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'Our Voices, Our Stories' Project Presents Points of View From Kelly H.S.

By Emily Morris | May 27, 2014 7:59am | Updated on May 27, 2014 10:12am
 The students in Amy Schwartzbach's English class will present their own poems and photography.
'Our Voices, Our Stories' Project Presents Points of View From Kelly H.S.
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — A teacher at a Southwest Side high school hopes to show her students and Ukrainian Village neighbors what it's like to live in vastly different Chicago neighborhoods with a presentation of freshman class writing at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.

Some students from Brighton Park's Kelly High School will be venturing into a North Side neighborhood for the first time when they tell stories at the museum, 2320 W. Chicago Ave., the evening of June 6.

Some of her students "haven't gone more than three blocks from their homes, because it's pretty unsafe" for teens to walk alone, said Amy Schwartzbach, an English teacher at Kelly, 4136 S. California Ave.

Emily Morris discusses the project on DNAinfo Radio:

The teens will be showing off their work as part of "Our Voices. Our Stories. Our Truth," a project that combines photos and creative writing to tell deeply personal narratives about their experiences of what it's like to live in their South and Southwest Side neighborhoods.

Examples of true and sometimes heart-wrenching poems include one student's piece about carrying his father's casket at age 13, another's struggle to learn English, and one teen's account of shyness. A number of poems touch on immigration or the experience of growing up with a single parent.

"It’s a collection of different voices for people who typically don’t have their voices heard," Schwartzbach said.

An Oppenheimer Family Foundation grant winner five years in a row, Schwartzbach said she's used the money to help students create the project each year and break up what can feel like a monotony of standardized testing.

A big part of the assignment included discussing stereotypes with her students, she said, and delving into where such perceptions come from.

"I really want to make sure we do projects that are relevant to their lives," she said.

Schwartzbach — a Ukrainian Village resident who's been teaching for eight years — worked with Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association President Steve Niketopoulos and the museum to bring the students' project to a new audience.

"I think there is a lot of willingness for people to try to find something more in-depth about what everyone in the city is going through," Niketopoulos said.

Both Niketopoulos and Schwartzbach said they hoped the event, which was free, would help dispel stereotypes and bridge gaps across far-apart neighborhoods.

"The chance for people to hear from some of the kids and hear their presentation, I think, will open some minds," Niketopoulos said.

Schwartzbach said some of her students were nervous. They've asked her what North Side food would be like, for instance, and said they didn't quite know what to expect from the visit.

"It's an opportunity for my students to meet new people and explore another part of the city, as well as for another community to understand what’s going on in a community on the South Side," Schwartzbach said.

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