An Open Letter To Our Community And A Promise To Educators
Two months ago, we delivered art supplies to an elementary school partnering with IPaintMyMind. Dropping off paint, sketchbooks, brushes, and more, we met with Stephany Jimenez, the energetic young art teacher at Seward Elementary who participated in our Shared Walls Program in 20/21 despite the pandemic, and added so much to the mix!
She showed us around the school, pointing out murals, student art, and possible spots for their IPMM Shared Walls art gallery to hang. Everything seemed hopeful. Students were preparing for summer break, excited to relax after a chaotic pandemic year.
Just a couple of weeks after our visit, Stephany let us know that one of her students was shot and killed just outside of the school building. It was a random, senseless act of violence, and it took the life of a young child. It was the worst news a school community can receive.
Unspeakable tragedies like these remind us that as much as we believe in the power of art to influence and affect all aspects of life in positive ways, the reality is that there are structural problems in our city that make life in some of our neighborhoods needlessly precarious.
This is about more than CPS or the arts, it’s about how we fund public schools and how we invest in our communities.
CPS’ issues are systemic and structural. Ultimately, they are part and parcel of the same problems that occur in all areas of Chicago’s government. IPMM is just part of a constellation of nonprofits that are trying to fill gaps and provide services that the city government should be providing. We’re not the entire solution by any means, and we don’t pretend to be, especially in the face of tragedies like this one.
All we can do as an organization is continue to support our teachers and schools, and we’re happy that the art supplies we dropped off were put to good use, remembering the student who was tragically lost and using art as an outlet for processing emotions and releasing tension through creativity.
Teachers Like Stephany Jimenez Are Heroes
The reality is that we are bolstered by educators like Stephany Jimenez as much as she is by us. She is tireless, going above and beyond her role for her students. In addition to being the school’s art teacher, she also runs the Art Club, the group that used the donated art supplies to create an ofrenda for their friend and process through art.
Art truly is social-emotional learning and critical to student development at all ages. Moreover, having the resources to facilitate clubs and student groups is of vital importance. Stephany has been so engaged with our programs, and it’s one of these shining examples of why we strive to support school communities by supporting the leaders that are there everyday.
How To Move Forward When It Seems Impossible
So how can we come to terms with what happened here? How do we move forwards and best serve the people that are left behind?
First, we have to support and uplift our teachers, who are truly doing the hard, critical, and often traumatic work of reforming CPS from the inside. We’ll make sure that our teachers aren’t left to find their own resources and purchase their supplies with their own salaries. Teachers do much more than teach, they act as social workers, therapists, and caretakers for our students, and they deserve much more support than they receive. We can make sure that folks like Stephany are set up to do what they do best, and are able to take some time to care for themselves.
This year, we’re donating our Shared Walls program to Seward Elementary free of charge, to support Stephany and her co-workers through this difficult time. We’re also committed to checking in with her, facilitating more supply drop-offs, and otherwise helping however we can. It’s part of a deeper commitment: to do all that we can for our educators when times are tough. It’s why we offered our curriculum to all CPS art teachers last year for free during the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you are a CPS teacher who wants to partner with IPMM, we promise to do everything we can to find a way to work with you and your school, no matter your financial situation.
If you are already a partner, we want to hear from you. Let us know how you and your students are doing, and never be afraid to ask us for additional help or resources. That’s what we’re here for.
Second, while we acknowledge that art programming and exposure alone will not solve the systemic issues facing CPS, it’s an important tool for processing emotion and grief. For young students, art is an important tool for coming to terms with these events and healing. The Seward Art Club’s ofrenda is a beautiful and evocative memorial to their classmate, and it served as a communal opportunity to process an impactful and traumatic event.
Art is just one path towards healing, but it’s a path that we can make more available and accessible to the communities that we serve. It’s a tool that we have the ability to provide, and we’re committed to doing just that. Art can heal us and connect us, and connections are critical in our segregated and socially fragmented city.
To reiterate, we can’t fix these problems on our own. We’re just one part of this system of nonprofits, activists, and politicians, striving to make CPS and Chicago better and fairer. However, we promise to do everything we can to support our educators, and make art education more equitable and accessible for our schools. We’re so proud to work alongside fierce advocates and teachers like Stephany. We’re continually amazed by the resilience and strength of our students, even though that kind of strength shouldn’t be necessary for children to possess.
If you have any thoughts or questions, or want to bring a hero like Stephany Jimenez to our attention, please reach out to us. We want to hear from you and engage with our community.
Thank you for your support!
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