Privileges and Responsibilities

Our school took a much-needed and well-deserved Spring Break last week. I heard this morning from our School Support Specialist that students were not ready to even hear about returning to our virtual school when he delivered food to their families on Friday. I have to admit that I felt very much the same way this morning and last night before bed. I had decided to take time for my own much-needed Spring Break last week, realizing of course that this was a privilege many others could not afford. I really wanted to celebrate my younger daughter’s birthday and spend unstructured, uninterrupted time with my family. Things have been hectic and somewhat overwhelming for me at work and at home over the past month, and I desperately needed to reset and renew. At GVP, we teach students about the power of “resetting” and explain how useful it is for all of us—even as adults.

We have a “breakout box” at school that has clay, tension toys, fidget spinners, markers and crayons, and drawing paper, among other things. The box helps us when we need support for a reset, and I often bring it into my office for a stressed-out student. Students also know that I keep a beautiful moving sandscape art piece on my desk. Ms. Marjorie, our super science teacher, actually gifted this treasure to us at GVP, and I love having it. It is a flippable wooden picture frame filled with colored sand that creates unique, relaxing images every time you turn it over. Watching the combinations of colored sand create ever new sand landscapes frees my mind and my heart and is a favorite for the students who come to my office. For a few moments, we can escape some of our stress or sadness together as we watch the sand fall to create something brand new.

This is the beauty and power of art—it transports us, takes us beyond what is, and brings us into what is possible and what might be. It is my great privilege to work for an organization that has valued the arts from the very beginning. I am so proud that at our school we include the arts as foundational for a strong and holistic education. For at least five years now, GVP has benefitted from a powerful partnership with the High Museum of Art (HMA) here in Atlanta. The HMA has a long history of connecting people through and with art, and their educational programming makes the arts accessible for all students—including refugee newcomers at GVP.

Through this partnership, GVP students have visited the museum regularly. They are hosted by highly knowledgeable docents and participate in arts workshops with amazing teaching artists. Our students, who might not have even otherwise visited an art museum, have learned about artists, aspects of visual art, and about the power of making art for others. One of our students’ most powerful experiences at the HMA was when they toured and took inspiration from the With Drawn Arms exhibit. The exhibit showcased gold medal sprinter Tommie Smith with his fist raised in protest at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games to support  human rights and the struggle for civil rights in the US. When GVP students returned from the HMA that day, they were clearly excited and eager to share their experiences. GVP students complete a STEAM integrated unit of study on RIGHTS! every other year, and they happened to be completing that unit when they experienced the exhibition. The intersections of arts and activism were not lost on them. They clearly understood how the exhibit at the HMA connected with the past and the present fights for equity and justice. Through their own units of study on RIGHTS!, they, too, create pieces (papers, poetry, posters, presentations, and performances) to show the power of the arts to change minds and worlds. 

Today, we hear a great deal about positive coping strategies for dealing with the new realities of daily life during the pandemic. I am thinking about how art, in all its varied forms, provides hope and positivity for those of us trying to manage stress and maintain our health and wellbeing.  People around the world are connecting in and through the arts as they sing from their balconies, watch their favorite artists livestream from their kitchens and living rooms, and virtually tour the world’s great art museums and galleries for free. On Sunday, my family and I were among the nearly 30 million who tuned in to watch and listen to the great Andrea Boccelli give his moving “Music for Hope” concert in the empty Milan cathedral. 

At GVP, we view the arts as fundamental to education and as foundational to the work of transformation. Art is a catalyst for change; engaging in the arts and arts education ignites our imagination and opens our eyes to new ways of thinking, being, and creating our worlds. The arts give me and many of us hope for the future, for new ways of feeling, relating, and connecting, and new capacities for creativity. They offer opportunities to reset, reimagine, and renew. 

This pandemic has made very clear that there is much we cannot know or control, but it has also provided us with a unique opportunity to reflect critically on our systems—as a society and as a school. It gives us time to creatively reset and search out what is worth saving and making sustainable and what is in need of reimagination and transformation. I am deeply thankful for the privileges of a Spring Break, access to art, and even to this unusual time of possibilities and powerful transformations. I look forward to seeing what we dream up in these new days. 

I am sharing and invite you to read two recent articles on the arts at GVP: 

Music: A Common Language For Refugee Girls | SaportaReport
At This Refugee School in Georgia, Art Empowers Girls to Transform Their Lives — and Our World | High Museum of Art

And, also some videos of our partnership posted by The High Museum of Art:
Global Village Project Refugee Students at the High
The High Museum Helps Refugee Students Experience Art
Global Village Project at the High