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RainForest ArtLink With Brazil and Guatemala At Woodstock Middle School By: Kyra Litschauer, Social Science teacher

During 2018, the seventh grade section from Woodstock Middle School (WMS) participated in the Rainforest Artlink program offered by the international cultural education organization Creative Connections.

In this program, classes in the United States connect with similar classes (age and grade level) in the heart of the Brazilian and Guatemalan rainforests. Partner classes create and exchange art. Students then examine the art, gaining insights into both their own and their partner's culture. All classes participate in live Interactive Video Conferences (IVC), sharing these insights with one another.

Given the rainforest location of the partnerships, the dialogue focuses on the vital connection between the environment and culture.

At WMS, we transformed this project into a six-month cross­ curricular endeavor. Miguel Barreto of Creative Connections launched the program in January by conducting workshops with our seventh graders. The seventh grade teaching team (Lisa Audet, Helen Selmecki, Jessica Mulivihill, Penny Phipps, Jeremy Useted, Kyra Litschauer) then did a series of lessons from Creative Connections in which students examined and analyzed art from around the globe. Students explored cultural values exhibited in the art pieces and pondered what they themselves value in American culture.

These 5 classes from WMS were among the 32 classes from the US that took part of the program during 2017. Each class in the US was connected to a counterpart class located in the Rainforest areas of Guatemala or Brazil. For more information about the program and to apply please go to: www.creativeconnections.org

Tha RainForest ArtLink Program at Woodstock Middle School was possible thanks to the support of the Woodstock Education Foundation

Launch

Prior to the launch of the Rainforest Artlink program, students completed a pre-exchange survey. The survey required students to define culture, try to describe some aspects of their partner country's culture, and identify cultural values of both communities . In these early surveys, few students were able to provide even a basic definition of culture and many did not comprehend the significance of cultural values. Of 116 surveys, over 100 were at the beginning or developing level and only 5 were proficient. The post-exchange surveys found 94 of the students at mastery or advanced levels. The final surveys are a testament to the success of the program.

The launch included introductory workshops by Miguel Barreto of Creative Connections for all seventh graders. Mr. Barreto outlined the program for the students and then did an activity which challenged students to uncover stereotypes and consider multiple perspectives.

Introductory Program Workshop Presentation

Analyzing Art and Identifying Cultural Values

Along with the Teacher Guidelines, participant students were provided with an International portfolio which contains art pieces from several participant countries that allow students to understand and plan their art creation accordingly with the year's theme "Highlight".

2018 RainForest's art theme

Creating the Art

Students worked with the art teacher, Myra Pratte, to create works of art depicting a "highlight" or special moment from their lives. Over the course of six weeks, students used a variety of media (watercolor, pastels, paints, colored pencils) to portray their chosen highlights. Subjects included the Woodstock Fair, holidays, pets, family vacations, sporting events, music, dance, and academic achievements . Students also completed artist description sheets, describing their art and answering questions about themselves.

As students created the art, all teachers supplemented the project with lessons on the rainforest environment and problems such as deforestation, Spanish language, cultural diversity, and empathy.

Some of the Art pieces produced and sent to Brazil and Guatemala by 7th grade students at WMS

Other Activities Along the Way

As we sent our art pieces to our partner classes overseas, we covered other lessons suggested in the Teacher's Guidelines such as the Cultural Iceberg, the parable "The Blind Men and the Elephant" and we played the game called "The Web of Life"

7th Grade students playing "The Web of Life"

In social studies, students worked on projects to teach their classmates about the history, food, art, music, politics, economy, environment, wildlife, education, and transportation in Brazil and Guatemala .

Different presentations made by students at WMS about their country partners

Receiving our Partner's Art from Brazil and Guatemala

We received our art and artists description sheets (translated into English) from Brazil and Guatemala. We then spent a number of classes examining the art and learning about the students in preparation for our videoconferences. We displayed the foreign artwork at the Middle School Artshow.

Students enjoying, analyzing and discussing each of the art pieces sent by their partners in the rainforest areas of Brazil and Guatemala
Some art pieces sent to WMS by partner classes in Brazil and Guatemala

Prior the Interactive Video Conference, our music teacher, Maria Wood, helped students to prepare musical pieces to perform for our partner classes. Students watched the inspiring documentary Landfill Harmonic about children from Paraguay and then transformed recycled materials into art. Students also viewed the movie Pele about the famous Brazilian soccer player and we culminated our project with a soccer game between students representing Brazil and those representing Guatemala. David St. Jean was kind enough to be our volunteer coach and referee for this event.

Other school activities around the RainForest ArtLink Project

The Interactive Video Conference (IVC)

The most anticipated date came and these videoconferences themselves were unforgettable. Miguel Barreto, Program Director with Creative Connections and seventh grader Carolina served as facilitators and translators. Students communicated using the artwork as a platform. A student on one side of the conference would hold up a piece of art and the artist on the other side would come forward. Although students were a bit shy and nervous at first, we had some amazing interactions.

Students learned about the others' lives, schools, culture, and dreams. We learned that the students in the Amazon take a two hour boat ride to get to school and then home again each day. We heard about anacondas in people's yards and pink dolphins swimming in the river. Guatemalan students expressed their fears of pollution, deforestation, and wildfires.

The students also shared many values and dreams. A Woodstock student and a Guatemalan student found they both loved to sing and wanted to learn to play guitar. One Woodstock student was asked what his favorite thing was about the place where we live. He responded that he feels safe in Woodstock. In another wonderful moment, Brazilian students called a Woodstock student a hero for staying up all night to care for his sick horse.

7th grade students showing their partners in Brazil the pieces they received from them during the IVC
7th grade students performing a song to their partners in Guatemala during the IVC
Dialogue and great spirits during the Interactive Video Conferences at WMS

In Closing

I cannot thank Woodstock Education Foundation enough for funding this amazing program. Our student body does lack diversity and this project provided Woodstock students with the opportunity to directly communicate with students who live in a remote corner of the globe. I believe that our students experienced an unforgettable moment that could be potentially life-changing. For many of them, the world suddenly became a bigger place.

Some quotes from students:

"Our lives are so different. I feel like it would be so much better living there....without our phones to cause so many problems ." Dylan

"They actually value spending time with their families. I wish kids were more like that here." Ava

"They really believe in protecting nature. I also realized that we both value art." Shannon

"I would like to keep in contact with her. I had such a connection with her­ we like so many of the same things (about conversation with girl in Guatemala)." Ella

Pre and After Exchange Survey:

Cultural Norms and Values Assessment Criteria (Rubric)

These two tables demonstrated the effectiveness of the RF ArtLink Program comparing the pre-and-post assessment of the Woodstock students' understanding of culture and values having a direct co-relation on global competency indicators of success

About Creative Connections

Creative Connections, an international cultural education organization, creates and facilitates innovative arts-based exchanges between classrooms in the USA and their peers around the world. These exchanges teach global competency by promoting awareness, understanding and appreciation of other cultures, customs and traditions.

For more information on the RainForest ArtLink Program, please email Program Director Miguel Barreto at mbarreto@creativeconnections.org or visit:

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