Seward students counter narrative in BOTY

Seward students use their recess time to work on their video editing. (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

Seward students use their recess time to work on their video editing. (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

Growing up in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood, you can expect the scent of Fabuloso or PineSol to be paired with music-especially on weekends-like it’s a ritual.

“Every time I hear music coming from a house I think that their mom or their dad is making them clean or something,” said Nancy Mejia, 12. Mejia is one of Greg Michie’s 7th-grade students at Seward Elementary Community Arts Academy.

Michie is the Social Studies and Media teacher at Seward. He is asking the students questions in order to spark dialogue and ideas about what sensory images make-up their neighborhood.

Upon first walking into the class, Michie, asked the class, “Did you think we were going to interview somebody else?” Quietly I sat waiting for the students to respond and everyone in the class abruptly said, no. He then asked, “Guess what?” and they immediately said “what?!” Michie let them know that the roles were going to be reversed. They all began to talk amongst themselves in the room excited that they’d be getting interviewed.

“When [people] ask me where do you live? They tell me, “Well that neighborhood is not good.” I think every neighborhood is bad but I have hope,” said 12-year-old Luz Hernandez. “I used to live in Pilsen, we used to live there for 30 years and I have hope that like how Pilsen changed Back of the Yards is going to change, but we moved because the rents were getting expensive.”

In Michie’s classroom, 7th-grade students are creating identity collages on themselves and they are also interviewing young community leaders using media.

7th grader Jose Garcia says that the identity collages they worked on in class allow him to think differently of his neighborhood.

“The identity collage shows that there are other people out there that are willing to do good things and they’re setting goals for themselves too and I’ve learned a lot,” said Garcia.

Garcia enjoys learning how to use media as well as being in Mr. Michie’s class. “I think this is probably my favorite class. It really gives me a open door and opportunity to set a career goal for me. I’m interested in basketball and this class. It actually shows me how to edit because I also have a YouTube channel. So when I become a professional, I can edit based off my career,” Garcia said.

When asked what his YouTube channel was, Garcia became shy. He said, “I don’t want to say that yet,” and acknowledged that he wants to get better at editing before he refers anyone to his YouTube channel.

The use of media in the classroom is not new at Seward but it had taken a hiatus for quite some time.

In 1992, Michie started a Media Studies class and then went on to obtain his Ph.D. in 1999. The program kept going until 2007.

In 2012, Michie came back to teach at Seward with the intention of re-launching the media course. After Chicago Public Schools (CPS) underwent multiple budget cuts, it became difficult to get it up and running.

But Mitchie didn’t let that stop him. In May 2017, he launched a crowdfunding campaign with a $15,000 goal to purchase the necessary equipment in order to integrate media back into the classroom.

Fast forward into the first quarter of the school year and the students are wrapping up their identity and interview projects.

“The [purpose of] creating their own identity pieces was to chip away at some of the stereotypes that teenagers in this community and elsewhere [who] are mostly immigrants or students of color who are often misrepresented or not represented at all,” said Michie.

Michie has integrated media in the past years, but not to this extent. He was intentional in starting with very basic ideas of representation, misrepresentation, and stereotypes.

His students interviewed local coffee shop owners, Mayra Hernandez and Jesse Iniguez, Edy Dominguez, Berto Aguayo, Yesenia Mata and Sarai Jimenez. They will be interviewing artist, Rolando Santoyo next.

Santoyo is looking forward to speaking to the Seward students and also remembers being in school and everyone wanting to be in Michie’s class because it was cool. He recalls Michie taking their creativity to the next level.

“To this day we all remember some of the videos we produced in his classroom. They bring back good memories, to say the least. I still haven’t gotten my interview with the kids yet, but I am supposed to soon,” Santoyo said.

While both classes are not working on the same thing, each unit segued into similar projects. Michie wanted his students to know of young people in Back of the Yards who they could relate to and learn from.

“I just want them to meet these people. I am not assuming they don’t know anybody that is doing positive things–I’m sure they do. I really wanted to try to focus on younger people because I think that connects with them in a different way than bringing people my age and talking about what they’re doing,” Michie said.

View the Portraits promotional video below and check out the student identity videos on the Seward Student Network website. 

Portraits promo from SSN on Vimeo.