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Media: "This American Life" At Chicago's Harper High School

What does it mean -- what does it feel like -- to go to school every day not knowing if you or friends will make it through the day? Since the end of the summer, WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton, author Alex Kotlowitz, and Ben Calhoun have been embedded at Harper High School, whose students and recent alumni included 29 shot or killed last year. Starting this Friday, This American Life is running a two-part show about the school and the surrounding community, and from what I've heard already it's pretty amazing.

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So far as I've listened to the press preview, the story's not much about the classroom but rather about what goes on in the halls, in the counselors' offices, and on the way to and from school.  The administrators try and keep tabs on what's going on among students, in order to prevent or limit confrontations.  The students describe a bewildering mix of ever-shifting min-gangs that little resemble the old days of Bloods and Crips with top-down control and formal initiation rituals (if those days were ever portrayed accurately).

Harper High School, Part One airs this Friday and covers the start of school and the tumultuous events of the fall.  The following week, Harper High School, Part Two describes the easy access to handguns and the students' ideas of what can be done to make things better. Press release is here.  Summer 2012 WBEZ story by Lutton is here. Image via TAL.

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