SOUTH CHICAGO — From gun violence to teen pregnancy to AIDS to broken sidewalks, 70 freshmen at Baker College Preparatory High School know firsthand about a lot of problems plaguing their neighborhoods.
But as part of a class project, the teens also offered solutions to fix those problems, and willingly shared those ideas at a Wednesday community forum at the charter school, 2710 E. 89th St.
Like most students, gun violence topped the list for Myesha Pierce, 13, whose brother and best friend were both shot to death.
"Two weeks ago, someone walked up to my big brother and shot him in the head," she said. "I was hurt by that because I wondered who would do something like that for no apparent reason."
Pierce's best friend was killed in September 2011. As a result, she does not take public transportation to school from her South Chicago home.
"I would like to ride the bus with my friends, but I am afraid of being shot," she said. "My mother drops me off at school sometimes or I will ride the school bus."
Her solution to curb gun violence was to start a petition drive to force the state of Indiana to pass legislation to mandate a criminal background check on anyone buying a gun.
Her concern about gun sales in Indiana was shared by Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who said his officers often confiscate guns off the street that were bought in Indiana.
Each student invited five people, from family and friends to community residents, to the forum and those attending graded each student presentation. The top five presentations will be announced at a 9 a.m. Thursday community meeting at the school, said Vincent Gay, principal of Baker College Prep.
"What we wanted to do with this project was push our kids to come up with ways to solve problems that directly affect them," Gay said.
Destiny Hart, 14, said one problem often overlooked was HIV.
"Everyone is focused on gun violence, and no one is paying attention to a silent killer and that's HIV and AIDS," said Hart, a South Chicago resident. "This is a disease that kills people. I know first hand what AIDS can do to a family. My mother died from AIDS eight months after I was born."
Hart said she did not contract the disease but noted there needed to be a state law that required teenagers to be tested for HIV.
"Teenagers have too many choices and that's not good because as a teenager we will take the easiest way out," Hart said.
Brittany Maxwell's focus was teen pregnancy.
"Education is decreasing and the population is increasing because of teen pregnancy," said Maxwell, a 14-year-old South Shore resident. "I want to start a petition and send it to Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett asking her to make condom distribution available at all schools because right now it's not."
While free condoms are available at other locations, such as public health clinics and hospitals and nonprofit organizations, Maxwell believes condoms should be accessible to all teenagers at school.
"Teens spend more time at school than at home, so condoms should be available at the place where teens spend most of their time," Maxwell said. "This would greatly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies."
Others pointed to the city's crumbling infrastructure as a problem.
Mary Cole, a 14-year-old South Chicago resident, said broken sidewalks were a problem that impacted everyone.
"There are neighborhoods with no sidewalks and those with sidewalks are all broken up," she said. " ... I want to start a petition for people to sign and then give it to the alderman. This way they can never say they were not aware of the problem."
Dirty streets are also a problem in 15-year-old Akala Strong's South Chicago neighborhood.
"It's disgusting that people throw their trash on the ground. If there were garbage cans in front of homes instead of the alley, I think that would move people to throw their trash in the garbage can," Strong said. "Not many people are walking or driving through alleys where trash cans are located. Usually they are out front and because there are no trash cans available, the streets get littered."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: