The Learner Project: A Student Art Exhibit

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What does it mean to be a learner? On May 15, in ED’s headquarters auditorium, student groups from both coasts explored this question. Students from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles (SVAH) and the Elevated Thought Foundation (ETF), a nonprofit student arts and social justice foundation that worked with students in Lawrence, Mass., collaborated to open the Department’s current student art exhibit, featuring 63 works of SVAH on the themes of learning, symbolic portraiture, knowledge, and art and technology.

A dozen students from SVAH and six from ETF, all with funding from their communities, served on a panel to discuss the power of education and of their voices in it, and to reveal what facilitates and hinders their learning. Students most often mentioned that the influence of the arts throughout their curriculum and access to teachers who cared about and guided them throughout the college application process significantly benefited their learning.  The most-cited learning roadblocks were the lack of teacher and administrator support, and lower education funding for students of color, and low-income and first-generation students. The audience received valuable insights on how our education system could better serve all U.S. students, including those who are undocumented.

A collaborative poem the ETF students wrote got at the social justice issue: “Is education based on your ethnicity or the amount of money you have in your pockets? We are the shadows you see on the pavement filling in the cracks seeking light.” Echoing this analysis, an SVAH student stepped up to say “Learning is teamwork, not solo work. No one person is better than all of us together. We all have to work together to better our world.”

Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach Massie Ritsch reminded everyone of Secretary Arne Duncan’s views on the arts in education: “All students—100 percent—should have access to arts instruction.  All children should have arts-rich schools.”

Ritsch also mentioned the importance of the Department’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAF) to the exhibit. Linda Yaron, SVAH teacher and 2010 TAF, initiated the exhibit during her time at ED, and current TAF Emily Davis recommended including ETF.  Serendipitously, both groups of students were tackling the same questions about learning and using education to make a better world.

Yaron, ETF Co-founder and President Marquis Victor, and SVAH Principal Eftihia Danellis provided additional remarks highlighting the importance of the arts in a well-rounded education.

An excerpt of Yaron’s reflections on the event is below.

A Teacher’s Voice: Creating Authentic Learning Experiences for Students, by Linda Yaron

Before the plane ride back to L.A., the fifteen of us circled around and said one word that captured how we felt about our trip.  Many students chose the word “blessed,” yet it was I who felt blessed to be a part of their experience.

We had just presented an art exhibit at the U.S. Department of Education on the importance of the arts and student voice as vehicles for education reform. Students … wrote learner statements that they made into a blog and book, created artwork that captured their ideas about education, and did other tasks that encouraged their … voice in education.

… Later on in a discussion with Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle, students expressed both hope and determination to go to college, as well as the fear of being among a small percentage of minorities at their future colleges.

Our art teacher, Eric Garcia, grappled to find the word to capture his thoughts about the trip.  He said that the picture that was imprinted in his mind was when during the presentation our student Maricruz had difficulty finding her words to express the challenges of being an undocumented student. Her classmate Juan reached over to soothe her and hold her hand. All at once, many of us told him the word: Family.”

View photos from the event.

All photos are by Diana Schneider.

Nicole Carinci is a management and program analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public place that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at 202-401-0762 or at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov

ED’s Second Annual Jazz Informance Celebrating America’s Music and Values

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As part of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), the Department hosted its second annual jazz informance (an informational performance) on April 4th with a full house of D.C. public charter school students, educators, arts leaders, and ED staff—jazz lovers and jazz novices alike. Under the direction of J.B. Dyas, vice president for education and curriculum development at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, students from Arts High School in Newark, N.J., part of the National Performing Arts High School Jazz Program, and special guest recording artist, trumpeter Terell Stafford, director of Jazz Studies and chair of Instrumental Studies at Temple University, performed during the event.

ED’s acting General Counsel Phil Rosenfelt gave opening remarks on how the Department’s inaugural Monk informance in 2013 broadened his musical horizons and finally allowed him to appreciate jazz—something that had eluded him his entire life. “I saw the individuality and the unity, working together, in innovative ways, to address a common goal. I finally got it. And it was special that I got it at the Department where we value learning so much—breaking out of our barriers and stereotypes and comfort zones … and that’s what jazz and the Department are all about,” said Rosenfelt.

In the informational portion of the event, Dyas explained that jazz was born in America and is, “America’s greatest artistic gift to the world,” enjoyed by people of every ethnicity on every continent. He described the improvisational process—90 percent of every jazz performance—as a conversation, both among the musicians and between the musicians and the audience, using music instead of words. Dyas later asked the musicians to illustrate this conversation as they “talked” to one another with their instruments.

As Dyas said, jazz represents important values that students need to learn, such as “teamwork and unity with ethnic diversity.” Students from the Monk jazz program, in a recorded video, spoke of the many positive qualities they have learned through playing jazz.  Among them are:

  • A sense of responsibility within a group
  • Drive to become a better musician
  • Ambition to pursue music education in college
  • Greater knowledge of other cultures
  • Collaboration

The Arts High Jazz Quartet comprising Rahsaan Pickett on guitar, Galo Inga on piano, Joseph Quiles on bass, and Derek Fykes on drums, joined by Stafford, played an up-tempo selection of tunes.  These included Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island, Dexterity by Charlie Parker, and Ask Me Now by Thelonious Monk. The playing was lively and nicely balanced, while solo breaks gave each performer a chance to shine.  The performers created a textural, musical journey with variances in speed, tempo and rhythm over a sustained steady flow.

After the informance, the student performers answered questions from the students in the audience, including, “Why did you start playing music?” Fykes’ answer: “It’s something I love. It has to be a passion.” And, “How much do you practice?” Answer: Several hours daily, including doing a lot of listening.

All in attendance thoroughly appreciated hearing such great music and learning how it is performed, as evidenced by the frequent toe-tapping and spontaneous applause!  And another jazz convert was born.

Sarah Sisaye of OESE wrote: “Before today, I wasn’t too crazy about jazz. I grew up listening to it, but having played the flute for 9 years, I am more comfortable with classical music. However, the performance/lecture today, made it very accessible. I will definitely be listening to more jazz! I even won a poster [of John Coltrane] and was able to get all the musicians to sign it—I’ll be hanging that on my wall!”

For more about the Department’s involvement with JAM, click here.

View photos from the event.

Nicole Carinci is a management and program analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach