Last week was bittersweet. For the past two months Elena Rosemond-Hoerr and I have been working with the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade class of Commodore John Rodgers Middle School, a Baltimore City public school located about a mile a from the museum. A generous AEGON grant provided the JMM with the funds to create two long term partnerships with Baltimore public schools. Half of the education department, Deborah Cardin and Ilene Dackman-Alon, worked on a storytelling partnership this year with middle school students from Moravia Park Middle School while Elena and I worked on an art and place based project with the Commodore Rodgers students.
Elena and I chose to work with Commodore John Rodgers Middle School because of its close proximity and shared history with the museum. Our inspiration for the mosaic project that we worked on with the students came from Loring Cornish’s exhibit, “In Each Other’s Shoes,” which is currently one display at the JMM through July 17. It was also important for us to let the students and teachers know that the JMM is a local resource for them to learn about their community. To emphasize these points we invited the entire middle school to visit the museum to tour our synagogues and exhibits and meet with Loring Cornish before we began working with them in their classrooms. The majority of the students had never visited the JMM or entered a synagogue.
For the next few months Elena and I visited the middle school students on a weekly basis (which was an adjustment for us because they start school at 7:30 AM!). Our final goal for the project was to have each student create a mosaic based on one of the school’s five promises: honor/integrity, commitment to quality, perseverance, no excuses, and contribution. It was our hope that each student would use pictures, stories, words, and memories from their personal lives and community’s history to visually illustrate their promise.
Each week we did writing exercises, played games, and did art projects to prepare the students for making their final mosaics. One of the most special aspects of this project is that over the summer we will permanently install the students’ mosaics along a prominent wall leading up to the cafeteria. Loring Cornish will help us with the instillation and we hope to use shards of mirror and found objects as part of the final piece. We emphasized to the students that it was important for them to be thoughtful about their art, and its permanence in the school seemed to help them take this more seriously.
Working with the students each week was an enlightening and exhausting experience for me. I have such a strong appreciation for Ms. Smith, Mr. Ayala, and Ms. Dekoster, the wonderful and caring teachers we worked with each week. At the end of the day each Wednesday when we were finished with the students, Elena and I would always wonder how these teachers had the energy to teach all day, every day. Despite the fact that Wednesdays were always an exhausting day, I looked forward to going to school each week to work with a diverse group of talented and energized kids.
The students’ final mosaics turned out better than we imaged. It was so interesting to see how each student creatively expressed themselves. No two tiles are alike. Elena and I hope that the students and teachers at Commodore Rodgers Middle School enjoyed our time together as much as we did. Hopefully next year we will be able to partner with them again on another great project.
A blog post by Community Outreach Coordinator Rachael Binning.