Friday, September 24, 2010

Avoid the Danger Zone to Protect Our Future!

Robert Puschantz, age 17 (After School Matters - Chicago, IL)
What are the most dangerous hours of the day for school age children?   Are they in the early morning as they walking to school or wait for the bus?   Are they during the late night when criminals lurk in the dark?   Do you think they are during the school day when bullies seek out their unsuspecting prey? They are none of these.  The hours of 3 pm to 6pm are the most dangerous hours for kids in grades K-12.   It is during these hours when more children become involved in dangerous activities and risky behavior.  

During this brief three hour period children are most likely to experiment with drugs and sex.   Why?   According to the 2009 America After 3PM survey sponsored by JCPenney Afterschool for the Afterschool Alliance, Illinois has 641,975 K-12 children responsible for caring for themselves after school.  It's only natural that unsupervised, adventuresome children would participate in activities that responsible adults would never allow.

McCormick Boys & Girls Club Science Club members

The Afterschool Alliance is a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization working to
ensure that all children have access to quality afterschool programs.  As our nation and state faces the devastating effects of a declining economy, many afterschool programs have been negatively impacted.  Funding has been slashed, offerings have been reduced, and unfortunately some programs have even been eliminated.  The America After 3PM survey discovered that in Illinois 845,397 children would participate in afterschool programs if they were available in the community.  Parents stated that the largest  barriers to their children's participation in afterschool programs are cost, lack of quality programs, and  lack of safe transportation.

Michael Caldwell, 16 (After School Matters - Chicago, IL)
As we deal with such pressing issues facing our youth as escalating violence, dismal graduation rates, and poor health, we must recognize the success of afterschool programs in addressing these concerns.  Afterschool programs allow children to develop character and life skills, explore their interests, and foster caring relationships with peers and adults.  After school hours provide academic enrichment, participation in the arts, and goal setting.  The largest providers of these programs in Illinois are public schools.   However, religious organizations, private schools, city initiatives, and Boys & Girls Clubs also play an important role in providing these opportunities for youth after school.

We must do our part to support and promote quality afterschool programs in our communities.  Be an advocate for these programs.   You can sign a petition showing your support by visiting the Afterschool Alliance.  While visiting the site be sure to check out the Advocate Newsletter tab for news on current issues and political developments.  Participate in the 11th annual Lights On Afterschool Rally on October 21st, when over 1 million Americans rally for afterschool programs.  Lights On Afterschool will consist of thousands of events nationwide.  Attend an event in your community to show your support.   

Our youth are depending on us.  Our deeds must be in line with our words.  If we say our future depends on our youth, we must provide them with all the tools necessary for success.   School hours alone are not enough to adequately prepare our youth in grades K-12.  If you don't believe me, listen to the voices of our youth in this video produced by What Kids Can Do. Then vow to make a difference.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Must Survival Overshadow Passion?

Many of us operate daily in survival mode.  We are in an endless cycle of sleep and work.   We sleep to re-energize ourselves for more work.  Why do we work so hard?  It's simple. We must pay the bills providing shelter, food, and clothing for ourselves and our families.   Many people are living a life of survival - not a life of opportunity.   When we live a life of opportunity we allow our passions to guide our experiences.  We must still meet the primary needs of shelter, food, and clothing, but we do it in a way that supports growth. 

Self-Portrait, R. Lindsey, 2010
Have you ever seen a plant in the home of a person who doesn't have a green thumb? The plant starts out strong and robust. After a couple of days of inadequate care it becomes limp. It enters a phase of survival. Its appearance is wilted and pathetic. Then an amateur botanist visits the home. He begins to give the plant proper attention - watering , feeding and nurturing it. The plant's owner begins to follow the botanist's prescription for rejuvenation. Soon the plant rebounds. It's stem stands straight. The leaves unfurl. It regains a rich emerald green luster. The plant is now flourishing.  We are like the dying plant when our passions do not guide our experiences.

Oil Pastel Still Life, R. Lindsey, 2010
Life's transitions often force us to acknowledge a life lived in survival mode.  When we awaken to this reality, we must prescribe a prescription for rejuvenation. My personal prescription was feeding my art appetite. I feasted on works of art at Chicago's summer arts festivals.  The 57th Street Art Fair in Hyde Park and the Gold Coast Art Fair in Grant Park where my favorites. I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum with members of Studio Art Quilt Associates. I attended art classes at Lill Street Art Center on Chicago's north side where various artists shared their talents to nourish my inner artist.  Camille Canales introduced me to screen printing on fabric, Akemi Nakano Cohn showed me the Japanese art of Arashi Shibori, and Patrick Miceli used mixed media to reveal my talents as a still life artist. I'm currently participating in a mosaic apprenticeship at Songhay Studios Group where I'm learning the art of mural mosaics.  Following my passion has made my life enjoyable in a time or uncertainty.

Survival does not have to overshadow passion.  Passion opens doors of opportunity leading to prosperity.  Don't let survival overshadow your passion. What steps are you taking to follow your passion?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Metamorphosis of an Educator

I am a butterfly emerging from her cocoon.  My life has been preparation for this point in my life.  Anyone who has spent time with me knows that God has blessed me with a creative spirit.  Since my youth I have been deeply mesmerized by the visual arts.  I would make collages out of beans for Christmas gifts.  Paper and old magazines were intricately cut to make elaborate wall art which I also gave away.  But Mama's sewing machine was most intriguing.  She taught me to use it.  I tried making clothes, but there were too many rules.  One day I saw a Kokopelli wall hanging in a craft magazine.  I followed the pattern and fell in love with art quilts.  I began sewing decorations for my dorm room and college apartment.  I gave mini-art quilts as gifts to friends. 

Ayo & Adisa, Ramona Dallum Lindsey, 1995
Then I discovered fabric sculpture.   While working as an assistant retail bank manager for PNC Bank, one of my favorite customers was a doll collector who owned a retail doll business.  One day she saw a picture of one of my fabric sculptures.   As fate would have it, she sold two of my art pieces.  This was the beginning and end of my career as a fabric artist.

A corporate career left me feeling empty, so I started a more soul-fulfilling career as a public school teacher.  My artistic endeavors were pushed to the end of my priority list.  However, I continuously infused my lessons with art.  These were the lessons that brought me my greatest joy.   They were also the lessons I found my students eagerly awaiting.   One of the least fulfilling years of my 12 year career was teaching sixth grade math, because  I couldn't consistently weave art into math. My creativity was stifled.

For many reasons, my first year teaching in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) was undoubtedly the most challenging year of my educational career.  However, it became most challenging during the final months of school when rumors began circulating that 1,200 teachers would be laid-off.   I came to education from the corporate sector.  I knew well the old adage, "Last one in, first one fired."  I have an undergraduate degree in business administration.  I understand the strategy of cost-cutting to impact the bottom line, but I had never been considered the expendable one. 

ISAT testing had ended and it seemed to me that we were all barely holding it together waiting for the end of the year. My way of coping was to resort to my passion - fabric art. Nightly, I heard news reports of Chicago's youngest citizens being gunned down in the city's streets.  If the reports troubled me, I knew they were definitely on the minds of my students.   I gave my students the opportunity to write about their pain through poetry and taught them to illustrate their words using art quilts.  Two amazing quilts resulted from this effort.  They are the impetus for a movement  using quilting to raise awareness of the impact of violence and create a dialogue pushing for peace in our city.

In late August, CPS sent my pink slip.  I am a budget cutting causality.   I don't know if I will ever return to the classroom as a full-time, jack-of-all-things elementary teacher.  But I do know that my art will no longer take last place.  Today, I am a self-proclaimed artist educator.  I have metamorphosed into my true self.  My newly formed wings are taking shape to lift me to unimaginable heights.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mighty Oak and Mighty Kids

The Illinois state tree is the White Oak. White oak trees are plants germinated from a single acorn seed. It is a sturdy tree with sprawling branches providing ample amounts of shade. Scientists classify white oak trees as living organisms because they need energy, reproduce, and expel waste.

My former fourth grade Woodlawn Community School students and I embarked on an endeavor very similar to the growth process of a White Oak. It started with a seed of an idea allowing fourth graders the space to explore the social issues surrounding violence in Chicago. The seed sprouted as kids brainstormed words revealing their impressions of a city overtaken by random violence. Through Diamante poetry the words morphed into saplings contrasting evil with good, pain with joy, and chaos with peace. The saplings grew into young trees with delicate branches carrying weighty phrases of kid-size desires.

A young oak often needs an anchor of support as its delicate branches and roots absorb energy from the sun and rain. The fourth graders anchor was their ancestor's examples of quilts carrying messages of freedom, hope, and change. The students absorbed energy from Gwen Magee's fabric appeals against injustice. Carole Lyles Shaw's word and photo collages taught them to pay tribute to the deserving. Anchored by fabric and enlivened by art the kids poetry gained strength and became a living thing. They were able to create art quilts with the energy to spur emotion and discussion. Their art has inspired future art quilts. And like all living things, it has expelled inaccurate beliefs about children's roles as leaders influencing change.

State Farm and Helen Scott Insurance Agency, Inc. are presenting the fourth graders' art to Chicago through the Stop the Violence Traveling Quilts Exhibit. The exhibit will begin September 2010 and run through May 2011 at various venues throughout the city. The students' hope is that their art quilts will get adults and children talking about ways they can push for peace in Chicago's homes, schools, and communities. This blog will keep you updated on the status of the exhibit.

Do you know of other youth focused initiatives that are like White Oak trees? Did their initiatives start as a seed of an idea and germinate into a movement? I'd like to use this blog to share these initiatives with the world. Please post a comment with their names and brief background.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What is Art?

The Awakening,  J. Seward Johnson, Jr (1980)

Art is the awakening of the unconscious. Outstanding art pricks the soul.  It moves the mind beyond its current state of being.  It transports to another time, space, and dimension.  Art inspires emotion.  The Art Institute of Chicago Museum, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Joffrey Ballet are change agents challenging people's perceptions.  This is the purpose of art.
Education becomes art when it awakens the mind to new possibilities.  Visual and performing arts are essential for education.  Education without art leads to an abyss of rote memorization and inconsequential facts.  Art is the expression of learning.  It is perception turned into reality.  Arts in education connect learning with emotion.  An outstanding educator knows education is a process engaging the intellectual, emotional, social, and physical being.  An outstanding educator does not isolate the arts from reading, math, science, and social studies.  An education that embraces the arts is holistic, inclusive, and relevant. Art is education and education is art.