Elementary school students participate in Chalk the Block

Children from the surrounding neighborhood gathered in the Von Kleinsmid Center courtyard Saturday for Chalk the Block, an annual event in which local schoolchildren ages five to 13 participate in an art competition.

The children were given artist’s paper taped to the sidewalk, different colored chalk and 45 minutes to draw their dreams. Live music, games and food were also present as the children drew while parents and volunteers supervised.

“We noticed that a lot of kids in the surrounding area drop out of school as they get older, and it can be very hard for them to realize that they can chase their dreams, so what we’re trying to do is inspire them to believe in themselves and their dreams,” said junior Magdalini Vraila, a member of Chalk the Block’s planning and media team. “When we ask these kids what they want to do or who they want to become, they realize that their dreams are important.”

At the awards ceremony, the children were divided into age brackets, and each student received one of four awards: the Visionary Award, for having a big dream and executing it well throughout the chalking period; the Color Wonder Award, given to a child for using many colors in his or her art piece; the Creativity Award, for showing innovation; or the Dedication Award, given to a child for refusing to give up even when the artwork got difficult, seeing his or her dreams through until the end.

“My dream is to become a scientist and invent stuff,” fourth-grader and Visionary Award winner Karina Barbosa said. “I drew a scientist, which is me, putting a little drop into a potion to make a bunny ultra-sized.”

Barbosa’s mother, Marina Ceja, discussed the importance of encouraging interaction between USC and the local community.

“I think it’s very important to have an event like this because it encourages kids from communities that are not as privileged to go to college and follow their dreams,” Ceja said.

Chalk the Block started three years ago when USC student Harleen Marwah noticed the great discrepancy between USC, an elite research university, and the poverty of nearby areas. She also noticed that whereas USC graduates nearly 90 percent of its senior class every year, 27,380 students dropped out of school during the 2010-2011 school year in the South LA community. By creating Chalk the Block, she hoped to bridge the gap between the resources the university offers and the help that neighborhood kids need.

One of the most striking barriers between USC and the LA community are the gates surrounding campus that act as physical and symbolic barriers, according to Director of Chalk the Block Claire Chatinover.

“The gates show the community around us that we don’t want them on our campus,” Chatinover said. “What is amazing about this campus is that it grows so much through interaction with the local community, and the local community grows so much from us. I think the important thing to know is that although these gates are up, we can still utilize the times they are open to show the community that we want to build lasting relationships.”

Chalk the Block has been highlighted as the “activity of the month” by the National Association of College and University Residence Halls and has been implemented on other college campuses.

According to Marwah’s essay on Chalk the Block’s website, “Chalk the Block encourages people to think beyond their boundaries. University students are asked to look beyond the perimeter of campus and share a common space to discover the ‘common ground’. Chalkateers are challenged to dream as big as they possibly can, looking past other obstacles in their lives.”