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SparQ 2018 puppets on display in the historic Blankenburg auditorium.

Hello and happy New Year! In 2020 we are proud to be partnering again with the fourth graders at Blankenburg Elementary School in the Mill Creek neighborhood of Philadelphia. These students have participated in the parade in previous years as drummers, chanters, and flag wavers, but it is finally their time to take the lead. In May we will be taking to the streets around the neighborhood with giant puppets and messages of leadership, community, and creativity.

We are continuing to work with two of our favorite all-star teachers, Ms. Betancourt and Ms. Prosper. Our first day of the project introduced students to Spiral Q, our teaching artists (Darrell, Rob, and Alexis) the Harlem Renaissance, and the “free-create process.” We also talked about leadership, respect, teamwork, and conflict resolution. It’s a lot to pack in to a 90 minute session but the students are enthusiastic and rising to the challenge.


The daily agenda with “Time-Keepers” (students responsible for alerting the class when the activity’s time is coming to an end.)

Free-create sessions are always exciting and this year the students took it to a whole other level. They were given the open ended challenge of building a 3-D sculpture by exploring “recycled materials” and “found objects” without asking for adult help. This gives them a chance to get familiar with the materials and processes used to make the puppets and practice working as a group. It also gives the teachers the opportunity to observe art making skills, leadership qualities, and conflict resolution.


Free-create materials include egg cartons, cereal boxes, paper towel tubes and general arts and crafts supplies.

Collaboration is key as students work in group tables and share supplies. This year the teachers were happy to see most students working on one big sculpture or using a theme to create multiple objects to tell a unified story. (Last year most students worked on individual creations and a few worked in pairs.) Students can not ask for adult help so these decisions came naturally from the groups. One of our goals is to help students recognize their leadership style and so far we are seeing examples of Directive: (takes charge and gets things done) and Collaborative (tries to bring together the ideas of everyone involved.) We will also be looking for and encouraging Visionary, Nurturing, and Behind-the-scenes.


A collaborative puppet created by five students working as a team


A group of boats created individually around a shared theme

Unfortunately not all of the creations survived to be photographed. One memorable group project involved an egg carton, and an excess of glue. The students were deeply enjoying the process, (their hands were covered and dripping glue) but the materials just couldn’t hold up to their vision. In true Spiral Q fashion, where some would see a big mess, we saw an opportunity. The group of students were asked to say a few parting words for the departed life of their sculpture and then improvise a chant as it was laid to rest in the trash can. Instead of chastisement and shame, there was a moment of ritual and joy.

Next session we will be learning more about the messages and collaborative spirit behind the Harlem Rennaisance and creating a mini-puppet!