In Hillsboro this fall, clay became a powerful medium for students at the multilingual Lincoln Street Elementary School to not only approach writing from a new perspective, but also to examine the complex subjects of culture and community. Right Brain teaching artist Beth Rogers Bundy connected with all K-4th grade students in the building to explore what culture means to them.
Before entering the classrooms, Beth met with the school’s teachers after school to talk about how culture could be explored with students using observation, drawing and writing. They made a plan in which all students could work together on a single project that would build a sense of unity.
When Beth visited classrooms in the following days, she engaged every class to work together to brainstorm what exactly constitutes culture. They made a “mind map” asking questions like, “How might one culture differ from another? and, How does culture show itself in daily life?”
Classes took time to carefully observe historical art from various cultures, describing and then posing questions about the art pieces, endeavoring to understand what they could about the cultures represented.
They then examined questions like, “How can we learn about other cultures?” and “Are all assumptions about a culture correct?”
Students drew self-portraits in response to the prompt: “What do you identify with in your own culture?” They thought about symbols of their everyday culture that were important to them, and then made a plan to symbolically portray something about their own culture through a tiny clay figure of themselves. Beth said that some of the most inspiring conversations about culture came around the holidays celebrated and the activities in which their families participated. Cultural symbols were represented visually through clothing, hairstyles, family culture and more. Through this process, students learned how their cultures made them unique people in the world.
Students then affixed their figurines onto large letters that spell out the school name, which is now being bisque fired. Later, the letters will be glazed and fired, and displayed prominently in the school for years to come.
At a family night planned for January, the students’ parents, guardians, siblings will complete the process. Students will be able to show and explain their own and other classmates’ figures to their families, demonstrating how many distinct cultures in a diverse student body create a complete school community.