How (and why) those Rogers Park high schoolers made their anti-Rahm/pro-Miguel video

February 8, 2011

You’ve probably seen the video that Chicago Public Schools students put together, attacking Rahm Emanuel and supporting Miguel del Valle for mayor. When it debuted on YouTube a little over a week ago, a lot of folks began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t really all that grassroots, if the professionals at del Valle’s campaign had nudged the kids to do their bidding. It’s an awfully well done piece of politicking.

Well, it turns out that one of the counseling aids at Roger C. Sullivan High School, the video’s home base if you will, is a former student and friend of mine. I asked Jacquelyn Rosa to tell me a little bit about how the video came about. This is what she said:

“Roger C. Sullivan High School, located on the far north side in Rogers Park, is where I work. This neighborhood Chicago Public high school, like the majority of high schools in Chicago, accepts all students.  Sullivan High school is not a selective enrollment school, there is no lottery; there are no admissions requirements. There is, however, a lack of resources; there are fights in the hallways, and high dropout rates. Worst of all, the students are made to feel on a daily basis that they don’t matter; they are met with negative comments for attending their neighborhood schools. They are told to go elsewhere if they can, to travel hours away on public transit in order to receive a quality education. They are told that the school in their community is worthless. I cannot imagine being fourteen years old and trying to process this negativity for simply attending my neighborhood school. 

“It has also been through working at this very school that I have met some of the most amazing, dedicated and resilient young men and women. These students, regardless of their socio-economic background, have dreams of achieving a higher education much like students who attend charter and selective enrollment schools. Although they do not have the ubiquitous ‘college prep’ attached to their school name, many of them know that ultimately college is where they are headed.  

“Gerardo Aguilera, Alexandra Alvarez, and Cristina Henriquez are all juniors at Sullivan High School. These students’ efforts to mobilize their community to support Miguel Del Valle has been developing since Gerardo attended the mayoral forum for high school students put on by the non-partisan Mikva Challenge organization last month. Gerardo was inspired by what he saw and took it upon himself to research each candidate individually. What he discovered was that Miguel Del Valle was committed to improving the quality of neighborhood public schools.

“On Sunday January 29th, a group of volunteers for the Miguel Del Valle campaign from the Northside got together in Rogers Park to canvass the 40th ward.  The group included Roger C. Sullivan high school students Gerardo Aguilera, Alexandra Alvarez and Cristina Henriquez, as well as CPS graduates, Julissa Castaneda, Carlos Daniel Rosa, and Sandi Gutstein. We collectively identified and discussed key issues we thought Rogers Park residents might ask us when canvassing. We watched the January 27th WGN debate online and focused our attention on the issue that affected us all the most: education policy in the city of Chicago. Rahm Emmanuel and Gery Chico made it extremely clear that they both were in support of a charter school agenda. Neither candidate had a plan for fixing our broken two-tier public school system.

“And then we all heard it. Rahm Emanuel said: “When you take out Northside, and when you take out Walter Payton, the seven best performing high schools are all charters.” With a smug smirk on his face, Rahm Emmanuel had insulted every Chicago Public School student with misinformation about the academic efforts of even the elite selective enrollment schools.

“Alexandra Alvarez immediately caught the comment that Emmanuel made about the city’s seven best performing high schools. ‘What about Whitney Young and Lane? I thought they were on the top list? They’re not charters,’ she said. Gerardo Aguilera then asked: ‘We don’t go to a charter. Does that mean that our school can never be a top school?’ Finally, the comment that sparked the students to create the “Invest in Our Public Schools” Youtube video came from Cristina Henriquez: ‘I don’t think Rahm Emmanuel cares about us. We don’t go to a charter school. We don’t go to a top school.’

“What initially began as Saturday morning canvassing session turned into a full-on action. The students researched and found several articles listing the top Chicago public schools (including the one they used as their source from the Chicago Tribune). Armed with a flip camera, the students set out to film a video that would not only expose the inaccuracy in Rahm Emmanuel’s statement but let the rest of Chicago know that there are thousands of students that attend their neighborhood schools who deserve to be invested in, deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded for being students in their community. Their message is clear: Del Valle is the candidate who will invest in public education for all students who, like them, do not go to selective enrollment or charter schools."

"The video was filmed, edited, and posted to YouTube on the same day.”