[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #8 in May 2009]
We are about eight students and two teachers that meet voluntarily after school on Thursdays to discuss school funding. We like our school, Boone, but there is definitely a lot that could be improved. We made up a long list of things that could change if we had more money, including the gross lunches, the classrooms with too many students, the use of the hallways for tutoring, no computer lab, the broken tiles, crumbling walls, and water-damaged ceilings, the old textbooks that are falling apart, the lockers that are shared by three people and threaten to fall out of the wall. And of course, the fact that our little third graders have to walk two blocks every day, even if it is freezing, raining or snowing, across busy California Avenue to the annex in the morning, lunch, after school and for special classes.
And then we dreamed of how it could be.
We thought this would be a good comic. We came up with the basic storyline as a group. After some brainstorming, somebody suggested the character could go to school, then come home and have a dream, then go back to school and try to change things as a group.
With that, fourteen-year-old Amanda Du worked her magic. She managed to show the broken tiles, the shared lockers threatening to fall on us, and the destroyed textbooks. She used a repetitive story structure that shows, through the character’s dream (shaded), how daily life at Boone School could be different if we had more money. And then, instead of turning it into a cheesy self-referential we’re-changing-the-world story, she shows the character going back to school with nothing changed.
And that’s the real story.
We originally started this group after making a flyer using ratio in our seventh-grade math class. We compared school funding for different school districts in Illinois. We found out that our Chicago Public School District gets around $11,000 per student, while many suburban districts get around $16,000 to $18,000 per student per year. That’s a big difference. Our one classroom of 30 students gets $150,000 to $200,000 less every year! We’re thinking about doing another project where we decide where we would spend that money, if we had it. We’re also working on a video that shows the problems with our school that could be fixed with school funding. And we are planning to swap field trips with New Trier so we can see each other’s schools.