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Alta Sita Neighborhood Youth Planning Activity

April 9th, 1999
At the request of Alta Sita Neighbors, Inc. the East St. Louis Action Research Project began working with the Alta Sita neighborhood in creating a five-year strategic plan for the future revitalization of Alta Sita.  As part of this planning process, students from the University of Illinois devised a neighborhood planning activity for the children attending the Alta Sita Elementary School at 26th Street and Bond Avenue.

Children are the future planners, architects and policy makers of this country.  By instilling in them at an early age the importance of smart planning that preserves the environment, fosters diversity and eliminates threats to health and safety, children will grow up with a better understanding of how to be active members of their communities.  Introducing students to planning also helps them to see the world and the problems that face their families with the hope that future actions will improve the quality of life in declining urban areas.  These same children will be around to see the implementation and effects that "our" plans have on their quality of life - equipping them with the knowledge to assess plans will mean future plans that are better able to address the most critical planning problems.

If at an early age we can assist children in identifying the elements in their surroundings that bring them joy as well as pain, then we can teach them that smart planning practices can ameliorate the effects that poverty, deterioration and disinvestment have on our urban areas.  Teaching children about planning is valuable education - it creates a greater consciousness about their communities and shows them that their space in the neighborhood can be more positive if their actions and reactions foster positive neighborhood interactions.  Students who learn the importance of their actions in their communities will grow up to be more active and informed members of our society.  Planning education for youth promotes democracy by giving students a voice in the future of their neighborhood and by developing more creative, inquisitive and involved adults.
 
 
The Classroom:
Fifty-one students of the Alta Sita Elementary School's after school program joined about a dozen students from the University of Illinois from 3:30 - 5:30 p.m. for an afternoon of neighborhood planning.  The event was held in the gymnasium of the school and was attended by administrators, teachers, members of ASNI and parents.

 
The Plan:
I.        BIG ENTRANCE
3:30 - 3:50 p.m.   Children enjoy pizza and juice and informally meet the University students.
At first the UI group was quite distraught because they faced 51 screaming kids between the ages of 5 and 11.  Fortunately all it took was the snap of the after school coordinator's fingers and from that moment forward the students could not have been any better behaved.  Whooooo....what a relief!


 
II.      WELCOME FROM UIUC
3:50 - 4:05 p.m.   Words from the ESLARP Project Coordinator
Tom Shields, ESLARP Project Coordinator, thanks the school and the students for welcoming the University group to share in their after-school program.  Tom provides a brief overview of the remaining activities of the afternoon.

III.    THE GOOD AND THE BAD
4:05 - 4:30 p.m.  Kids identify what they like about their lives in Alta Sita and what they don't like in terms of people and places.
The fifty-one kids were divided into six groups depending on their age.  Each group of 8 to 10 kids was joined by two University students.  Large sheets of white paper were taped to the wall near each group and the kids were asked to provide the following:
"My 3 Favorite Alta Sita People..."
"My 3 Favorite Alta Sita Places to Visit..."
"My 3 Least Favorite Places in Alta Sita..."
Each group produced long lists for each statement and the children were rewarded with chocolate kisses for identifying the great and not so great aspects of their neighborhood.  These lists covered the walls of the gymnasium.

IV.    Draw YOUR WORLD
4:30 - 5:15 p.m.  Children create personalized displays of their neighborhood now and in their dreams.
Each child is given a 24x36 sheet of cardboard covered with white paper.  Younger kids are given crayons and older kids are equipped with markers.  The University students explain to the children how to make their board look like this:
 
What I like best about Alta Sita...
What I don't like about Alta Sita...

 

My dream neighborhood looks like... Name:
Address:
Teacher:
Grade
My picture....

While the kids are drawing, the UI students are asking them to explain what they are drawing and then a caption is placed under each box - the children are naming their world!  A Polaroid is taken of each student holding their display and the photo is placed in the bottom right-hand corner of each board.

V.     WRAP-UP
5:15 - 5:30 p.m.  An exhibition of children's artwork is created in the Alta Sita School.
The 51 displays created by the children of Alta Sita School are hung around the entire perimeter of the gymnasium and will stay up throughout the week until the Neighborhood Summit to held on April 17th.  The students will then be given their work to take home with them.  Each student received a small, plush basketball from the UI and is sent home with a letter for their parents inviting them to the Neighborhood Summit.

WHAT WE LEARNED:
For the University and the Alta Sita neighborhood, the Youth Planning Activity was one of the most positive partnerships we have made to date.  It provided the opportunity to involve the future leaders of the neighborhood and the world in identifying their dreams for the future.  It also created an opportunity to children to express their feelings about Alta Sita.  The Youth activity created a breathtaking display of children empowered to draw their world.  The event drew good press and hopefully will encourage parents to join fellow residents at the Alta Sita Summit. 

The major themes that stand out in the displays are the following:

    • Love of Alta Sita School, fellow classmates and teachers
    • Love of Virginia Park
    • Love of their home, family and friends
    • Dislike of pollution
    • Dislike of crime and fear
    • Dreams of new homes 
    • Dreams of new parks
The feedback from the children of Alta Sita School will be incorporated into the 1999 Alta Sita Neighborhood Revitalization Plan which after nine month of community participation in the planning process should be completed in early fall of 1999.

More photos from the event.

Photos of youth artwork.

Document author(s) : Cathy Klump
Last modified: 19-April-99
EAST ST LOUIS ACTION RESEARCH PROJECT