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My Word for Chicago 

Bea pictureI have always had a strong relationship with big cities. For as long as I remember, whenever I wanted to heal from any type of disappointment, all I needed was to be in Sao Paulo’s downtown center, and everything seemed to fall into the right place. There is something about big cities that make me think they have their own life. Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess, sociologists who worked at the University of Chicago, said in a 1925 book that the city is “a state of mind.” I could not agree more.

I arrived in Chicago on a cold Saturday morning at the end of May. Being in Chicago is completely different from being in Sao Paulo. If I could define Chicago in one word, it would be “high.” That’s because, first of all, the train rides on an elevated platform that allows you to get a big – although incomplete – view of the city. Also, Chicago is vocal. A very quick walk through South State Street allowed me to get to know several street performer musicians. One of them is a lady that keeps singing, over and over again, in a jazz-tone voice, the following phrase: “How are you doing today?”

But I would use this word also because I was astonished to find out that 87% of the children and adolescents enrolled in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) come from low-income families.  The percentage is high, and the challenges are immense. I am here to work with the Chicago Area Project (CAP), a not-to-profit organization founded in the 1930s by Clifford R. Shaw, a sociologist also from the University of Chicago. CAP’s goal is straightforward: it works toward the prevention and eradication of juvenile delinquency through the development and support of affiliated local community where the need is greatest. Shaw’s model is quite interesting: he believed that violence has its roots on the community environment. Therefore, it can only be tackled by the community. CAP has several projects in order to achieve its goal, all of them developed in partnership with its neighborhood affiliates. One of the projects I will be involved in is the Youth as Resources (YAR). I will conduct a Journalism workshop with teens at CAP, with the aim of producing a magazine at the end of the summer.

But because I am a workaholic of the highest level, I am also working on a research project as a consultant to the National Campaign for the Right to Education in Brazil during the summer. The topic is quite interesting: the problems of the accountability model in education. I have been interviewing teachers, students, parents, and community leaders that are unsatisfied with the current policies implemented by the CPS. My aim is to identify and understand their complaints about the current model and their suggestions to the development of a fairer educational system.

The book I mentioned in the first paragraph is called “The City – Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment”. Park and Burgess have actually been my companions this summer. A lot of what I am doing or studying can be explained by the relationship between people and the space they live in – be it the city, the community, the CPS or the school. So I will be carrying the book around for a while.

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