CHICAGO (AP) _ When teacher Michael Brownstein asked his mostly poor sixth graders to imagine Santa Claus was real and to write about him, they handed in violent nightmares.

''When he gets out of his sled, he lets the rats watch it,'' wrote James Jackson. ''He knocked on the door and got hit with a pot of beans. The boys robbed the toys.

''He ran as fast as his belly could take him and he tripped over a piece of trash. He screamed, 'Prancer, Dixen, Rudolph and Vixen, help me, I tripped over something.'''

Most of Brownstein's students live in the Robert Taylor Homes, an impoverished high-rise that lies among a series of projects on the city's South Side.

Brownstein said the essays reinforced his belief that children must be given every possible opportunity to combat the cycle of poverty.

''When kids can't even imagine Christmas without thinking of violence,'' Brownstein said, ''it shows how bad things are in the projects.''

''Santa parked in front of the building, someone blacked his eye. ... People started yelling at him,'' wrote Paris Thompson. ''Santa said ... 'These people are crazy 3/8 Let me out of this building 3/8'

''He got in his sled and took off like a rocket to the moon.''

Quindrell Buchanan wrote: ''On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus goes to people's house and gives present. Then he gets to my house, in the projects... Santa Claus crawls on the wall with a rope and busts your window. Then he said, 'Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Chrismas.'

''Then they shot Santa in the mouth because they think he is a burglar.''

Brownstein said he knew his public school students were old enough ''to know that Santa Claus is mom and dad.

''So I asked them to imagine a Santa Claus. ... I thought Santa, at least, would be safe in the projects.

''I guess the kids think no one can survive at Robert Taylor.''