About 80 students at Ames Middle School in Logan Square participated in a student-led peace assembly yesterday afternoon in order to promote ways to diffuse violence and empathize with others who may have stressors in their lives that affect how they behave.
Students took part in various activities and role-played different violence-prevention scenarios. At the end of the assembly, students released white balloons, symbolizing freeing themselves from something that makes them angry.
“We are letting those things go, so they don’t control us anymore,” one student said before heading outside to release his balloon.
Ames Principal Turon Ivy participated in the event with students and praised them for putting together the program.
“Every time that we have a tendency to turn on the television, we see something about violence, we see something that affects our youth, our families, our neighborhoods, our communities,” he told the students. “What you guys are doing right now is critical in helping to change the landscape of what’s taking place, not only in our schools, but also in the community.”
Karla Castilla, the peace and leadership council coordinator at Ames, said last semester the students created a safety report in which they analyzed community safety surrounding the school and presented the report to the principal.
“And out of that meeting came an agreement that the students would lead a peace-day assembly right before spring break, since usually during spring break is when violence starts to rise,” she said.
During January and February, some of Ames’ students participated in up to 10 activities dealing with conflict resolution.
They picked their top four to present to their peers at the assembly, Castilla said.
One of their favorite events, Castilla said, is the "diversity shuffle."
The middle schoolers stood in a line against the wall as another student called out diversity-related statements, such as “my family is middle class.” They would step in and out of line depending if the statement applied to them.
“This shows students that sometimes people are dealing with things that you don’t even know about, and you blaming them, or you talking back, or you saying mean things might not be the most effective thing right now,” Castilla said.
For another lesson, students all received a piece of string that symbolized a "stress band."
One student would read out different situations, like losing an iPod, being bumped in the hallway or having a teacher call their parents. The more stressed the hypothetical scenario made the students, the tighter they would pull the string. The point of the exercise was to show the students how various situations make other people feel.
Jose Ruano, the school’s soccer coach, came to check out what the students were doing at the assembly. He said it sends a good message to the kids.
“They’re here getting to know each other even after school,” he said. “This is a great opportunity.”
Maria Romero, a parent of an 8th grader and a volunteer at Ames, agreed.
“I think some (students) may have gone through situations like this, and they wouldn’t even know how to handle it, and maybe this would help them out,” she said.
Romero and Ruano both said after-school programs and events like the peace assembly help to keep kids off the streets and safe.
It appears Ames will continue to serve as a safe haven for students, because it's not on the Chicago Public Schools' list of 61 schools slated to shut down at the end of the academic year.
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) had been pushing to move a military academy into Ames, but Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale said at a December board meeting that there are no such plans, according to DNAinfo.