At John Spry Community Links High School, located in Little Village, students like Emely Calvario enjoy going to school because “it’s a place [they] get to put their own ideas. What you see [there] are their thoughts,” as she signals to the colorful new media room she and other classmates helped redesign. John Spry Community Links High School is a recipient of the New Chance Arts and Literature Fund. Emely’s optimism for what the arts have done to empower her work as a student and member of the community shines through. Forotherstudents,like Jael Vela, a fund such as this one means that she can access the resources she needs to build her portfolio and apply to the Art Institute of Chicago for college.
Their stories do not stand alone.
Educators at Links recount the duality of working at a wonderful school with brilliant students, and at the same time, historically having little funding to achieve the work they wanted students to engage in. Jenny Vanderploeg, the Community Coordinator and Arts Liaison says that one of the hardest parts of being an educator is that some CPS schools are underfunded. The Links student population “is 96% at poverty level,” highlighting not only the financial difficulties some students face, but also the impact of their “trauma and being in the classroom.” Thus, having access to the New Chance Arts and Literature Fund has really allowed students to experience a creative outlet based on their personal stories and experiences.
For Vanderploeg and Links’ Teaching Artist, Elizabeth Reyes, the best part about teaching at CPS and engaging in the Little Village community is the students. Reyes describes the energy and the attitudes of students when she gets to coach them on their art projects, whether that means spray painting or working on a mural in their community, as a feeling of pride – both for her and notably for the students. Together, and more importantly as a community, educators like Vanderploeg and Reyes hope to “inspire [them] by giving them the space that they need…be a guide and help [them] build” whatever they want. The comradery that comes from working as a community is a sentiment that resonates among all of the individuals that we spoke to at Links.“It’s the most unique learning community I know of,” says Principal Francisco Borras.
Although it is a small school, Principal Borras emphasizes the importance of “individualized attention to students and [working] with their families” in order to help students succeed and ultimately go to college. Borras also emphasizes the importance of grants that fund the arts because of the circular trajectory that comes with attending a school like Links. He states, “a lot of our students come back to work in the community as activists, teachers, and social workers” to complete the cycle.One generation of students lift themselves up and inspire those around them to give back to the community that provided an outlet for them. Art drives the safe and consistent environment that students can thrive in at Links.
Borras describes it as a “vehicle” that offers creativity and helps students craft ways of thinking to drive learning and look for a solutions, no matter what problem they may be facing. Some programs go as late as 8pm and allow students to engage into the evening with classmates and teachers. The passion for creative thinking and production stand at the center of what Borras dreams for students at Links. While “dreams are sometimes a lofty thing, art [can] keep it real.”The new media room, with updated computers and student artwork on the walls are just a couple of improvements Links was able to make with the grant. Students and staff members expressed gratitude as they envisioned the possibilities that came with their future projects. Links looks forward to naming their new media center after Chance the Rapper so that “he has a place in [that] community and he can come in anytime and engage [the community] and keep on inspiring [them].”
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Date & Time
Friday, October 19th