Alumna starts community organization in Chicago’s Little Village
When Rachel Perveiler ’11 shifted her tassel from right to left in December 2011, she officially became an alumna of Illinois State University. This achievement meant that she could take the next long-awaited step in her teaching career and become an urban educator. Since graduation, Perveiler has gone on to teach underserved students in Chicago and give something extra back to her community.
Her assuredness for wanting to teach in the city was cultivated through many preservice teaching experiences that Illinois State offers to education students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Before arriving at Illinois State, Perveiler was selected as a Golden Apple Scholar. The Golden Apple Foundation’s goal is to prepare diverse groups of talented educators for underserved areas, and Illinois State hosts the largest cohort in the state.
As a scholar, she participated in a variety of summer internships in CPS. Believing she may have found her niche, Perveiler sought opportunities for engagement in urban education through Illinois State including the Urban Needs in Teacher Education (UNITE) student organization and the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline.
“My involvement and interest in urban education was gradual,” she said. “As my comfort level increased I was able to increase my participation in those types of programs.”
Perveiler was selected for the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline’s STEP-UP program, a one-month summer internship prior to student teaching where students live with a host family, collaborate with community-based organizations, and intern with a neighborhood school. Her host family resided in Little Village, a Hispanic community on Chicago’s West Side.
As a Tinley Park native, Perveiler grew up with little firsthand knowledge of Chicago area neighborhoods. She said what information she did receive from the news and those around her was focused solely on negative aspects. However, as Perveiler developed cultural competencies through STEP-UP, she began to understand how uninformed she was.
“When you compare being here and interacting with the people to just driving through the neighborhood—they really are two different experiences,” Perveiler said. “When I start to look at the people who are there rather than a boarded-up building here or there, or when I look at the assets of the community, I start to see those positive pieces that are not always portrayed.”
Once it became time for student teaching, Perveiler was granted her request to have placements in the city. She worked in elementary schools that were just 15 minutes from Little Village.
After graduating with a degree in special education, she was hired by Little Village’s Finkl Academy, a preK–8 school, and teaches reading, writing, and social studies for sixth–eighth grades in an inclusion classroom.
Perveiler said the students she works with at Finkl Academy represent underserved populations, but that is not the only reason she accepted the position. For her, all schools need teachers who are passionate about their students’ educations. Perveiler simply went where her interests were strongest—in urban education.
“For me, my lifestyle currently is not about helping a certain group of people,” she said. “I live here and I work here because I enjoy doing this.”
Perveiler’s appreciation for the neighborhood she works in extends beyond the classroom. She and her fiance, Michael Aumiller ’10, run a community-based organization—out of their back porch!
It all started in summer 2011, when a few of the neighborhood kids came up to meet Perveiler and Aumiller as the couple were moving her teaching materials into their Little Village home.
“They started to help us and noticed the children’s books I use for teaching, and said, ‘Hey, why do you have all of these?’” Perveiler said.
Several expressed interest in borrowing the books, and Perveiler quickly recognized an opportunity to encourage reading and writing for local children. So they established their own community-based organization, called La Biblioteca del Personas.
“I would say that it helped me to embrace the community,” Perveiler said. “I think that it also just strengthened what few ties that I had initially through STEP-UP.”
The library now has hundreds of books and many games. This collection includes Perveiler’s personal items and many that have been collected and donated.
Perveiler has been able to collaborate on the work of La Biblioteca with Aumiller, whom she met while they both were participating in UNITE’s programs at Illinois State. Now, Aumiller works for the Woodstock Institute, a research and advocacy nonprofit organization that promotes fair lending practices.
“I found the most enjoyable aspect of this work has been watching the members of the library grow,” Aumiller said. “The progress in their reading skills has been tangible, but literally watching many of the members ‘grow up’ has been an immense joy.”
Members of the library range from prekindergarten to eighth grade. Guided by the families that it serves, La Biblioteca is centered on reading and writing.
“We offer whatever the kids and their families are interested in,” Perveiler said.
La Biblioteca also teaches children a bit about responsibility. Before borrowing any books, each member must demonstrate their dependability by taking care of a bookmark that Perveiler gives them after one week.
If a member loses a book, she requires them to contribute one—not by supplying a store-bought publication, but by writing one of their own!
Last year, one of the members wrote a story for fun that told of three kids teaching one another how to build a snowman. She brought the three pages to Perveiler and asked her if they could adapt the story into a play.
“I told her, ‘Sure you can: You can do anything you want. But why are you asking me for permission?’” Perveiler said.
The group then cast, directed, and acted the play at La Biblioteca del Personas, with the neighborhood in attendance. Perveiler said they did almost all of the work for this on their own.
Outside the neighborhood, Perveiler’s organization has served as a valuable resource to the STEP-UP program, as well. In summer 2012, STEP-UP participant and elementary education major Alyssa Jones interned with Perveiler at the library. Jones planned and implemented arts and physical activities and facilitated the book checkout.
“That was a really neat experience,” said Perveiler. “The kids really enjoyed having her and participating in the activities that she planned.”
Perveiler also continues to stay in touch with the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline. She participates in the mentoring, induction and professional development services they offer for new Illinois State alumni who are working in CPS.
As for the future of La Biblioteca del Personas, Perveiler said she will keep it around as long as the community finds value in it.
“This all came from their curiosity and their interest in interacting, so I would say that a goal of mine is to promote a sense of community among the kids together and a sense of friendship as well,” Perveiler said. “I think they’re enjoying reading more than they were prior to the library.”