17 Jun Linking Students and Habitats To Foster Understanding
On June 6, I was delighted to observe a live teleconference between Schechter Manhattan’s 4th grade and their peers from a school in Guatemala. Rainforest Artlink—a program that Schechter contracts with Creative Connections, an educational/cultural exchange organization—is the coda to a year-long thematic study of habitats. My daughter Shirley and her fellow students not only mastered facts about flora and fauna in the rainforest, but also appreciated the people who live nearby—not in an abstract way, but connecting with individuals with specific families, stories, and interests.
First, students created and exchanged artwork that distilled something about their personal lives. Students noted similarities and differences. No big surprise: All kids love animals, and all are fascinated by technology. We learned that students in Guatemala use technology in the classroom but they do not have Internet at their school (they conferenced from a municipal building). Schechter Manhattan kids were deeply jealous when their counterparts talked about seeing monkeys on school grounds. Facilitator Miguel Barreto did an excellent job translating, but more important he coached our students during the conversations and teased out questions. I also appreciated that he offered time at the end for the teachers to say a few words to each other. Rainforest Artlink in conjunction with Schechter Manhattan’s habitat curriculum is an example of STEAM education that works beautifully.
It’s serendipitous that the teleconference occurred as the Schechter Manhattan community begins to engage with issues surrounding race, ethnicity, and diversity. I look forward to seeing parents on June 26, 7:30 PM at Schechter Manhattan (chag sameach to those of you celebrating Gay Pride that day!). This will be the start of a conversation about programs to take place next year in conjunction with the Parents’ Association and co-chaired by fellow 4th grade parent Julia Abdurahman. Ben Mann has committed to working with the ELT this summer to examine how the current curriculum addresses diverse worlds beyond Manhattan’s Upper West Side, as well as identifying opportunities in the curriculum to highlight racial and cultural diversity within Jewish communities. Equally important, we hope to create a space where parents, teachers and students are comfortable talking about race, and take steps towards making Schechter Manhattan a more inclusive and welcoming school.
–Andrew Ingall is principal of Pandamonium Productions, a consultancy providing curatorial and program content for film, visual art, and performance. He and his husband Neal Hoffman are the parents of rising 5th grader Shirley Hoffman-Ingall.