Peaceful Protest through Arts: One Teacher’s Quest for Civic Engagement

By Mira Septimus

The Hoboken Charter Upper School stands on four pillars, academic, art, civic and personal growth. Each of these keystones guides teachers in the autonomous development of curriculum to educate and empower students as global citizens.

While service learning and art may seem like isolated programs, they are both well-integrated into the curricula. Through their high school career, students learn art is a form of inter-disciplinary communication, and students are empowered to use their voices through various mediums to embrace the four pillars. In the beginning of the year in art class, all students are introduced to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, discussing basic human rights, definition, components, application to students’ lives and relevancy to global issues.

Students attended the New England PeaceJam Conference in 2014 and met Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias. Over the course of the weekend event, they learned the current list of countries that still do not have access to clean water.  Sophomore, Emily and juniors, Mariam and Romanda (pictured with Oscar Arias) participated in a bead making project of recyclable materials which converted into a clean water fund that was distributed to people in Tanzania. They brought this project back to our classroom and by the end students created over 500 beads, supplying 25 individuals with clean water. The students were excited and motivated to use their art in raising awareness about human rights issues.

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I realized then that in order for service to be meaningful and sustainable, it had to be fully integrated into the curriculum. Classroom discussions shifted to include topics such as hunger, abuse, clean water and cruel punishment. Students then studied and looked at numerous artists and artwork that reflected on social, environmental and global issues.

For example, in Printmaking, we discussed the juxtaposition of creating multiples of the same image and current issues that reoccur continuously throughout history. In Drawing II, students were asked to depict themselves from a culture and nationality other than their own. Their reflective essays and critique included feelings of belonging, impact and implications of citizenship, and what it means to have a place to place to call home.

Students began to search how they could represent concepts of human rights into their work. Through the international organization Students Rebuild, we initiated the Literacy Challenge and invited our lower elementary students to join. Our students discussed the millions of children globally who cannot read and taught their younger partners about the gravity of the situation. Their excitement was contagious and together they created over 800 bookmarks, each of which was matched with one dollar to donate to children around the world.

For our annual Martin Luther King Jr. event, students focused on Human Rights as a means to celebrate his life. They learned that it had been twenty years before Dr. King spoke about civil rights that the UN had created the Declaration. “If that was the case, why was this event important? Everyone already had rights”, -I challenged them.

At this point students recognized their individual responsibility they had to themselves, their communities and the world that they live in. They each created a political poster as they reflected on their rights.

We took these posters and created a “Wall of Rights” that hung in Hoboken’s City Hall—the exhibit will soon be returned to our school for display. Through this project, their individual art became part of a communal whole. The installation is without borders, symbolizing our never ending responsibility to uphold these rights.

By integrating service learning into our classroom, we have the opportunity to empower our students with the knowledge and confidence they need to become the global citizens of the future.

Mira Septimus is the Art Teacher and Service Learning Coordinator for Hoboken Charter Upper School. 

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About New Jersey Charter Schools Association

Formed in 1999, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association (NJCSA) is a 501(c)(3) membership association that represents the state’s charter school community and, by extension, charter school students and their parents. We are committed to advancing quality public education for New Jersey’s children through quality public charter schools, with the vision that every child in the State of New Jersey should have the opportunity to attend a high-quality public school that best meets his or her needs.
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One Response to Peaceful Protest through Arts: One Teacher’s Quest for Civic Engagement

  1. Pingback: Learn about one teacher’s quest for Civic Engagement! | Hoboken Charter School

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