ROGERS PARK — It's not every day that the circus comes to town — that is, unless, you live in Rogers Park.
At Kilmer Elementary, a group of about 15 circus club students consider their school the big top and work from October through May to perfect their 10-act show in the spring.
Part of the reason why Assistant Principal Jennifer Foss brought the circus program with her from her teaching days at Peirce Elementary in Edgewater two years ago was the desire to help students gain access to unique opportunities and experiences.
"It's more than just learning how to juggle," Foss said.
Though the elementary school is situated in one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, Principal Jean Papagianis said students in the community are exposed to the diversity around them, but "not much else."
That's why the pair were elated when they learned they'd been selected by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to show their students a screening of the documentary, "Circus Without Borders" by award-winning producer Linda Matchan director Susan Gray.
As an added bonus, two of the film's stars — performers Yamoussa Bangoura and Guillaume Saladin — came along to talk life, and skills, with the group.
Bangoura and Saladin's efforts to use circus performance as a way to bring positive change to their struggling communities are documented throughout the movie. Bangoura, from Guinea, West Africa, runs a circus called Kalabante that helps turn street-performing youths into world-class stars and Saladin heads Artcirq from the polar flatlands of Nunavut in the Arctic Circle.
Foss said the after school program is about more than just a spring show, it's about team-building, self-confidence, critical-thinking, problem-solving and much more. It's about learning to cope and deal with life, she said.
Fatima Jinadu, a sixth-grader at Kilmer, said she loves the club because it helps her keep an open mind in learning new things and teaches her ways to improve on her skills.
Before the school year ends, students ultimately use those skills to put on five shows, each with 10 acts including partner acrobatics, stilts, tight-wire walking, puppets, clowning, juggling and more.
Foss herself began her journey in the circus world after she gave a speech on the subject in high school.
Once she realized her interest, the Naperville native and her sister began an act they took around to family and friends.
As she grew older, Foss said her dreams for education became bigger and more realistic than her circus aspirations, but through a 21st Century grant she was able to secure money that helped her launch the group at school.
She said she wants to keep expanding the club over the next few years.
"The whole point is that it brings people together to work as a team, and to build community," Foss said. "To build something through a common thread, which in this case is the circus."
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