Children’s Voice: Listening to the Young Artists at the Migrant Education Program
The Migrant Education Program (MEP) Summer School at Bertha Holt Elementary is one of the many sites where our Teaching Artists have engaged the hearts and minds of children this summer. A team of five Creative Link artists including Mitra Gruwell, Noah McLain Philpot, James Peck, Sarah Peters Gonzales, and Victoria Wills have been working with kindergarten through middle school students. Students have explored a variety of arts including theatre, puppetry, intaglio printing, painting, upcycled art, and more. Each artistic language offers a unique way for children to develop and express their ideas, feel seen and heard, and work in innovative and collaborative ways.
Map Making and Storytelling
At the start of summer school kindergarten and first grade students were invited to create a mixed-media map of where they live. The open-ended nature of this project, led by Victoria Wills, gave space for each child to explore and externalize their experience of home and community. A first grader, who was talking with friends while working on her map, was overheard saying: “I’m homeless right now, but I’m living with my cousin. This is the bed we share and these are the clothes she shares with me.” The map she created was full of color and life. There is a playground right outside the house, where she and her cousin like to play, an apple tree full of ripe fruit, and a big heart at the head of the bed she shares with her cousin. In creating this art map, she shared a story about the richness that fills her life, not the deficits others may project onto her if they only heard her words. Putting materials in children’s hands makes them the authors of their own story, thus allowing others to set aside judgement and truly listen to and honor their perspective.
Film Editing and Videography
Sarah Peters Gonzalez facilitated a tech-inspired classroom for the second and third grade students, teaching them the ins and outs of video capture and editing. As students explored music, theatre, and puppetry programs culminated in a digital capture of their creative ideas. On the final day of summer school, she provided students the prompt, “What was your favorite activity this summer and why?” Students scattered through the nearby yard and garden to record interviews with each other answering these questions. One group of girls found a hydrangea bush in full bloom and recorded the audio of their thoughts over the image of the flowers while other students found fun clouds in the sky to use as their camera focus. A new level of observation and connection to the world was accessed through this tech lens. Answers ranged from puppets to pastels to drums. When students got stuck editing their videos, they leaned into their classmates to find answers. Sarah had instilled a culture of collaboration and support amongst the students. Media arts projects like this taught tech literacy, encouraged collaboration, and built community as students documented their collective thoughts, ideas, and reflections.
Collaboration with Shadow Puppetry
The fourth and fifth grade students, under the guidance of James Peck, explored multiple styles of performance including shadow puppetry. After creating their characters, small groups of students began storyboarding the short plays they would produce. One small group of students went to the shadow puppetry stage to practice their story, but quickly realized they didn’t have enough hands for all of their characters. A flurry of excitement ensued as the team recruited more and more classmates until eight students were huddled around the tiny stage, puppets in hand, to perform an underwater story of sharks and minnows. They called on classroom visitors to sit and watch with great excitement. They couldn’t wait to show off what they created! Art forms like theatre, storytelling, and puppetry inspire teamwork, collaboration, and community as students come together to bring their ideas and visions to life.
Sustainability through ReUse Art
Mitra Gruwell worked with middle school students introducing them to upcycled fashion and ReUse Art. Mitra, in partnership with the students, started seeing the many materials on site that were viewed as waste: water bottles, table covers, old containers, and more. Seeing the potential in the everyday materials, the middle school team requested all classrooms across the summer school to collect used plastic bottles and transformed them into decorations for the final celebration Mercado. These bottles were turned into fish, a statement about the potential impact of waste produced on site. As Mitra and the students uncovered new ideas, more artist possibilities were uncovered. Jewelry, wind catchers, and stained glass-like artworks emerged! These artistic explorations teach design thinking and creative problem solving while highlighting the importance of sustainability and waste-awareness in students.
All of the creativity and effort these students put into their work at the Migrant Education Program culminated on July 29th in a school wide Mercado. This was an opportunity for parents, educators, and community members to celebrate the tangible traces of their creative experiences. At the Mercado students and teaching artists where able to share with parents the wide range of creative skills learned during summer school. One student blushed as the teaching artist called nearby attendees into a circle as he announced, “This student right here is a creative genius! Look at what she created. She’s going to go so far!”
It was incredible to see the pride on the faces of students, parents, and educators as the summer school came to a close at this culminating celebration. With music filling the air, poetry on display, laughter heard through cardboard masks, and puppets on hands, the power of the arts to enrich students’ lives could not have been more evident.
Lane Arts Council is so appreciative of Migrant Education Programs for welcoming us in to be partners on this important summer school effort and thank the teaching artists who gave significant energy to this special collaboration. Thank you to additional funding by Oregon Community Foundation and Oregon Arts Commission.