Thursday, September 10, 2015

Returning to Ridge

By Brooke Giles
"There’s nothing more rewarding to me than to see the absolute joy a child gets from creating."
Two summers ago, I traveled to Ridge, Jamaica, to teach art at a summer literacy camp. Ridge is located in the mountains of Southwest Jamaica, many miles from the manicured resorts of Montego Bay and Negril. Brooke Riley started Friends of the Ridge United (“FOR U”) as a physical therapy outreach program for the rural poor. In 2007, FORU raised money to build a community center that
FORU Founder Brooke Riley
now houses various community programs, including a four-week summer literacy program for children of all ages. Since my first visit in 2012, the children of Ridge have remained an inspiration, and I hoped to have the opportunity to return.

This past spring, Robert Gray OPC '55 generously endowed the Gray Fund to facilitate professional development and summer opportunities for Penn Charter’s visual arts teachers. I proposed a two-week return trip to Jamaica to teach art and to facilitate the permanent integration of art into the curriculum. I saw my trip as an opportunity for me personally and for the entire Penn Charter community. The project reflects Penn Charter's mission of social justice and volunteerism by using our significant resources and expertise in service of those who lack similar opportunities. Through my trip I was able to spread enthusiasm for art, encourage creativity in children’s lives, and expand the role of art in the education system. With an emphasis on equality and social justice, my trip enabled the practical application of Quaker values and the Strategic Vision’s goal for deepening our identity and actions as a Friends school.

View to Ridge from car on hill
Thanks to the Gray Fund, I flew to Jamaica on July 11. As I departed, I was excited by the prospect of seeing the children I remembered so fondly - Dejanae, Romario, Ojay, Brandon - and many others who made the experience stay with me for years. I was also a little anxious. On my last visit, I was one of many volunteers from the states. This time I was on my own - the only non-local at the camp. Consistent with Brooke Riley’s goal of empowering the community to run the literacy camp without the need for volunteers, a local school teacher, Mrs. Salmon, had taken charge of the curriculum, teachers, and organization of the camp.

Seeing Brooke again at the airport was like being reunited with a sister whom I deeply admire and respect. We started our three-hour “drive” to Ridge (more of a “bump” really), winding along the coast, passing the beaches of Montego Bay, then the cliffs of Negril, weaving in and out of bustling towns like Alligator Pond, then finally climbing the hills to Ridge.

On Monday, I walked to the community center for my first day at the camp, it was as if I had never left. I remembered the cut-throughs, landmarks, and people along the way. When the community center came into view, I was overcome by a rush of excitement. It was full of activity: people gathered all around; children playing on the swings and basketball court; Mrs. Anna’s convenience shop was full.

Like most structures in this part of Jamaica, the community center is one-story, concrete, and built slightly into a hill. There are two classrooms and a kitchen in the main structure. Three additional open-air classrooms are attached to the outside walls of the building. Zinc roofs and tarps keep the sun and rain at bay.  

I spent the first day getting reacquainted with the camp, meeting the teachers and the children. I remembered roughly half of the staff and children from my last visit, and I was thrilled to find that most remembered me! Camp starts at 8:30 with a morning devotion, which begins with singing and ends with a prayer for the day. After devotion, the children and teachers break into groups. This year, there were 35 kids distributed among four levels. Level 1 was mostly five year olds (“the babies” as the Jamaican teachers call them). Levels 2-4 included children of various ages from 7-12, depending on their reading level. Mrs. Salmon scheduled me to work with the Level 1 class from 8:30 to break (snack time at 10), then with Levels 2-4 after break until dismissal (10:15-12:30 or when lunch is ready).

 Level 1, indoor classroom
Level 2, outdoor classroom

Left and above, Level 4 students making bracelets  

After the first day, Mrs. Salmon realized that the children wanted more art and she told me to ignore the schedule. She instructed me to give the children all the time they needed for their projects and to move freely between the classrooms. In the first few mornings, I arrived to a flood of questions from the kids and teachers: “What art are we making today?” “Will you come to my class first?”  I set a rotating schedule to determine my first class of the day and made sure that everyone got to try all of the projects.

Just like my last visit, the children's enthusiasm for art was insatiable. The education system in Ridge does not have room for individual attention or specials like art. The camp therefore offers a unique opportunity for the children to discover and learn.

I arrived with a suitcase full of supplies. My goal for the two weeks was to allow the children to explore, freely using the materials to express themselves. I tried to convey that there’s no right or wrong way to use the materials. The children were enthusiastic just to create!  

We did many projects throughout the two weeks, including both craft-oriented and fine arts projects. As for fine arts, I focused on material exploration, introducing simple techniques along the way. We discussed color theory and explored complimentary and contrasting colors. I worked with the older students on shading, shadows, and highlights with color pencils. Working with beads, I integrated color theory and patterns when making necklaces and bracelets. In printmaking, we identified the applicable tools, and discussed relief, line, and texture.

The children enjoyed the crafts most of all. They enjoyed creating art to hang on their walls, but were particularly enthusiastic about making things to wear or play with. Masks and beading were by far the most popular projects. Watercolor on pre-cut diffusing paper and printmaking were a close second.

Level 1 students making printing plates and working with watercolor

Level 2 and 3 students printmaking and decorating masks

The children were so proud of the projects they created. The teachers filled the classrooms with their work. The children wore their masks they created to school days after. When the camp day ended, I frequently would gather with students outside to create more. Either completing a project, trying something again, or learning something new such as photography. Their enthusiasm did not stop with the end of the school day. Their enthusiasm is a gift. It stays with me, fueling my passion for teaching art in Jamaica and at Penn Charter. There’s nothing more rewarding to me than to see the absolute joy a child gets from creating.

Two weeks never seems to be enough. Next year I hope return to the community center to continue to work with Mrs. Salmon and the teachers of Ridge to further integrate art in their summer curriculum. Back at home, my photographs from my most recent visit and my memories of the children will inspire me throughout this next year at Penn Charter. Until then my task is to think of exciting projects for the future, and more importantly, to raise awareness about education in Jamaica and to share with the Penn Charter community the struggles and successes of the students and teachers at the FORU summer literacy camp.

Students and teachers

Below, Brooke Giles, third from left with coworkers and friends at FORU: Larry, Bre, Brooke Giles, Brooke Riley, Sanjay, Mitsey, Peter. Larry and Brooke are two of the three physical therapists who work full time in Jamaica. Bre is a community member. Peter, Mitsey, and Sanjay were Brooke's host family during both her trips to Jamaica.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

IdeaLab: More than a Makerspace

Sheila Ruen, chair of Visual Arts and Design, our colleagues and I are excited to introduce the IdeaLab, a large and broadly equipped space designed to support both current curricula and ongoing innovation for Penn Charter students. 

This new space, shown in renderings above and below, is the newest addition to PC's current lab spaces and activity dedicated to creative, innovative, project-based learning across all divisions and disciplines. That existing network includes the woodshop in the Lower School building, science labs and art studios throughout each school house, the outdoor learning spaces, including Chigwell Close, and the music lab in the Kurtz Center.

This new space will support Penn Charter's Strategic Vision by helping students develop three core competencies -- creation, communication and collaboration. Each of these competencies will have a dedicated area in the IdeaLab: a maker lab, a media lab, and a creative lab

The MakerLab is a workshop and workspace for students to create with both traditional tools and materials and new technologies, including 3D printers, laser cutters and electronics. The MediaLab is a studio for students to create and document their projects with digital and analog storytelling and portfolios. The CreativeLab connects these two work areas with communal tables for discussion, problem solving, and critique. 

IdeaLab, which will be in the lower level of the Middle School, will open this fall. More soon! 

-- Corey Kilbane, Upper School Science & Advisor for Science and Maker Clubs

Corey Kilbane teaches chemistry in Penn Charter's Upper School.