The clucking of chickens and sound of children’s laughter in the background are reminiscent of something you may come across in Children of the Corn, but after taking a few more steps onto the grounds at Santa Fe School for the Arts and Sciences, flashbacks of cranky grade-school teachers and strict implementations of bogus rules and agendas are quickly put to rest. SFSAS uses a program known as “Expeditionary Learning,” a method of teaching in which a multicultural art-and-science curriculum meets hands-on instruction.
Immigration reform, of course, is a hot topic—particularly with the recent introduction of massive reform measures in the US Senate. It’s a complex issue many grade-schoolers aren’t expected to grasp.
That’s why one project stands out from the rest at SFSAS. In order to understand the pilgrimage of immigrants, SFSAS students were each assigned an immigrant to interview and photograph, and created researched diagrams describing their subjects’ journeys.
When I sat down with the seventh-grade class, I mistakenly used the term “melting pot” to describe the US. The students quickly corrected me by explaining the concept of “the salad bowl.” This idea states that rather than mixing all cultures together in a single, homogenous America, they instead function separately while also blending into the mix as a whole.
Even more amazing than the immense grasp these students have on subjects as emotionally weighted as immigration and foreign policy is the many countries from which these Santa Feans have traveled. From Singapore and Iran to war-torn Cambodia, the so-called “immigration experts” these students interviewed were well accustomed to migrating out of tough conditions to seek better lives elsewhere.
One student in the class, Adam Schmidt, explained how his interviewee was a native of South Africa who subsequently left during apartheid and moved to New York. After leaving the Big Apple and spending some time in Canada, he eventually moved to Santa Fe, where he now owns his own tile company.
Dina Jansen, the seventh-grade teacher spearheading the project, says the theme for their immigration campaign began before the semester had officially launched. Jansen, the school’s principal Rayna Dineen, and a few other faculty members kicked around ideas for a theme that was “not only current, but relevant to the Southwest,” Jansen says.
After considering immigration as a topic, plans started to take shape around implementing expeditionary learning during the year-long project.
“We hosted a kick-off for the kids,” Jansen explains, “where we brought our 42 experts and told each of them to bring in an artifact from their country.”
The teachers then displayed the artifacts to the students, without revealing to them the year’s theme, and allowed each pupil to choose one. Jansen says she wanted the students to utilize all of their senses when examining the artifacts. Once the students chose their objects and were given some time to think about them, “they were then motivated to interview each expert,” Jansen says.
After interviewing their experts, students created poster boards documenting each subject’s journey. While some came to America for financial reasons and others to escape regimes like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, many left to be with the loves of their lives.
In December, the students were given the opportunity to show their work to the subjects.
“They were really touched by it,” Jansen says.
Some of the students recalled the experts crying at the extent to which the students had gone to explain their journeys. Jansen believes that, of the six core values the school promotes, this project uses the element of compassion the most. This compassion not only inspires the students, but leaves them hungry for more ventures.
As Jansen says, “It really makes room for learning.”
Nick Beckman and Amanda Tyler produced this piece as part of a Journalistic Collaborations course at SFUAD—a coordinate project with SFR. The photography and writing course is team-taught by Photography faculty member Anthony O’Brien and Creative Writing contributing faculty member Julia Goldberg, a former editor of SFR.
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