Students cluster around the black felt presentation board, chattering enthusiastically while observing melancholic representations. Curious eyes seek new information and experiences. Color fills the board, displaying scenes of despair and a culture struggling to flourish. A pair of sunglasses uncovers the promise of a new future in comparison to the dreariness of their present. The promise of Times Square under the bright lights and crowds of people swarming to McDonald’s, Broadway, and Macy’s provides hope.
Impressed eyes scan the other pieces of artwork displayed in the AHS foyer for everyone to see. Even with only a minute or two to spare, the presence of the work stops students before they head upstairs to first block.
The Mexico street art posters are the result of the completion of a six-week unit on the social issues in Mexico by the Odyssey class, an interdisciplinary class consisting of social studies, English, and fine arts. The seven projects were unveiled on Friday, October 17.
The three Odyssey teachers, Ms. Mitchell, Mr. Gibson, and Mrs. Daviso, decided that Mexico would be an interesting culture to look at for the first unit, “particularly because immigration is such an issue in this country right now and we do have such a back-and-forth trade with Mexico,” according to Mitchell, the class English teacher. “The issues affecting Mexico are going to affect the U.S., and the issues in the U.S. are in turn going to affect Mexico.” Students would be able to see these issues in a more realistic way because, as Mitchell noted, “[Mexico] is our neighbor and we share a continent. You can see this happening miles down south from us as opposed to halfway around the world. We thought it would give [students] an interesting perspective on their own world.”
During project presentations in the classroom, there was a pleasant atmosphere: upbeat and thoughtful. Projects were displayed all along the walls. Students commented seriously on one group’s work about whether or not the text distracts from the meaning and is unnecessary, or if it adds to the cohesion of the piece. The poster under scrutiny depicts a hand stretching to the sky, reaching for the top of its small-jar imprisonment. “EL DINERO NO ES SUFICIENTE” (Money is not sufficient), spans the page. Once you are born into poverty, there is no way out no matter how high you reach; you cannot open the jar from the inside.
In this project, students took themes they had been discussing in class and were asked to “make them personal and say something about it, and bring everything together into one art piece. That is not an easy thing to do,” according to Daviso, the fine arts teacher.
Mitchell is in agreement with this statement and said, “It is becoming increasingly important as a 21st century skill for people to be able to express themselves in different forms of media…[This project] forced them to think about things in a more creative way. Creativity and the collaboration of them all working together are skills that they will need.”
Meghan Johnson, a senior, chose the topic of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) inequalities and gender issues. Her group’s project depicts a Mexican revolutionary known as a Zapatista. He overwhelms the right region of the poster and gazes off, ready for battle: the fight against LGBT rights and inequalities. He is shrouded by a black mask, in order to protect himself from the hideous offenses committed against ordinary people who have done nothing wrong. On the bottom corner of his mask, he sports the gender spectrum symbol in rainbow. “ES HORA DE UN NUEVO REVOLUCION” sits above the eagle from the Mexican Farm Revolt in the 1960s, also in rainbow. “It’s time for a new revolution,” in regards to the acceptance of LGBT citizens in Mexico.
Johnson chose gender issues and LGBT inequality because “it is a topic that the U.S. is also struggling with, and [she] wanted to know how other countries were facing the issues.” Mexico has a long way to go and, “the majority [of people] in Mexico [are] not very accepting… [but] they have made some strides toward equality,” said Johnson.
Another scene, one of a puppet being manipulated by her husband, feigning a brave face for the sake of her children, attracts attention on the opposite side of the display. Puppets are a metaphor for domestic violence, evoking a feeling similar to a leash on a dog that searches for new sights and smells, but is ultimately yanked away.
The course will also be exploring the cultures of China, Nigeria, India, and Iran. The course aims to “avoid having a Eurocentric curriculum because we feel that other cultures around the world have so much to offer,” according to Gibson, the class social studies teacher.
Students are learning what it means to have an interdisciplinary class if they have not taken one before, such as World Studies or 20th Century Studies. Students must adapt to having fine arts in addition to social studies and English. For the first project of the year. “We wanted the students to see the interdisciplinary model and how all the different subject matters can come together,” according to Mitchell.
Although that was the purpose of the first project, so far the class is “a bit disorganized, and the class often jumps back and forth between English, history, and art instead of being fluid and connected,” said Johnson. The lack of fluidity has led to some confusion among some of the students, according to Johnson. She finds the class interesting so far, and was very excited when the class was brought back after it was not offered last year due to a lack of interest.
In response to Johnson’s comment, Mitchell said, “It is a valid critique and I don’t necessarily disagree with her.” The course is being redesigned and, “We have added new cultures into the curriculum and revamping a lot of the things that kids didn’t like about the previous course… We are making it our own. There is a learning curve that comes with that… Each year the course will get better. We appreciate that [students] are going on this journey with us as we try to get everything integrated in working together.”
Each day, there is either a history, English, or art lesson. The teachers try to integrate the lesson from the previous day into each of their lessons. For example, if Gibson teaches a history lesson one day, Mitchell will use a piece of poetry or literature to emphasize the same theme or idea.
“We are all looking at the same culture, but we may be looking through a different lens each day,” noted Mitchell.
Every other day for the first semester, Daviso comes, and Gibson and Mitchell are there every day. This could be the source of the confusion and, “on the days we have Mrs. Daviso, we want to utilize her. As a result, sometimes that is where it becomes hard to integrate things. This may not always work,” according to Mitchell.
“Both adaptation and refinement are needed to perfect any kind of skill in life – whether it is academic, athletic, artistic, or social in nature,” said Gibson. “Similarly, teachers adapt and refine how they teach their students over time.”
“[Odyssey] was the most transformative course I ever experienced in high school,” said Gibson, who took the class when he was a student at AHS. “It is my intention to recreate that transformative experience for future generations of students.”
By Alexandra Scott