Melissa Harris-Perry | March 10, 2013
>>> last year, one chicago high school lived through an unbelievable amount of gun violence, 29 current or recent students shot over the course of the school year. the school is harper high. just more than six miles from where this teenager was gunned down days after performing at president obama 's inauguration. three reporters from chicago produced radio show , "this american life " were given unprecedented access to the school . they shadowed students, staff and faculty and cake away with stories. listening, we get to walk along with these kids. it is not a simple thing to walk with these kids.
>> we feel like this. for some reason, we deal with it. we never liked passing trees. there's too much stuff going on.
>> reporter: too much stuff going on is the shootings, the fights, the craziness. it's better to walk down the middle of the street where you can keep a broad view of things and where you have a few more seconds to run, if you need to.
>> that fear is not a phobia, it's a reality. pretty soon, you can expect to see yet another person shot.
>> football who's been shot or shot at?
>> probably the whole team except freshmen and sophomores.
>> i think everybody was shot at. everybody on the team.
>> maybe the most stunning part of the story is that harper high is not an unprecedented exception. it's one of many schools trying desperately to educate thousands of kids living in a reality we try to imagine. we can glimpse the helplessness and hopelessness, the constant innocence in their voices. here to help us delve deeper into harper high is the host of the show, ira glass and principal of harper high. how are you this morning?
>> good morning. how are you?
>> i'm a little in love with you. i'll tell you that spending time listening to this series, the love with which you are trying to shepherd these young people through harper is tangible and extraordinary. it was hard for me to listen to it for two hours. you live with it daily. what do people need to know ?
>> people need to know that first of all kids are kids. the students at harper high school are wonderful children. i'm so blessed to be a part of harper high school . i'm so blessed to have the staff that i have at harper . i have one of the most amazing staffs in the city of chicago , if not across the country because they are so passionate. they are so dedicated to our children. we don't know what our children go home to every day. to bring a little bit of sunshine to their lives for the hours they are at harper is an extraordinary thing. i'm excited and blessed to be a part of this even though the challenges we face is an awesome thing to be a part of.
>> that tone we just heard from the principal there is infectious in that it keeps coming through in these circumstances that are, again, hard for many parents and listeners to imagine. you get the sense that somehow the teachers, the students are just trying to make it through this.
>> yeah. i mean one of the reasons why we wanted to cover this story, we are looking for a place to be able to talk about the shootings happening in chicago . shootings are up there versus big cities in the country. one of the reasons we chose harper is to watch this staff try to deal with the kids and help the kids and get the kids through. it's interesting. there's a growing body of research now about the effects of stress on kids as they come up in bad circumstances and how it makes it harder for them to learn. their brains are developing differently. one of the things we know from this research is various points of a kid growing up, you can intervene. watching what happens, what principal sanders and her staff do in a day-to-day way, when you reach adolescence, you can intervene. they are doing the common sense thing of having enough people around to get to know the kids and having them think through and dealing with the effects of seeing so many shootings and dealing with the danger in the neighborhood. deal with what it's like to be a kid, the normal stuff they are going there.
>> i want to pause on that. this idea, the confidence of your staff, there's a moment toward the end of the stories where they allow you to just riff on what you would do if you won the lottery. i want to listen to that for a second.
>> i would hook harper up. everybody would be there.
>> she weighed out hr plan.
>> i would say yeah, they would have the state of the art labs, every student would have access to a computer. any of the capital resources that we needed.
>> it goes on and on. i keep thinking why does this have to be a dream? why do you have have win the lottery for it to be true?
>> you know, i think that a lot of schools are challenged with having the resources that they need. upon entering harper , approximately six years ago, it was really brought life to me. a lot of students go without the resources they need. so, for harper , there are so many things that are still needed. when we first became a turn around school , the resources and the human capital brought into the school was awesome. it was what the school and the entire school community needed at that time. we must continue that. you can't replace the human side of people. however, you know, we have to continue to persevere, you know, through whatever challenges lay before us coming forward. so, having things such as, you know, exposure for our kids to go on college trips, if i was to look at a segment of post secondary , having students be exposed to go to colleges. some of our students are first time college students. they don't know when they go away to college they need all the things they have to take with them for a whole semester because some of them may not come back before christmas break . in other words, they need to know they need personal items. a lot of our students don't have money for housing. when they are accepted to schools. a lot of times, that comes out of our pockets to provide the housing costs for our students as well as transportation. many of my staff have gotten into their personal cars and taken students to schools because it's an issue. you know, we get the books, we get things like that. there are a host of other accessories and things kids need that, you know, we have to provide for them. we do it because they are our children and, you know, it's the need. we have to do that.
>> principal sanders, i just -- there are not words for what you and your staff are doing. i know harper is just one of many schools struggling with this. it's the school many of us had the opportunity to fall in love with through this reporting. i promise you, we are going to keep our eyes on you, on harper and the children there and not forget they are children. thank you very much. ira is staying with us. when we come back, much, much more on harper high school .