An Update

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.

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A visit to Thiruvannamalai

Towards the end of my trip I had the opportunity to travel southwest to the small city of Thiruvannamalai.  I hadn’t known much about it before I went and found it to be a really interesting place to visit. It was pretty busy, and boasts a large temple in it’s center.  Tourists also come from all over to visit the famous ashram, Sri Ramanashramam, there.  One of the reasons we went there was to check out a school located on the outskirts of Thiruvannamalai called, Marudam Farm School.  It’s an open concept school, and founded on the principles that the students guide their learning.

It takes about 5 hours to get there from Chennai, but you travel through some really interesting spaces.  Lots of history and old mountains.  Some forts and also some of the prettiest countryside you can see in this area.  There wasn’t a lot of traffic when we drove and it was a really pleasant journey.

If I had known about this place sooner I probably would have made an effort to spend more time there to really get to know it.  I loved the area, the energy and the people.  It seemed like a very laid back kind of place, with lots of chances to view extremely important historical sites.   If you look at a map, it’s just west of Puducherry, and really easy to get to.

Here are a few pictures of the area, I’ll post more about the school later:

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Starting the day off right with vada.

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Ruin near Gingee
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More around Gingee.
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Mountain formations older than the Himalayas.

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And, maybe a Jesus sighting….;-)

An arts camp, with the future in mind.

I took thousands of pictures while I was in India on the Fulbright. I carried my camera around with me wherever I went. The one time where I ran out of memory and battery power was the time I spent at the arts camp in Kuppam at the Agastya Foundation. I wanted to record everything I witnessed all the days I was there. The Kanavu Pattarai arts camp was something I wasn’t sure I was going to experience. Fortunately, I did. The experience was something that I will never forget.

This particular Kanavu Pattarai camp is supported by collaboration between the NalandaWay Foundation and the Agastya Foundation. NalandaWay provides the teachers, the curriculum, the resources, and Agastya Foundation provides the space. The camp pulls from near by towns. Both boys and girls, ages 13-16, attended this camp. It was not a residential experience but a day camp for 3 full days.

The first day students were introduced to each other and jumped right in on camp activities. The teachers organized the whole camp, and when there was some spots that needed an activity I filled in with yoga and a quick lesson in making origami cranes. I also participated in a trust exercise, which was really fun for all of us.

All the students were extremely excited to participate. They made a large amount of art in just three days, and presented on topics that were important to them and their school community. It just goes to show you, that when students are given a chance to perform, act, interact, create, make, design, and do—THEY WILL! Most of the students were really into the arts projects and produced a lot of amazing work together.

Collaboration is a big piece of the puzzle for this kind of camp, especially since the goal is to build a community of peers. One of the best parts of the camp for me was when the students were tasked with creating a group song. It was a huge challenge. Many students were very happy doing visual arts, or even making posters, and speaking. BUT singing? That was a big leap for some of them. Many of the students didn’t know what to do, or how they should attempt that particular task. However, there were a few girls who would not give up. While the group took a break from song writing, a couple of girls stayed back to finish the melody and lyrics. They were the only ones in the building, and I don’t think they were even aware that I was paying attention. What I saw was true collaboration, respect for one another, and the desire to come together to accomplish the task. These girls continued working on the song until everyone came back in the room. They shared their lyrics and taught the whole group of students the melody of the song. The other students were amazed, excited and couldn’t wait to be a part of the musical task once again.

As a group they practiced (led by the girls and a few other boys). The way the girls problem solved and helped their fellow peers was amazing. They reached out as a team to put something together that would bring a lot of joy to everyone in the whole entire room.

On a whole, this group exhibited a wide variety of talents and problem solving skills. I thought that this was a strength because they all had a particular way to exhibit that strength. It made the group of 30 kids extremely strong.   Students exhibited a lot of empathy and compassion for each other. Most times when one member of their group was having difficulty another would job in and say,” Maybe we try this?” The students always seemed like they were looking for ways to solve problems, think creatively, use the set limitations to their advantage, think outside the box to use limited art materials in a new way, and most importantly not give up on the project or each other. Only a few students really needed some extra help, but I think it was only because they had never had this much going on at once. Not much exposure to arts, not much exposure to group work and collaboration.

The Kanavu Pattarai camp is much more than a few days for kids to get away from school and have fun. This program is creating ways for kids to build their self-esteem, gain leaderships skills, practice problem solving, and be more self- aware. Without the arts, students are unable to see some the values that already exist within themselves. By providing arts camps, NalandaWay is essentially strengthening the school communities. The students who participate in these camps take everything back with them and share it at their school. They are able to talk about their experiences and show what they accomplished by participating in the camp.

 

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The camp space.
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Student receiving a welcome pin!

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Camp rules.
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Students creating their small group poster.
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Student beginning work on her self portrait with a tiny mirror.
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Decorative self portraits.  Using color and pattern as symbols.
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Students had a lot of discussions with each other for collaborative projects.

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Working on their community poster, discussing issues that are important to them and their community.

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Presenting their community posters to all the other groups.

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Me!  Teaching origami cranes, step by step.

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Uma and I on a tour around Agastya.
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All the camp goers and the teachers.
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The lovely girls who put the song together.
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Traveling to the camp spot.

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Shadow puppets to tell a story.
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Clay figures.

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Trust game– “Crazy taxi”.

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I was delighted to collaborate with NalandaWay on this program. I was able to expand the camp to five days, and add additional components like yoga and mindfulness. The more time we spend providing meaningful programs for youth to connect to each other and their own communities, the stronger we build the future for all of us.

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Kerala

The long awaited break came when a friend visited me from her teaching post in China.  She came to Chennai and then we took the bus to and from Pondicherry.  After that, we flew to Kerala.  We didn’t do the typical trip of going on a river house boat, or going down south.  We went for the cool air, the breeze, and to coexist with the beautiful green forest way up on the mountains.  There we took a few hikes, a yoga class, chatted, had a massage played games, and watched some cultural performances.  Maybe it was just what we needed to get a way from the hustle and bustle of the cities both of us had been living in.  One thing for sure, is that I want to get back to Kerala and experience all the other amazing historical offerings and more of the beautiful landscape that makes up this huge state.  The food was good, the people were welcoming, and the air was fresh.

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After we landed, it was quite  a journey to make it up the mountain.  We went from desert, through palms and into jungle.

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Masonry– everywhere.  There’s nothing like stacked stone walls.  I love the craftsmanship.
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I never was never tired of the tall palms.
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Finally up in tea and coffee farms!

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Our hotel villa had a lovely stained glass window that separated the sleeping area from the sitting area.
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High ceilings, a sitting area outside to hear the brook behind the property, and no air conditioning.  We actually didn’t need it.
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Bridges were everywhere on the property, taking us to meals, the pool, the game room and spa treatments.

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Tiled roofs of villas.  The traditional Kerala tile, which helps maintain a nice temperature for the whole place.
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An interesting abstracted map of Vythiri.
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Hello friend.  They were everywhere, more pictures to come showcasing the animals, flora and fauna.
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We were headed up there! Way up there, even beyond up there.
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A view from one of the 9 hairpin turns on the way up.  Can you see the elephant?
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Unfortunately with beauty comes waste.  Always a duality in this country.

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The Aura of Auroville

After my experience at Auroville the very first time, of course I told everyone about it. So when people came to visit me, I had to take them to at least see it.  So on the second and third trips I took my good camera and got some better shots that were closer to the Matrimandir.  Still think it’s one of those amazing experiences that will live with me forever.  I still can’t get over being inside the Matrimandir and how quiet it was inside.

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You take a little hike to get to the view point.  When it’s over 100 degrees, that can seem like an awful long walk.

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Charlene and I taking a selfie break.

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View point.
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In all it’s golden glory– some day it’s supposed to be surrounded by bodies of water, like moats.
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Parting peekabo  shot.

 

Reflection

Get ready for  series of reflections since I am back from India.  It was a big struggle to try and update while I was in India and now that I’ve been looking through thousands of pictures and organizing them into the weeks and months.  I realize that there is so much that I want to share.  Even though it will come from a different point of view, it still reflects the different things I learned, what was important to me then, and how I think about it now.

One of the best experiences I had in India was creating a workshop for the organization I was working with.  Each of the project managers presented me with what work they did and a few weeks later I prepared a full day of experiential learning activities and lectures to figure out ways we could collaborate on arts education programming for kids in India.

There was a lot of interest in what kinds of work I was doing in my own classroom in the United States and the goal for me was to expose them to art education theories, the use of mindfulness and yoga modules in the classroom, lesson planning, and a bit of about the importance of being a trauma informed educator.

One of my main goals for the day was just to get my coworkers to make art and become aware of the experience of making. I know all of the people in the organization are connected to the arts in some way, but I was curious about how often they immerse themselves in creating art.  I also felt that it was extremely important to let them be students and experience what it might feel like to be a student of art.

I decided to share a lesson that was open, expressive, and allowed for collaboration and exploration.  To facilitate those ideas, I decided to use music to direct the art making, and this is the result.

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I provided a wide variety of tools and media so the artists could choose the supplies they thought were appropriate for them.
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The result was a variety of symbols and objects that emerged from the interaction of the music, that conveyed a variety of moods and emotions from the artists.
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Many artists expressed a certain story and explained symbols contained in their work.
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The layers of tone and color mimic the layering of instruments in the music piece.
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A variety of textures in this piece.
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The pattern and color are bold over a background of light colors.
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This piece shows use of other paper, creating a truly mixed media piece with collage.
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A musical art composition.
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Sometimes a landscape emerges.
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Or a boat at sea.
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The group checking out the completed pieces.
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Artist at work.
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Creating texture with glue.
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The artists set up, ready to add more to their piece.
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The workshop space.
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Ready to go.
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Awesome ladies of NalandaWay.
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The workshop participants and co-workers.
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Ready to present, with electricity or not.

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Tuning in and out, and tuning back in.

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Empty seats, before I started a workshop for my host affiliate, NalandaWay.

I feel like I should apologize for the long absence.  I have been wanting to blog about my experiences more regularly but so much is going on that it’s hard to settle in and write.  I think that has been an ongoing battle for the entire time I’ve been here.  That, and trying to post with poor connection quality.  Posting, adding pictures, and videos has been quite a challenge.

I hope to maintain more of a balance for the next 2 months while I’m here, so I can share more of my experiences with you.

One of the goals of my Fulbright program is to create more lessons, curriculum and programming.  Not only for my host affiliate, but also for my own use.  I’m going to be spending the next few weeks focused more on what that looks like, and try to put it all together in more of a complete package.  A lot of people don’t really realize how much work goes into planning lessons that are well rounded.  Writing lessons that other people will understand and use effectively is actually really challenging.

One of the the things I hope to include in this package is identifying ways to include regional and local arts into the curriculum.  What I’ve been noticing in the school visits is that they WANT to include more arts programming, but are having a hard time fitting it into their curriculum.  I am hoping to make some short lessons that can be used anytime, across the curriculum.  It can be a challenge for teachers of other disciplines to buy into the importance of the arts, but if we figure out small ways to make learning more artful…then we got the hook.

I’m also creating some mindfulness exercises.  Short 15-30 minute mindful breaks that teachers and students can do together without any extra materials.  One of the biggest concerns here is testing pressure.  In fact, schools begin testing next month, and it lasts for about a month.  There is immense pressure on students to perform well so they can move on to the next standard (grade), and also pursue higher education.  They have pressure they put on themselves, peer pressure, teacher pressure, and maybe most importantly parental pressure.  Wouldn’t it be great to implement these activities to help students (and families) be more aware of their situations so they could act to change how they feel about their situation?  I think so.

So there is still a lot to do, in a very short amount of time.  So, I apologize for the delay in sharing the experiences I’ve had.  I will be taking time this weekend to share pictures and hopefully post more lessons that I’ve created since I’ve here.  When I first started this blog my goal was to post at least 5 times a week, but I just had to let that dream go.  My new goal– just try to create blog content that is meaningful and maybe sparks new ideas and generates conversation.

So don’t tune out, tune back in!  I’ll be here!  Keep checking back.

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Graffiti art in Pondicherry/Puducherry. This kid looks like he’s waiting, I hope you’ll wait while I figure out my blog posts.