Peace Fellows Visit Telpochcalli in Little Village

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Coordinator, Chicago Peace Fellows

On Friday, June 14, Chicago Peace Fellow Maria Velazquez invited her peers to the Telpochcalli Elementary School, an institution in the Little Village neighborhood that the community organization she leads, called the Telpochcalli Community Education Project, helped to create.

Maria hosted a street festival for members of the community to enjoy time together to start the weekend. The event featured a youth band and stoneware made by students of the school. The festival featured an all-youth band and food provided by local residents. The tortillas were hand-made and the aguas frescas (juice) were freshly squeezed. Around 100 members of the community sang and danced to enjoy the breezy spring evening.

Chicago Peace Fellows Robert Biekman (from left), Jamila Trimuel and her guest, Maria Velazquez, Pamela Butts and program coordinator Burrell Poe.

According to their website, “Telpochcalli (Nahuatl for "house of youth") is a small school dedicated to integrating the Mexican arts and culture into an innovative academic and social experience and development of fully bilingual/biliterate students in English and Spanish. The school is comprised of students, teachers, parents and artists who aspire to nurture an understanding and appreciation of the self, family, community and world.”

Maria, a Chicago Peace Fellow, has been the executive director of the Telpochcalli Community Education Project for over three years. She started out as a volunteer at the school and when the position of executive director opened up, she was reluctant to apply at first. Maria can be shy but she is very loving and compassionate and works really hard to take care of the people she serves. She explained, “I do this work to help people. I really like to see people happy.”

Chicago Peace Fellow Maria Velazquez, Executive Director of the Telpochcalli Community Education Project, provides an overview of the living asset map that is constantly updated by members of the Little Village community.

Maria gave other Peace Fellows a tour of the school and their community space. She showed her “living” asset map where she encourages parents and volunteers to add what they see as assets in the community to the map. She noted that it helps people see the value of their community and people really like doing it. Maria talked about her summer program with teens that is completely led by the teens. This summer, they are focusing on health and how they can have an impact.

“It took some time to get them going [in reference to the teen council], but now they are leading it and we are now working to get younger people involved so that they can learn how to lead earlier,” Maria explained.

The Telpochcalli Community Education Project’s roots go back to 1998, when a group of parents in the Little Village neighborhood got together to advocate for better educational facilities. Just as it is now, Little Village’s population was growing fast with new immigrants as well as many young families, and the parents were upset by the failure of the Chicago Public Schools to fulfill a promise to build a high school in the neighborhood.

Chicago Peace Fellows Jamila Trimuel (from left) and Robert Biekman review the community project planning wall at Telpochcalli Community Education Project.

Many parents participated in a sit-in and hunger strike that got public attention and ultimately, a new administration at CPS agreed to build the Little Village/Lawndale High School. Under Maria’s leadership, the Telpochcalli Community Education Project has continued to be a strong advocate for Little Village, recently stopping a merger of the Telpochcalli Elementary School, which is already overcrowded, with a high school in the area.

The Chicago Peace Fellows will be active all summer with events and knowledge sharing. Stay tuned for more articles and opportunities to join us.

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