StudentsXpress gives voice to Chicago kids

Offers CPS students opportunity to express themselves

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By Robert Felton

Columnist / Contributing Reporter

In celebration of its most recent expansion and promotion as a non-profit organization, StudentsXpress, a North Side publication featuring content from Chicago Public School students, held an official re-launch party.

The event, which was at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, included readings from CPS grade school students, a performance by motivational spoken word group Kuumba Lynx, and New Beginnings Church pastor Corey Brooks as emcee.

As is the case with StudentsXpress itself, the event is a collaborative effort, as several North Side vendors including David's Tea, Magnolia Bakery and Apart Pizza pitched in to provide refreshments for the affair.

It was the culmination of a nearly two-year run for the StudentXpress magazine, whose founder, Rachel Switall, was inspired to work with children after seeing an article about youth violence in the Chicago Sun-Times nearly 15 years earlier.

"While I was attending University of Illinois [at Chicago], I came across an article that was chronicling the youth murder rate in Chicago and it was startling," said Switall. "From that moment forward, I wanted to work with children in the public school system, and allow them an opportunity to express themselves."

This desire led to the creation of a currently seasonal publication which includes content from CPS students in the form of photographs, essays, and poems. The magazine centers around the theme of free expression for Chicago youth as a means of countering some of the negative social traps that can curtail their promise in their formative years.

Switall, who has an MBA in Graphic Design from UIC basically produces the magazine herself, believes that if students have a forum to express their beliefs, passions and opinions, they are less likely to succumb to violence.

"It's definitely harder to obtain funding when you're just a person working independently," she said. "Now that StudentsXpress is an established non-profit, I am hopeful that we can receive grant funding for the production of the magazine."

Each issue addresses a specific theme of importance to young people such as bullying and working with teachers.

The first issue of StudentsXpress was published in December 2011 and featured five schools, all on the North Side. However, in recent months, Switall has expanded her circulation to include a total of 30 schools, including Spencer, although currently Spencer is the only West Side school that is featured. Switall says she plans to change that.

"I definitely want to feature more students from schools on the West Side. My goal is to showcase more and more schools with each issue and there are plenty of schools that I would like to work with."

One of the features of the re-launch party was the showing of a 15-minute documentary short film titled No Bystanders. Its producer, Blanca Paloma, met Switall at Nettelhorst Elementary School where Paloma's daughter and Switall's son were classmates.

"[Last year] I was showing a film I had made [Children of Color, a documentary short subject about portrayals of racial minorities in the media] at Nettelhorst and she attended," said Paloma. "We became friends from there and decided to work on a project together."

Rachel asked Paloma to do a film about bullying to coincide with the release of the bullying issue of the publication. Paloma had doubts about whether time would permit her to tackle such a hefty subject in under a year, but she completed the film in time for the viewing at the re-launch event.

"We basically conducted three rounds of interviews with children, asking them about bullying and found that each had some experience with it," said Paloma. "We also talked about solutions to the problem in the film and how they can protect themselves at school."

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Reader Comments

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Alexis O'Neill  

Posted: June 7th, 2013 1:02 PM

Three cheers for Rachel Sitwall for offering this terrific opportunity for students' voices to be heard, their art to be seen through StudentsXpress!

Rachel from Chicago  

Posted: June 7th, 2013 9:56 AM

Just to clarify, StudentsXpress reaches students all across the city, not just the north side. You can see the list of schools we currently reach on our web site. We hope to get to all of CPS eventually.....

Alicia  

Posted: June 6th, 2013 10:16 AM

So glad to see a nonprofit investing in our future generations! And I can't wait to see the magazine.

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