Because we love each other

It’s hard to believe that I have not posted since November!
It’s not for lack of work. It’s because the projects, the creativity, the trips, the collaborations, have been expansive and mindblowing.
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So much good stuff, that I have no idea how to edit down the myriad experiences and post!
Not a bad problem to have.

Instead, I am posting the last 2 days in the Studio/Atelier.
I provoked conversation with every small group (PK3, PreK4, and Kindergarten) using the same exact question:
Who does Washington DC belong to?
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Each group, at each specific developmental range showed great thought, engagement, and care.
Through small groups, trusted relationships, and the SWS Reggio-inspired environment, the children have all learned how to engage in conversation. Even at age 3!
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School Within School is a part of a year long research project (with 9 other DC private and public schools) out of Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero. The DC city-wide project is titled, Children are Washington DC Citizens. 
I sent the documentation of these conversations to the project researchers and facilitators, Ban Mardel and Mara Krachevsky. Ben emailed me this morning: 

Marla,
I read the conversations and then shared them with my family, who of course, thought they were fantastic. 
Confirmation that we all do have something to learn from young children. 
Ben

I hope you will take the time to read the following conversations.
They are best viewed if you zoom in to 150-200 percent. (Sorry I crammed everything in a little tight)
The progression is Kindergarten, then PreK4, and then PreK3. They are best when read aloud.
Let me know what you hear, what you think, and what you wonder in the comment section below. Let’s extend these conversations…

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Kindergarten Conversations
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PreK 4 Conversations
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PreK 3 Conversations
Slide14Slide15Slide16Slide17Even after 20 years of doing this work with such young humans, or perhaps because of 20 years doing this work, I am both enthralled and humbled by the power of their reflection, connection, and expression. This work offers educators and parents an opportunity to see/hear the mindfulness of young children. 

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I will spend time with the childrens’ thoughts and images. I will formulate more questions and interpretations. It (the documentation) is an opportunity to see the child individually and as part of a group/community. It is teacher research. It is progressive education. It is, as Emerson says, because we love each other.

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The Children Got the Closest.

There is a symbiotic relationship I have with my profession/s. Artist and Atelierista.
When I am both teaching and creating art I am immersed in and blessed with: aha moments of discovery, the anxiousness of the unknown, the struggle and challenges of making ideas into something visible, the struggle and challenges of materials, tools, and media, limitations of time, deep thought, play, experimentation, expanses of altered time, introspection, reflection, conversation, mistakes, mistakes that are paradigm shifting, collaboration, the feelings of exhilaration and fear within expression.

I start this blog off with these thoughts because, the children conceptualized, experienced, and sketched the music of Bach played live by Joshua Bell on a Stradivarius Violin in Union Station surrounded by a gazillion people, and it is breathtaking. Every part of this experience is breathtaking.

This is Liam’s sketches while listening to Joshua Bell perform live at Union Station.
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This year, the Kindergarten classes are engaged in a year-long exploration and encounter with Union Station, located about 8 blocks from School.
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The poetry of these pictures illustrate the connections, interactions, observations, and encounters that the Kindergarten Citizens experienced in the last few months. In and out of Union Station, the immersion, awe, and thinking is evident in the Historic gem of a building, teaming with humanity. The children’s presence seamlessly adds to the hustle and bustle as they sprawled and pointed and pondered.

But wait, this blog post is about the children’s conceptualization and making visible the music of Joshua Bell.

Perhaps you have seen the viral video clip  of Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars  at a subway station in Wash DC. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play, including a 3-year old boy, and only one person recognized him.

So imagine my excitement when a week after taking the Kindergarten children on another excursion to Union Station I saw this headline in the Washington Post: 

Joshua Bell to play again in DC after 2007 stunt

By – Associated Press – Tuesday, September 23, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) – Joshua Bell wants a do-over in Washington.

The Grammy-winning violinist played for change in a D.C. Metro station in 2007 during an experiment with The Washington Post, and almost no one paid attention. It made for a good magazine story that won the Pulitzer Prize. But Bell hasn’t been able to live it down after seven years.

Now, Bell tells the Post (http://wapo.st/ZGRQRm ) he is planning another public performance in the main hall at Washington’s Union Station. And he hopes to have an audience this time. The performance is set for Sept. 30 at 12:30 p.m.

I love my colleagues at SWS! When I squeeled that we HAD to take the kids in just 3 days, both Kindergarten Teachers, Margaret Ricks and Laura McCarthy took a breath and made this last minute hustle with chaperones and schedule changes a reality.

But first: I showed the kids the above video about all the grown ups who walked by a world class violinist, because he looked like just some guy in jeans and a baseball cap. Here’s their faces as they watched:
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They were flabbergasted. 
Parent, Emily Greif told me there was a childrens book made about what happened, and how it was the child who heard and wanted to stop to hear the music, but the Mom was too much in a hurry. The child noticed.
She lent us the book. Here’s a short trailer about it: The Man with the Violin

The children wanted to hear the book again and again. The day before the Joshua Bell concert, the children would yell out as they passed me, “We’re going to Joshua Bell tomorrow!”

The day of, many parents in excitement pulled up some Joshua Bell music for their children to listen to. Even before the concert, children were doing this at home:
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Finally the day arrived.
The kids had to eat quickly and then walk briskly to Union Station. Spirits were high. They sang as they walked. And then we arrived.
You cannot imagine the adult crowd. Almost 45 minutes before start time and it was packed!
Being a short person who can readily scoot to the front, I attempted to part the crowds like Moses, shouting out, “Please make way for the 5 year olds! Excuse me can I lead these children through so they can see?” I was almost to the inner circle just one row of people to go, I had 40 5 year olds and a dozen adults protecting them from the throngs. And then a voice rang out. “It’s first come first serve and we were here first. We are not moving!!!”
“Can they please just scoot in front of you and sit? The adults will stand back.”
“We were here first!!!”

And so I signaled, to go back the other way. 
As the crowd capacity grew I finally said, “Everyone sit! We are claiming our ground!”
The adults encircled the children with love and passed out the sketchbooks.
It was loud and chaotic.
And then something completely magical happened…
IMG_4650IMG_4675First, they started sketching the noise and the crowd.
IMG_5316Lily’s diagram or map of the concert.

IMG_4671photo 2 (2)And then the second magical thing happened. The music started. And the din of the crowd silenced. The haunting and soaring, the joyful and the somber sounds of Bach surrounded us all. And this is what I witnessed:
IMG_5335Sasha F.’s sketch

Edwin’s sketch (below)

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Bryce
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Auden
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Apolena
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Milena’s sketch
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Please watch this brief video clip of what is was like there, in the moment these images were taken. The magic of making sound visible.

The experience was seemingly spiritual, as the sounds and the sketching melted away the sea of adult legs pressing in on and around the children. Their being, their presence as participants in this historic moment solidified and confirmed their citizenship. In fact their sense of noticing and hearing surpassed the majority of the crowd of almost 1,500 who were  jostling to get closer and closer and closer. In fact, the children managed to get the closest…inside, in their hearts and souls.

The newspapers gave great reviews to the event, but I wanted Joshua Bell to know about these small folks and their experience with his music. I sent Joshua Bell’s “people” an email with some photos of the children and their sketches of his music.

A week later I received this response, and a package in the mail.
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Dear Marla,

Thank you so very much for your email to the Joshua Bell team. I am based in Los Angeles and just returned today.

I found the children’s drawings quite fantastic and thank you for sending them along. How lucky they are to have you as their teacher,  someone who thinks “out of the box” and knows a good teaching moment when there is one.

I’d very much like to send you the new Bach CD for the children to listen to and an autographed photo of Joshua if you will kindly provide me with your mailing address.

 With sincere thanks and best wishes,

 Jane
Jane Covner

Press Representative / JAG Entertainment

4265 Hazeltine Ave. / Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

jcovner@jagpr.com

 “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,

flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” …Plato

Her response moved me. She also validated the depth of young children and the importance and beauty of their collective voice.

The very first time I handed out the Union Station Sketchbooks,
“real artist sketchbooks” to the children,
and the first time the children sketched into them
at Union Station, Mason Grace turned to me and said;
“This journal is like a bible.”

And I say to that, Amen.
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Some of the Ordinary Things

Last summer at this time, I was in Peru. This summer, I am home. What I decided to do was to name this summer “The Make Sacred the Ordinary Summer.”

 

So let me tell you about some of the ordinary things:

 

I attended a wedding in Boston and danced with my husband, daughter and friends until my feet hurt.

I read.

I walked and played with my dog more.

I visited museums.

(Chihuly Exhibit, MFA Boston)

I took a course. It was an intensive Photoshop Lab, every day for a week. The first day the teacher spoke for 41/2 hours while he did photoshop and we watched. Did I mention he was also gulping Red Bull, going off on tangents of the personal nature? He was annoyed with and quite frankly mean to anyone who questioned him. There was not a minute of the class when he was not talking.

By day two, the class went from thirteen to eight (“I am not going to pay to be abused”, the photo editor sitting next to me said, she did not return.)

I walked in on the second day and said to the teacher  “___________, let me share how I learn with you. Yesterday, watching you do photoshop for 4 ½ hours did not work for me. In fact, I retained very little. Today, I brought my laptop and will be using it while you talk.”

I continued to advocate for myself and do what I needed to do to be successful.  I also asked my son and sister to explain a few concepts so I could better understand the process. Here are some of my creations from the week.

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows, 2011”

 

(“Ojos de Dios”, 2011)

While I was successful, the class was not comfortable or conducive to learning. If I was not an adult, in an adult class, I would not had the power to direct my own learning. This experience reinforced my belief in hands on learning, facilitating learning and creating the space for both exploration and silence while learning.

This summer I also returned to my childhood hometown of Rochester NY for my 30th High School reunion. My family left in the 1980’s, so it had been a long time since I had been there. Besides the joy of reconnecting with old friends, I was interested in what memories came back. My best friend’s home, where her Dad still lives made me cry.

The kitchen, especially that blue green color of the counters, the smell of coffee, remembering her cat, and songs, and tiny nooks and crannies, a painting, the African violets, the swinging chair on the porch…so very rich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(That’s my dear friend Tina in front of her  childhood home, and with her sister Dee in the wonderful kitchen of some of my fondest memories.)

A sense of place holds so many fragments of sound, smell, touch, sight. These sensory fragments or memories make up the stories of life.

In my studio/atelier at SWS, kids often return as teenagers and college students. They also remember the small things that make a space more than a room. It is the reason that the Reggio belief exists that the environment is the third teacher. I was reminded of the importance of small touches.

 

I spent a lot of time with my college age son.

Yes, some of it was guiding him through the (often) frustrating necessities of organizing and functioning as an adult, but it also was filled with baking at 10pm because we craved something sweet.

Or sometimes it was watching old sitcoms off the computer on the sofa until I fell asleep. It wasn’t exciting, but I recognize that there’s a good chance we won’t have a whole summer of hanging out in nothingness again. I think for the first time in a long time, there really was a feeling of being present. And it felt good.

(small place in my garden)

As I return to the frenzy of school, I hope I am able to sustain great moments of being in the present, as a gift to my students and myself.

 

I returned to a center for incarcerated youth, to teach two more art workshops. What did I learn? Notice? Feel?

Children will go to great lengths to be seen and be heard, even if it is in horrible ways. Undiagnosed and ignored silent disabilities and family crisis create failure. Survival is a complex thing. In a group of 12, the boys had a pack mentality that was both predictable and sad. The girl’s group of seven showed amazing compassion for each other in between the stories of bravado (often  inappropriate and tragic) born out of despair and bad choices.

Surprises…there was some beauty created out of clay. Whenever I offered help or some extra attention with the project, it was welcomed and appreciated. While language and topic was often out of control, I was always spoken to with politeness and care.

Facilities are a desperate and depressing environment for adolescents. It is essential to recognize children and families in crisis when they are very young, and support interventions and adaptations as much as possible so places like this do not have a population to fill it up. I can only hope that some of these youth find a way out of the path they are on.

The boy who would not touch the clay, but asked for pictures of wings to keep (a few weeks ago), ended up in my first group. He immediately came up to me and said, “Thank you for those drawings you gave me last time.”

 

Sometimes all you have is a wing and a prayer.

(detail, Wing and a Prayer, 2010)

I still have a few more weeks of ordinary. An Uncle’s 80th birthday party in NY, a cousin’s 30th. Lunch and shopping with my Mom. Full days creating in my own studio,

(in process, Blue Bottle Saints-Syncretism, 2011)

and moving my two children to two different cities. Marching in a rally to Save Our Schools. Keeping the flowers from dying on 100 degree days

and clocking in 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night.

(“Exit Peru”, 2011)

 

It might not be Machu Pichu, but it sure feels sacred.

(my home)

Truth found

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Last Wednesday morning, I was walking my dog. It was 6:30 am, and it was garbage day in my neighborhood. As I went up the street, lo and behold, someone had thrown out an enormous mirrored disco ball. I went over to it, heart pounding and examined it. A few mirrors missing and a small dent. But it was too big to carry and walk my dog. So my poor dog was dragged through his walk, so I could get home and drive to the mirrored sphere and put it in my trunk.alone

When I got to work, I decided to place it on the floor of the studio and turn on one of the overhead projectors to shine on it.

This was to be a pure provocation.

No announcements of it’s arrival or declaration as to what one could do with it. I sat back and watched.

I watched joy and discovery, quiet flickers of  solo encounters

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and group interactions that danced, shouted and whispered.

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I watched mystery and suspense.

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I watched poetry.

A moment.

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Many moments. fairies

And still, I watch.ruby

It is fascinating and engaging for both the children and myself.

So as we ponder what is educational, what is creative, what is important, what is hands on, what is intuitive, what is learned, what is science, what is thinking, what is collaborative and what is reflective…let us remember the possibilities of this encounter.

“Light is the symbol of truth.”
James Russell Lowell

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