Sydney Paul: October 2011 Archives

by Sydney Paul, AB 12

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, every year over 3 million children are admitted to hospitals in the United States.  The reasons for visits range from neonatal care, to a teenager's broken bone to even cancer treatment. On top of sickness or injury itself, hospital visits are never a fun trip for a child and can be a daunting experience.  It's a foreign world away from the familiar, especially for those kids who remain weeks or months at a time on bed rest or in recovery. 


Chicago is certainly no exception to the rule; however some medical centers in the city try to be more accommodating to their young patients.  Some hospitals have volunteer programs where individuals can come in to interact with the patients in playful settings, as well as in academic capacity.  When children are inpatients for long periods of time, it can be extremely difficult to keep up with school work when while bedridden, your only options are to try to catch up with what material you have, teach yourself, or not do anything at all.  Unfortunately, these kids are usually held back or placed at a selective disadvantage.  At the Comer Children's Hospital, there are fortunately volunteer programs in place that attempt to combat that issue.


The hospital, which is part of the University of Chicago Medical Center, has Chicago Public School teachers come in to tutor patients, however the supply of tutors does not always satisfy the demand of children.  When a few CPS teachers are put in place to help thousands of inpatients, those who are not part of the Chicago Public School system or not from the city unfortunately lose priority on that resource.  Luckily along with the hard-working CPS teachers, there are others who sacrifice their time to help the children.


This past spring, a group of University of Chicago undergraduates got together to form Comer Tutors--a program which strives to create smooth transitions for those kids who are moving from the hospital back into a school setting.  The group, founded by 4th years Joseph Sullivan and Liwen Xu, works in conjunction with the hospital's Child Life Program and regularly visits patients during the week to help them with their academics.  The program is structured around individual, one-on-one tutoring sessions with patients in classroom settings or at their bedside.  And whether the tutors are supplementing material brought from the child's school or bringing other material to match what they've been learning, their presence is making a big impact.


"It's all good having fun and playing with them, but giving them that opportunity to learn and seeing how they react to new things--I love seeing the joy on the child's face" admitted Yasmine Cisse, 4th year and Comer Tutor.  Working with kids ranging from the ages of 5 to 18 years old, tutors can cover subjects anywhere from math and science to history and current events in 30 minute to one hour sessions.  In addition, they work around the child's schedule which has been very accommodating to the patients and comforting to their families.


Comer Tutors usually works with children who are in treatment or recovery periods; they sometimes even work with chemotherapy patients.  Along with the hospitals and families, these undergrads are just another helpful support system for kids who are fighting through one of the most difficult times in their lives.  "It may not necessarily the most fun you have at the hospital but it someone's undivided attention that you have and that helps" said Cissé. 


Yasmine had been volunteering in the playroom at the hospital for many months prior to the establishment of the tutoring program, and believes Comer Tutors are giving the kids something more (and just as important) in addition to academic help.  "We get to spend time with them so that they don't feel so isolated, so tutoring of way of also just having someone with them" said Yasmine. "It's one less thing they have to worry about they get out of the hospital."


Comer Tutors are definitely in a win-win situation.  While the patients are learning from some of the smartest student's in the country, the undergrads are also gaining a one of a kind experience themselves.  Having that kind of impact on a child's life creates opportunities for many unique challenges as well as humbling triumphs.


"Giving them that sense of normalcy and bringing an aspect of their outside life into the hospital is great" said Yasmine.  "Being that you're only with them for an hour and giving them that sense of confidence in their learning is so rewarding."

140th Anniversary of The Great Chicago Fire

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

Though I've been living in this city for 3 years now (going on my fourth), I must admit that there was very little I knew about Chicago's history. Sure, everyone knows about Al Capone and the Daley dynasty. There maybe even some who can list off some fun facts about the Columbian World Exposition. But, did you know that that Expo, the fair that defined us as a "world city" and cultural center, would not have been possible without one of America's greatest disasters wiping Chi-town almost completely off the map? I know I didn't. 

This Saturday, October 8th, will mark the 140th anniversary of The Great Chicago Fire. The blaze, which is infamously known for the sheer size of the area it destroyed, left Chicago with over 2000 acres burned down and over 300 people dead. Just imagine if a giant bulldozer came and leveled everything downtown north of the Chicago River--unbelievable, right? It's crazy to think that Michigan Avenue, where thousands pass through every day, was once a wasteland of broken bricks and charred wood.

All it took, however, was one architecture tour along the Chicago River one fine summer afternoon to help me recognize the significance of such an event. The rippling effect of the fire can practically be seen all over the city. The Chicago Water Tower, for instance, is one of the few buildings that survived the blaze. And during the tour, I was introduced to the spot where the fire allegedly started. Ironically, in the place of the barn where poor Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocked over the lantern now stands the Chicago Fire Academy. Go figure!

But besides such fun facts, I was mostly humbled by the beauty of the surrounding buildings, which were interestingly a consequence of the fire. The tour taught me that the skyscraper was born from the ashes of the Great Fire. The elegance, practicality, and skill that went into these constructions are inspiring! Even the structural layout of the city can be considered a work of art. I never knew that the massive, yet detailed, Merchandise Mart is the world's largest commercial building, or realized that the emerald green and gold Carbide and Carbon Building, a.k.a the Hard Rock Hotel, looks like a champagne bottle. The fact that I have mundanely strolled through the city so many times, without realizing the historical richness of the ground beneath my feet is still beyond me, but I'm glad my ever increasing days of exploration are telling me more of Chi-town's story.

All in all among the many grand moments in this city's history, The Great Chicago Fire has to be one with the greatest impact and I think that's a big reason why we remember and to some degree celebrate it every year. And with the 140th anniversary, this year will certainly be no different. 

In celebration of this big anniversary, the Looking Glass Theater will be presenting "The Great Fire". Running September 21st to November 20th, the play gives an interesting perspective on what happened that faithful night. UChicago students have the opportunity to attend the play through an ORCSA, UChicago Arts Pass and The Chicago Studies Program sponsored trip, Wednesday, October 12th (transportation provided). Dean Boyer will be in attendance and will host a discussion on the aftermath of fire during a reception after the show. Tickets are available in Reynolds Club 001.

Prepare to never "look at Chicago the same way again"!

Word on the Street:

| | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

What has been your favorite community service project?


Helen Hailes - 3rd Year
Last year, I volunteered at the living room café, where I helped to cook community breakfast on Sunday mornings and taught weekly yoga classes for people who were struggling with poverty and homelessness. It was definitely challenging, but I really enjoyed being able to bring a bit of calm and relaxation to people who were dealing with extremely difficult and stressful situations.


Pamela Villa - 4th Year
The Community Change Project, an organization I helped start last year, has been my favorite community service endeavor. CCP is a UChicago student run service learn program for high school students. CCP aims to develop leaders in Hyde Park and the surrounding community by cultivating a profound understanding of key social and environmental issues while empowering students to take action and realize meaningful impact. We look at various problems, such as local food deserts and explore tangible solutions by, for example, taking students to urban gardens. My favorite part of the project is that it culminates in students crafting and executing their own community service project.


Allen Linton II - Graduate Student
My favorite project was clearing brush in the Forest preserve on an Engage Chicago Through Service trip in 2010. The project exposed us to the natural side of Chicago and political history of environmental conflict in the city.


Kaitlyn Fryzek - 3rd Year
One of my favorite community service projects was working with a community organization in the public Policy practicum to help make recommendations for how to improve their programs. This was a great opportunity to learn more about the Woodlawn community and the surrounding area, as we got to work with many community members in interviews and surveys. It was also a good way to learn about research methods and actually be given the opportunity to apply them in a useful way for the community. This community service project was also probably the most challenging project I've been involved with a start-up community organization, and trying to produce a lengthy report under a huge time crunch. That being said, I think the inclusion of community service in class and using students' resources to assist neighboring communities has a lot of potential for mutual learning and partnerships.


Larissa Pittenger - 4th Year
It's hard to choose a favorite project because I think the act of continual engagement with the community as a feature of one's life takes on a meaning and significance of its own. The opportunity to collaborate with other people to improve their lives, whether by learning to read, cleaning up their neighborhoods or organizing together to push for better working conditions, has been an inspiring and profoundly fulfilling experience. In that sense, community service has really helped me understand myself, the communities I'm part of and what citizenship means on a much deeper level than I thought possible.

Leave a comment about your favorite community service experience!