Yesterday, one of our students at Moffet School approached me in art class to ask how many more days of school are left until summer vacation. When I told her that when we get back from winter break there would be a little more than five months left of school, she pondered this for a moment and asked, “Is that long or short?” I gave her the worst kind of adult answer: “I guess it depends on how you look at it.”
For me, of course, the year is speeding by. We’ve started a new after-school program at Juniata Park Academy that has brought us twenty-five new students, and more to come, we hope, in January. At John Moffet School, we serve about forty-five students, many of whom return year after year to continue their studies in art, percussion, and choir.
At Moffet, we had so many students sign up for art class that we had to start a waiting list. At Juniata, each week our art class grew as students told their friends and siblings about the projects they were doing and how much fun they were having. Students studied Lebanese contemporary artist Hiba Kalache and made silk paintings featuring fantastical worlds of their own creation and Egyptian sculptor Naguib Moein and made clay sculptures of mythological creatures they imagined.
Our percussion classes at both schools continue to be hugely popular, with more students asking to sign up every week. At Moffet, our choir features all returners who continue to hone their singing in Arabic, English, Spanish, and French. Our choir at Juniata is starting from scratch, building a basic knowledge of music and learning, for some, their first songs in Arabic.
Much of my time with students is spent in class, when students are engaged in learning and making, but I also get a chance to glimpse other parts of their lives. During the moments before and after class, when students are eating snack, playing in the gym, getting picked up by their parents, I get to see how they are when they interact with each other, how deeply proud their parents are of them, and who they are not just as students but as people.
Yesterday, I witnessed something that I believe speaks to the power of our programming in helping students develop an understanding of themselves and a pride in where they come from. In the gym, as we waited for parent pick-up, one of my students created a play scenario in which her classmates were competing in a talent show. “Now we have our next contestant, please join us on stage sir…” she said in an announcer’s voice, ushering one of our fourth grade boys onto the make-believe stage beneath the basketball hoop. “What is your talent?” she asked, to which he replied, sincerely, “Being Arab” and then did a celebratory dance across to the free-throw line. None of the other three students playing seemed to question whether or not this was a talent—it was a moment of unstudied acceptance of each other and joy in play that I was able to see when they thought no adults were watching.
Here at Al-Bustan, we are always interested in how our students are processing and relating to the world. We hope, and believe, that our after-school programs give our students new tools and new perspectives with which to understand themselves and each other. Here’s to more music, art, and cross-cultural understanding in the New Year!
Madeline (Maddy) Conley