Project Based Service-Learning: Students as Researchers of Immigration Narratives


“The more young people who get the opportunity to travel the world, live in other cultures and learn new languages, the more they will begin to understand our shared ideals and the shared opportunities to keep moving this world forward. ”

— Michelle Obama

Seeing the Between Two Worlds exhibit in Santa Fe at the Museum of International Folk Art inspired me to think about my New Jersey students’ journeys to the U.S. As an English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher at Carroll Robbins Elementary School in Trenton, New Jersey, I wanted to design a curriculum that would inspire my students and meet learning goals for the classroom.

Many young people have traveled through deserts and across oceans to come to Trenton. As an ESL teacher at Robbins School, I am curious about and thankful for each child who walks through my classroom door. What are their experiences like? How do they feel about being immersed in a new culture? What strengths do immigrant children bring and how can teachers empower them to use those strengths? Continue reading

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Writing as Alchemy: Turning Objects into Stories, Stories into Objects


I. Lawn Chair as Trope

When Long moves into his next home, he will take only the things that matter most: his television, a Sony analog box that he and his wife purchased when they were married; his stereo, two giant Sony boomboxes, or blasters, from the ’80s; and his television couch, which actually is a plastic lawn chair that he resized by sawing off half the legs to fit his height. These are the items that fill his living space, wherever he settles. Together and separately they carry with them memories — stories — invisible to the human eye, although perhaps not to the human heart.

“The thing about a story is that you dream it as they tell it, hoping that others might dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head.”

Tim O’Brien, The Things That They Carried

Artifacts collect and tell stories. This, folklorists have long known. One broken Sancai Chinese vase, for example, from the Tang Dynasty at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC, speaks the cultural aesthetics of the time, as well as the availability of material and resources with which the piece was crafted. From there, we reimagine the interior of a Chinese aristocrat’s home. We see the nobleman admiring the ceramic. He is inspired by the three-color pottery — yellow, green, and white — before his eyes, and in this moment of elation, he tells his wife that when he dies, he would like the vase in his tomb — along with her and their servants. Continue reading

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Between Two Worlds: A Collaborative Curriculum Addressing Immigration through Folk Art, Media Literacy, and Digital Storytelling


Between Two Worlds Gallery in Santa Fe

Gallery of Conscience, Museum of International Folk Art exhibition Between Two Worlds: Folk Artists Reflect on the Immigrant Experience, 2014. Photo by Blair Clark. Courtesy of the Museum of International Folk Art.

Traveler, there is no path. The path is made in walking.

—Antonio Machado, 20th-century Spanish poet

Building Community through Collaboration

At the heart of all Gallery of Conscience (GoC) exhibitions are community-based collaborations that take place within and beyond museum walls. Through its community engagement process, the GoC develops ongoing partnerships that grow organically from exhibition themes. GoC collaborations vary in scope and nature, ranging from journals and story cloths created by English language (ESL) students, to a spoken word poetry residency with at-risk youth, a dialogue and moderated panel focused on transgender issues, and a peace quilt created by Palestinian, Jewish Israeli, and American young women with instruction from a Nigerian/Yoruba indigo resist-dye master. During the life of an exhibition, multiple partnerships take place concurrently, always drawing from and often contributing back to exhibit content and programming. In this article, as a folklorist and former GoC Community Engagement Coordinator, I present one such collaboration, based on the exhibition Between Two Worlds: Folk Artists Reflect on the Immigrant Experience (2014-16).

While in progress, this collaboration often seemed like a braid. The three “strands” of the braid included the Museum of International Folk Art’s Gallery of Conscience, Youth Media Project (YMP), and ¡YouthWorks!—three local community-based organizations with kindred missions and programs. The first partner was the GoC itself. Founded in 1953, the Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) seeks “to enrich the human spirit by connecting people with the arts, traditions and cultures of the world.” In 2010, former MOIFA Director Marsha Bol established the GoC, explaining, “As the largest folk art museum in the world, there is a responsibility to create a forum to discuss current issues that folk artists are facing around the world.” Continue reading

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: The Making of an Activist


My family would always joke around that I am not your typical person. It’s true. At 15 years old I was part of a play to speak out against domestic violence and HIV in the Latino community. I was also part of an Advisory Board at Girls Inc. to foster the voices and creativity of young girls of color. Now, I sit back and I’m grateful for the journey I am part of, a journey of struggle but also of love and community. It’s what I share with my students in my Sociology classes at East L.A. Community College — “trust in your journey and visions”. “Our ancestors already provided the path, they were always dreaming of us.”

My name is Carla Osorio Veliz. I am Guatemalan native but have been raised in East Los Angeles since 1991. Immigrating to the United States from Guatemala was not easy. My mom brought my brother and I as toddlers by herself to meet with my father. Leaving family and friends behind to travel north for what all immigrants think will be a better life. She imagined having a family united but things did not work out that way. Continue reading

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Using Technology to Rediscover Our Roots as Cultural Creators


Identity enhancing learning emerges from a felt-sense of purpose acknowledged and nurtured through sharing with others. By definition Learning Communities, as distinguished from our current more static institutions, create the circumstances to nourish richly creative interactions — so flow and creativity replace sterile textbook redundancy.

Learning Communities are non-judgmental, respectful, purposeful and enthusiastic. They are eager to nurture the mysterious process of discovering where and how the individual meets the world because these communities grasp that everyone grows in their own way from where they are. Ideally everyone learns to treat everyone else as an end in themselves, and no one is a means to another’s or an institution’s ends.

Learning Communities are flat rather than hierarchical. Administration’s task is to support and serve rather than to direct and manage. These principles of Learning Communities threaten the established order built on centuries of habits. But unless we shift our paradigm toward STEAM, personalized learning, and democracy we will not create the improvements we seek. Continue reading

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Why This Work Really Matters


During my childhood, my family lived a short bike ride away from a small creek that was a tributary to a large river that eventually fed into the Chesapeake Bay. My brothers and I would join the other neighborhood kids on our bikes and head to the creek to “explore”. The creek sat at the bottom of a hill. We would perch our bikes at the top of the hill, jump on, and let gravity take us swiftly to the bottom, feet raised up, for there was no need to pedal. What an exhilarating ride it was! At the bottom of the hill, the treasures of the creek awaited us. We would catch minnows and crayfish, practice skipping rocks on the surface, and wade in the cool, clear water.

The hill and the section of the creek we visited so often as children stood on property that is now fenced off and privately owned. Neighborhood children can no longer access it. However, for me, those memories are still very clear and very much a part of who I am.

We can all think back to our own childhood and recall vivid memories or places that meant something to us. These memories and experiences contribute to our sense of place. Sense of place is defined slightly differently by those in different fields, but in general, aspects of ecological, social, cultural, and historical identity all contribute to a person’s sense of place. Wendell Berry, a well-known American bioregionalist once stated “if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are”. Continue reading

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Hasn’t Worked, Can’t Work, Won’t Work


Cover content, give tests, and sort students. Our existing system of instruction does this effectively, in much the same way now as it did in the early 1900s, and in much the same way as it did the 1840s, when Horace Mann brought the Prussian model of education to Massachusetts and to our nation.

Cover. The system we use spends a lot of time considering what should be “covered”. We’ve developed a rich vocabulary of terms; including syllabus, scope and sequence, lesson plans, content expectations, grade level content standards, Common Core State Standards, Texas Teaching Standards, course description, curriculum map, and curriculum. They all refer to what will be “covered” in a course or in a grade.

In most modern schools, Coverage is King. Teachers strive to “cover” all the content expectations that may be included in a state assessment or in their own district assessment. Teachers have succumbed to the steady demand to “cover”, even when they know many of their students are confused, struggling, or disengaged. It must be covered is the almost unquestioned expectation. Pacing guides define the rate of delivery. Continue reading

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A School District Commits to Civic Engagement


In Oak Park, California, the entire school district has embraced civic and social action. Both educators and students are involved in a wide set of projects, most addressing environmental issues. Some of the efforts are service-oriented, while some focus on advocacy and policy. It seems that when service activities are sufficiently wide-spread and multi-faceted, they begin to add up to a larger, more substantive institutional change. Here’s their story, shared by guest blogger Vanessa Heller.

Looking beyond ourselves: Service learning in a suburban school district

By Vanessa Heller: Educator at Oak Park Unified and trainer at Oak Park Inquiry Institute

A mindset to serve

Oak Park Unified has become a district focused on inquiry based teaching and learning. This focus includes a growing dedication to service learning. One of our driving questions is:

How might we move from service learning opportunities to true civic action?

OPUSD is a small, progressive school district in suburban Southern California. We are a public “district of choice” [ed: not a charter] — 40% of our students come from outside our boundaries (via lottery). We are known for high achievement and high expectations. It’s fair to note that our students come from mostly middle to upper income backgrounds. Teachers have much autonomy in curricular and instructional decisions because we are trusted as professionals. We do not teach to the test, yet we outperform other districts consistently. Professional development is mostly self-selected. These factors lay a foundation for inquiry and its outcome, service learning. It is our goal to move towards true civic action — to create real change. Continue reading

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Beginnings: Accountability and the Life of a Educator


I guess that I am smack dab in the middle of my career. It is also smack dab in the middle of the school year, and yet I ponder beginnings. Sometimes we think of beginnings as the first day of school, or when we see the sweet little kindergarteners marching down the hall. In the midst of our lives and a busy week of classes, it can be difficult to ponder beginnings. Sometimes, we feel like we are so far down a path that there is no way except the trail that we have muddled through, so far off the road and the vision that we had, it seems impossible to go any other way except our lost, circling meander. Metaphors abound.

Teaching is a tough business and I don’t mean the salaries and the politics. I think that for those of us who are called to teaching, it is as much about inspiration and vision that we try to provide and model for our students as it is for the actual content and subject matter that we delve into daily. In the midst of the drudgery, grading the millionth paper or during hall duty, or in my case the highly repetitive nature of teaching certain programs as an environmental educator, often a limited repertoire due to the popularity of certain programs or due to the specific goals prompted by a funder. Continue reading

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The Physics of Humanity and the Power of Student Exhibition


I had seen this classroom before — lab tables with students working independently or in small groups, the clutter of work-in-progress, laptops open and running, a bicycle propped in the corner — but today when I approached and looked through the panel of glass, it was all in medias res. I checked my watch and saw I was neither early nor late. I opened the door and immediately felt like I was like entering a theater through the backstage. People streamed in after me, and gradually the room filled with students and a few adults. There were chairs arranged in a small arc facing a screen and, behind that, the whiteboards.

This was to be the final exam for “Physics: Waves, Light, Electricity, and Magnetism” at Thetford Academy, an elective open to juniors and seniors with strong backgrounds in mathematics; in place of straight rows and long faces, of test booklets and answer sheets, there would be an exhibition of five, semester-long projects. Last to enter the room was O., a 7th grader at the school, accompanied by J., his individual educator. When she had him positioned with a good view, she sat down immediately to his right. Continue reading

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