by Sonda Cheesebrough
Teacher, North Elementary School, Morgantown, West Virginia
It's January, and I’m reflecting on the Students Rebuild Challenges of previous years while I'm knee-deep in the midst of the current one. I’m always humbled by the sense of the world community and caring that my students develop during the art-making process. Through Students Rebuild, the Bezos Family Foundation provides a platform for young people to be global citizens by matching funding to their art.
This year students are working on the Facing Difference Challenge by making a self-portrait. Donations generated from these efforts will help students affected by conflict in Nigeria, Siri Lanka, and the South Caucasus region of Eastern Europe. I look to provide richness to my approach as I work with students making connections using art, language arts, and social studies, as well as referencing educational strategies offered in the Buck Institute for Education’s Project Based Learning unit Peace by Piece.
Building a Challenge Through PBL
This past summer, Students Rebuild collaborated with the Buck Institute for Education and teachers from around the country to develop a PBL guide to teach peace. Our goal? To provide a project-based unit for teachers, across all grade levels and in multiple subject areas, to work alongside their students to be lifelong peacemakers as we face turbulent global situations that only seem to be growing. It was challenging and enlightening, exploring ways to teach peacemaking across such a broad base. As the week progressed, one thing was clear. In order to teach peace, we must understand conflict. The Facing Difference Challenge offers the opportunity for rich and thoughtful curriculum as students examine conflict, world situations, and historical and current solutions. Through the process of PBL, our students are learning to navigate conflict and lead others in developing peaceful resolutions.
Teaching art organically lends itself to Project Based Learning, but it is essential that students explore why and who before the what and how. By offering this Challenge school-wide, students connect across all ages and cultures. It brings siblings and neighbors together working toward a common goal.
Our Peace Art Project
To initiate a dialogue for the Challenge, we watched the introductory video for the Students Rebuild Challenge. Next, we took a “chalk talk” approach to identifying differences and commonalities within our peace teams. As we thought about how to create a sculpture using self-portraits, we explored conflict and peace and how it affects both our local community and our world community.
My students hail from 28 countries and we have 32 languages spoken in our school. Some students have come to our city through connections with the university and many have been impacted by conflict, some in war-torn countries. Some have fled to the U.S. because of it. During the development of our project, children explored many aspects about becoming peacemakers, including sharing their own stories and sharing what they know about the countries they will help through their art.
We started our sculpture by collecting boxes as our building blocks. Our students shared mirrors to study their faces and create their portraits. As we covered the boxes with portraits, it grew to be a castle, then a village. As we continue to build, students are working together in peace teams, sharing stories through journaling and creating messages to add to the walls of our sculpture.
These teams will develop concepts for the literature to present at our culminating event, a countywide art exhibit in a local art gallery. There we will spread our message of peace with the literature they have created. As my students discover and learn how to be peacemakers, they will be the leaders, passing peace on and helping it grow.