Musical Matters

One of the highlights of Learning Matters Summer School 2012 was Musical Matters– a daily music class facilitated by Valerie Guerra, musician and Schweitzer Fellow through the University of Chicago School of Social Work Administration.

On December 5, 2012, Valerie, Teen Boys program participant Chijoke McClain, and nine Musical Matters participants reunited at Family Matters for a special afternoon: a trip downtown to See Music Recording Studio to record the two songs they chose to learn this summer — Wavin’ Flag by K’Naan and Waka Waka by Shakira.

While the majority of Musical Matters participants are also part of Family Matters school-year initiatives, it was the first time they had been together as a cohesive group since August.  As students walked in the door to Family Matters, arriving after lunch due to an early dismissal day on the CPS calendar, they bent down to untie shoes and boots and hang up heavy winter jackets instead of slipping off sandals and wiping off beads of perspiration, as they did every day this summer.  As each new arrival opened the door, the entryway filled with squeals of delight as participants hugged and high-fived friends they made this summer.

When everyone had arrived, we walked to the Red Line and set off for the studio. At See Music, composer and musician Jon Guerra gave a tour of the studio, while discussing how music is recorded, both for albums and commercials.  Then everyone filed into the recording room and practiced keeping hands and feet completely still so the recording would not pick up extra noises. Rehearsal began!

The energy level rose higher and higher as Chijoke beat the drum and participants started singing. Everyone was transported back to the summer as they sang out with all their hearts.  When the recording was finished, shouts and cheers rang through the room, expressing pride and joy in their accomplishment. Enjoy listening to the final product!

Musical Matters cover of Waka Waka, by Shakira
Musical Matters cover of Wavin’ Flag, by K’Naan

2011 Hunger Banquet

November and December are months filled with excitement as we look forward to holiday celebrations that often include bountiful meals. This time is also marked by hunger awareness and charity. During December, the Teen Boys, Teen Girls and Family Connections programs came together to host an Oxfam Hunger Banquet—an event at which children, teens and their families could learn about hunger and poverty issues. “This event allows organizers and participants alike to experience firsthand how our decisions affect others in the world, and brings to life the inequalities in our world” –Oxfam. Each program prepared its group through activities and discussions about poverty during the week preceding the banquet.

Close to 40 participants attended the banquet. As they entered the room, participants drew a ticket from a basket. The tickets assigned them to high-, middle-, or low-income tiers based on the latest statistics on the number of people living in poverty. Each income level received a corresponding meal and seating. The 15% in the high-income tier were served pasta, salad and juice, and seated at tables with tablecloths, silverware and water. The 35% in the middle-income section were served rice and beans and a cup of water and seated in chairs around the room. The 50% in the low-income tier sat on the floor and were served small portions of rice and shared glasses of water. Each ticket had a unique story describing the situation of a specific person at that income level. First reactions included comments around the fairness of drawing tickets and the desire to sit at the table with the high-income diners. Some of the high-income participants celebrated their luck; others sat quietly observing everyone else.
Before the participants started to eat, we shared current facts regarding hunger and poverty around the world. We also dramatized how an opportunity or war or economic instability could affect a person’s economic well being. At random, we choose three people from the low-income tier, telling them that, with help of a program, they had the opportunity to attend school. This allowed them to move up to the middle-income tier. Then we choose participants from the middle-income tier and told them that their country was affected by economic instability or war and that they were now part of the low-income tier. Finally, all participants were invited to enjoy their meals.

After the meal, we had a discussion about the participants’ experiences. We asked the following questions: Do you think it’s fair that the world is divided into these tiers? Do you think that people who got the big meal need to share with others? Do you think people in the low-income group are there because they don’t work hard? Why do you think people in the low-income group are there?
Responses were varied and included “ things are not fair in the world” and “the world is divided this way.” Some participants said that people were born into unequal situations. Those on the low-income tier said those in the high-income tier needed to share their meal. Others said that low-income people did not have enough opportunities to get out of poverty. At the end of the event the participants were encouraged to learn more about hunger and to do something in their community to create change. 

Family Connections Food Drive

Family Connections kids organize community projects every year. This winter they decided to have a food drive at the local Dominick’s and donate the food they collected to Howard Area Community Center Pantry. Family Connections staff took the kids to speak with the manager in order to set up all the details of the food drive.

On the day of the food drive, a group of kids took boxes and flyers to Dominick’s. Some stood at the door to ask customers to buy an extra can of food and make a donation or to donate something they had already purchased. Some of the kids decided to go around the store and talk to customers about the food drive and ask them to donate canned food. At first, the kids were quite shy; once they came up with a plan to get more donations they were very engaged in the project. Some of the kids reported speaking to around 30 different people. Each time they had more confidence and determination to ask customers to donate. 
They were able to collect two boxes of food in one hour. The kids then took it to Howard Area Community Center Pantry. Amellalli shared, “I learned that many people don’t have food and shelter and they need a lot of supplies or food.” Ramiro stated in his evaluation that the part he most enjoyed about the project was “asking people if they can donate food.” Many of the students said they would like to have another food drive in the future.