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A work in progress and SEVEN hands working together!

During the second session we further explored the Harlem Renaissance and used this as inspiration for creating mini-puppets. Ms. Darrell (a sculptor and muralist) shared her knowledge and love of the African American artists of the period through video, artwork, and poetry. Even though the students are “only” in fourth grade they have a solid understanding of slavery and the Civil Rights movement. Their responses and discussions showed genuine curiosity and connection. One student asked, “When did the Civil Rights movement end?” We talked about how a lot of the organizing and struggle for equality that happened during the Harlem was started during the Harlem Renaissance and continues today. He had heard about Black Lives Matter protests and exclaimed, “The Civil Rights movement is coming to Philadelphia!” Another group of students was inspired by the idea of artists influencing each other and collaborating. They discussed how hip-hop artists Cardi B. and Drake work with other rappers, dancers, and fashion designers.

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Ms. Darrell showing footage from 1920s Harlem (photo taken by a student!)

Students were given photographs of prominent Harlem Renaissance leaders in order to inspire characters for their three-dimensional mini-puppets. They worked in groups of four or five and used cereal boxes, egg cartons, and newspapers. This project is set up to explore the materials more intentionally and to give students practice in consensus decision making and conflict resolution. We noticed that some students who had trouble compromising last week were able to set aside their differences of opinion and work together. We overheard someone say, “I can’t believe we we’re not arguing yet, usually we’d all be arguing about it.” When conflict did arise we stepped in to guide them. Some groups worked better if each artist was in charge of creating a specific feature. Some had to practice asking questions that lead to understanding such as “Why did you decide to do it this way?” rather than saying “I can’t believe you did it that way!” Others were tasked with taking a deep breath and committing to being flexible and giving up some control of the outcome. In the end students were very proud of their work. This was most evident when it was time to clean up and put the puppets away. Many students blew kisses, caressed their puppets, and lovingly told them that they would see them again next time.

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More hands and Martin Luther King Junior with attached microphone

At the end of each session students and teachers share “recognitions.” We take turns sharing specific actions, emotions, or incidents with the whole class. This session we asked the students to think about examples they saw of the five leadership styles “Visionary, Directive, Collaborative, Nurturing, and Behind-the-Scenes.” As the descriptions for these qualities were being read, students spontaneously started pointing to others in the class that embodied each attribute. It was such a poignant act that we decided to use it intentionally for the next class. When the time came to share their recognitions they were unanimously positive and complimentary. Common themes that emerged were recognizing the group for shared effort or an individual for an individual for helping them through a difficult moment. Next week we will be using “Story Circles” to share personal experiences. Students will listen for common themes that will be the basis of the character development for their big puppet.

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More photos by our student photographer