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Parents and Officials Brace for New School Year in Chicago

August 31, 2009

CHICAGO - For most parents and their children, the beginning of the school year means shopping for notebooks, paper, markers and new sneakers. But in Chicago, back-to-school also means the threat of continuing gun violence. Last school year, there were a record-breaking 36 deaths among Chicago public school pupils, and numerous others have been killed during summer break. The vast majority of these deaths were from firearms. This dismal state of affairs has school officials, community activists and parents clamoring for ways to keep kids safe from shooting.

The Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence is holding its 15th annual Student Voices Contest, which asks students to do an essay, poem, art or multimedia project on a topic related to firearms violence. Executive director Thom Mannard says his organization uses the contest as a way to communicate with Chicago's youth.

"We're going into, mainly, high schools and talking to students about the impact of gun violence and the basic things they can do to try at least to minimize the risk of being impacted by gun violence."

Mannard says the Student Voices project is targeted at public and Catholic school students in Lake and Cook Counties, but is also open to kids all over the community and state.

He says his organization is using the contest as a means to grab the attention of Chicago's endangered youth.

"We find that the contest is a very good way to, at least, engage Chicago schoolchildren and teens on this issue and get them to think about this topic a little more deeply."

Winners are announced near the end of the school year, and prizes include new computers and gift certificates.

More information on the Student Voices Contest can be found on the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence Web site: www.ichv.org

Aricka Flowers, Public News Service - IL