I was asked to write a little update:
The Fulbright DAT experience has remained with me every single day, even one full year later. In January 2016, I traveled to Chennai, India to research and work with an arts education non-profit organization called NalandaWay. Through that experience I was able to investigate the challenges of bringing art education to marginalized youth in urban and rural settings throughout the state of Tamil Nadu. By visiting schools, making presentations, providing workshops, and attending arts and yoga related courses I was able to gain a perspective of how rich and integrated art is within the culture and community, but often missing in poorer schools.
One of the most memorable experiences I had with NalandaWay was visiting an arts camp they facilitated in a beautiful rural area on the border of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. A group of 30 students came from a local school in an effort to build leadership skills through collaboration projects based in art. Although I was primarily there as an observer, I was given the opportunity to lead and facilitate several group art activities and teach yoga as a transition activity. This was an exciting moment for me because I was able to connect with the students in a different way and they no longer saw me as a visitor or an observer, but someone who was there to be a part of the experience and learn from them as well.
After the arts camp experience, I met with my adviser and we talked about the lessons I taught at the camp. She was interested in learning more about my teaching philosophy and the other lessons I developed in my school back in the United States. I shared and adapted more of my curriculum so NalandaWay could use the lessons in their own context. This type of dialogue and collaboration spawned many ideas of how to implement art into schools in a much deeper way. My adviser was encouraged by my work and thought the curriculum I created was relevant and consistent with the mission and vision of the organization. At that point, she and the director approached me to create additional curriculum and offered me a consulting position to continue to work with NalandaWay after I returned home. Over the next 6 months I worked with NalandaWay to create an integrated arts curriculum for the elementary school based in science, social studies, math, and reading activities. Currently, they are piloting the lessons and training classroom teachers to use the lessons in class to augment their daily curriculum.
One of the other great experiences I had in India was attending the Fulbright Conference in Jaipur, India. All Fulbright scholars from Southeast Asia came together to share their work, and I was fortunate to be on a panel of educators. On that panel I met others interested in my work and connected with Deepa Srikantaiah, who was studying the intersection of math and arts education for marginalized youth in Bangalore, India. We discovered we both had a strong passion for arts education integration, mindfulness practices, and also lived in the DC metro area. We decided that we would plan to meet up after we completed our respective Fulbright programs. Since our first meeting back in the States, we’ve been working to create an arts startup that uses art as a conduit to improve math learning and motivation for marginalized children. We recently added a third member to our group, and we are now in the planning stages of returning to India in January of 2018 to work with Parikrma School in Bangalore. We will provide a week long workshop and art exhibition for 7th and 8th graders from that school.
When I started out on this journey I had no idea how great of an impact this experience would have on my own life and I feel that I’ve come away with a new definition for what it means to be a global citizen. I’ve felt extremely fortunate to grow personally by taking on new experiences and challenges while living in India. More importantly, I was able to find ways to collaborate with others and share ideas to forge personal and professional relationships that continued even after the Fulbright experience ended. It is these continued relationships that have developed into deeper connections and meaningful opportunities that allow the world to be a little smaller.