At the beginning of each school year, our School Partnership Specialists at CIS of Chicago reach out to school leaders in our partner network. They discuss needs that schools and students have for integrated supports and set priorities for the coming year. These priorities can range from arts enrichment to college and career readiness programming or even mental health supports.
In the 2019–20 school year (as in the previous five years), nearly 75 percent of school partners prioritized two program categories: anti-bullying and diversity/tolerance. Our schools were seeking culturally relevant ways to address bullying, head on, and that’s when our Community Partnership Specialists went to work. In November 2019, Associate Director of Community Partnerships, Karen Roddie, attended a Bullying Prevention Conference in Chicago.
Karen was on the lookout for no-cost programming that would meet the needs of schools and translate well in the classroom, and she came across an exhibition called ¡Viva la Revolución! There, she met Tony Estrada, an L.A. filmmaker who had created a short film that ignited conversations around bullying for children. In Tony’s film, a bullied student starts a revolution to overthrow his oppressors, but he ends up becoming a dictator of the playground, too. Karen realized that ¡Viva la Revolución! could provide the anti-bullying lesson that schools were looking for — in a relatable way for students.
After the conference, Karen and Tony stayed connected. They discussed ways to create an in-school program for third through eighth graders, using the film as the backdrop for an authentic, student-driven conversation. By February 2020, Karen had fully onboarded ¡Viva la Revolución! as a CIS of Chicago partner, and spots were filling up fast. Four schools quickly indicated interest. But by the time March rolled around with Tony’s scheduled visit to Chicago, COVID-19 hit, and Chicago Public Schools moved to remote learning. ¡Viva la Revolución! programming that spring was cancelled.
The Partnership Team, however, didn’t give up on bringing the film and anti-bullying program to students. At the start of the 2020–21 schoolyear, Karen reached out to see if Tony would be open for presenting to Chicago students in a live, virtual format, and he agreed. She worked with Zoe Cooper Andorka, CIS of Chicago School Partnership Specialist, on connecting ¡Viva la Revolución! with Henry Elementary School on the Northwest Side.
Zoe worked with school staff on scheduling. And even with the uncertainty of an in-person return to school that January, the program was delivered to more than 70 third and fourth graders. Students were able to view the film and then participate in an interactive discussion on morals and ethics. They were also able to ask Tony questions about his creation of ¡Viva la Revolución! and ideas that the film spurred around self-empowerment, goal-setting, and friendship. One of the students reflected that the bullies shouldn’t have treated their classmates that way, if they didn’t want the same to happen to them. Henry Elementary staff were also pleased with the programming.
“It was such a pleasure to have Tony and the ¡Viva la Revolución! program come visit Henry Elementary!” said Maggie Garfinkel, Henry’s Site Coordinator. “The program focused on empowering students and building their empathy towards others. Overall, it was a great experience, and I look forward to having them come to Henry again soon.”
This spring, Karen has continued to work with Tony on connecting the ¡Viva la Revolución! program to more Chicago Public Schools. In March, Tony presented at Eberhart Elementary School on the Southwest Side, and his film brought out many feelings for students. According to our Student Supports Manager at Eberhart, Jessica Salgado, “students shared personal hardships that included being personally bullied and experiencing recent losses” after viewing the film. And Jessica was able to connect these students with support services.
Despite a schoolyear unlike any other, our team at CIS of Chicago persevered, and our partners adapted to a new, remote learning format. Persistence — and understanding of Chicago Public Schools requirements — were key in onboarding a new partner into the ever-changing school environment. And because of the program, students were able to be honest about their experiences and gain the skills to address bullying peacefully.