Burger building contest aims to curb violence

June 6, 2008 3:26:51 PM PDT
A potentially volatile rivalry between two public schools has been diffused for a day.The students came together Friday morning to work with police officers in hopes of preventing future problems.

The two elementary schools are just blocks from one another. That South Side neighborhood has a history of violence.

This is the first time a gathering like it has been organized to help deal with school rivalries and turf wars.

Growing tension between teens in the neighborhood prompted Chicago police officers to come up with a new idea, bringing the message of anti-violence to younger kids and bringing the kids together at the same time. On Friday, the peace began over a burger.

Their task: making burgers. Each team needed to agree on a name and what to put on the burger.

The thrill of competition dwarfs the fact that most of these kids have never met before. The fifth, sixth and seventh graders come from rival elementary schools: Paul Revere and Park Manor.

"it starts around that age...change their actions," said Chicago police officer Michele Millison, who works with the gang resistance education and training unit, or GREAT for short.

She works with kids in both schools but sees childhood rivalries evolving into deadly gang feuds. So she tried something new - putting the students together.

"So they can take those thoughts and those actions that we're teaching them, and when they get out on to the streets they can try to mirror those same thoughts and act to prevent violence," said Millison.

On Memorial Day, a former student of Paul Revere Sharkelia Taylor was shot and killed while she was visiting friends at 69th Place and Dorchester. And last year, a fifth grader from Park Manor was shot in the stomach - caught in gang crossfire.

"The school is situated in an area consumed with violence, it is a part of their home life, it is a part of their community life. Unfortunately, the violence filters into the schools," said Veronica Thompson, Paul Revere Elementary Principal.

"Them coming together in a nonthreatening environment, being able to do activities on their level, and communicate with each other, it would cease a lot of violence," said Melody Farmer, Park Manor Elementary Teacher.

The burger project was a team building exercise. The students also got positive reinforcement in the form of candy for coming up with alternatives to violence and ways to deal with anger, like counting to ten and walking away.

At the end of the three-hour exercise, there appear to be fewer barriers and even some connections.

"We work together good. And it was just fun to be around them," said Jermaine Mack, Paul Revere sixth grader.

This is the first time the great program has put students from rival schools together and they hope to do more. To continue on what they've started, the students from both schools will also be together at summer camp.

One student said it was such a good experience, he thinks kids all over Chicago should do the same thing.

Congrats to teams: Great Burger, Burger Builder and Team Success.


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