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Children at Village Leadership Academy work on their class project

Social Justice: An Early Start

Posted: 05/12/2014

By Laura Janota

In the chosen topic for upper-grade students participating in Village Leadership Academy’s (VLA) annual social justice-based Grassroots Campaign seemed straightforward enough. However, as 15 fifth graders in the homeroom of VLA literacy instructor Eric Macias began discussing violence and its impact as a prelude to developing a social justice project, Macias gradually grew speechless.

The instructor had expected students to tackle gang or gun violence. But when a student raised her hand and said “To be honest, I’m kind of tired of talking about only gun violence,” the door was opened for a few surprises. One student suggested violence includes bullying. Another discussed violence by police. However, when a third child raised her hand and began talking about domestic violence, other students joined in and a social justice project for the 2012-13 academic year was born.

“It was a moving moment for me to hear my students talking about how domestic violence was affecting them and the people they know – and I realized, even though it could be a difficult topic, that we had chosen the right focus for our campaign,” said Macias, who teaches in the not-for-profit, independent school where Roosevelt University alumna Nakisha Hobbs is principal. After the first meeting, students in Macias’ homeroom reached out to a Chicago domestic violence agency to learn what they could do to help. As a result, they have started a collection drive for baby supplies, including diapers, pacifiers and bottles, that they were told domestic violence survivors often need but aren’t easy to come by in shelters where they live. The collection being taken this spring at VLA is expected to reach the school’s students and staff as well as many homeowners in VLA’s River City complex in Chicago’s South Loop.

To counter much negative publicity by media about domestic violence, part two of the campaign will be for students this spring to write stories for VLA’s e-magazine about positive ways in which their communities and not-for-profits are tackling domestic violence issues.

“I think it’s really helpful, especially to write positive stories, that can help those who need help,” said a nine-year-old girl who has been working on the campaign. “I’ve learned that it’s good to help others and to make sure that others are okay,” she said. For his part, Macias is glad that he was speechless that day when the topic of domestic violence – and the many personal stories that emanated from its mention – came up in his homeroom class.

“I’ve got a lot of friends working in charters, private schools and public schools and I can tell you that none of them are doing something like this,” the instructor said. “It’s definitely one of the things that makes VLA unique.”