.
"It's using art as a vehicle that leads to other questioning," Gradman said.
In the past few months, Carlson has shown she won't shy away from controversial issues facing Chicago Public Schools; she boycotted the Illinois Standard Achievement Test earlier this year and spoke out after lawyers from CPS questioned students about the ISATs without parent permission.
As they created the map, questions of how gentrification happens and why schools closed in specific areas of the city came up, as they often do, Carlson said.
"We have a lot of those kind of discussions in the class, those hard discussions," she said.
The map is filled with historical references, including the Haymarket Riot and the Young Lords in Lincoln Park, along with less serious markers, like a Cubs logo, Carlson said. Each student also included his or her name within the map.
"I think through this map they get to teach the community, and they get to be experts," Carlson said.