All in a Day’s Work

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Friday night the students with whom I’ve spent the past semester showcased their work at Amy Biehl Community School. New Mexico’s Centennial Poet and dear friend Levi Romero kicked off an evening of student readings with excerpts from Sandra Cisneros’s children’s book, Have You Seen Marie? and his own poem, “De Donde Yo Soy,” based on the George Ella Lyon poem, “Where I Come From.” Both works are a cornerstone of El Otro Lado: The Other Side, The Stories That Connect Us, an art and storytelling workshop series created by visual artist Chrissie Orr and now in its second year in Santa Fe Public Schools.

Levi with some of the work his poem inspired.

Levi with some of the work his poem inspired.

Friday was a long day. I left my house at six-thirty in the morning, drove to Amy Biehl, and spent the next twelve hours coaching students through their readings, hanging silhouette collages and watercolored journey maps, arranging shoebox shrines on work tables pulled from teachers’ rooms by Mr. Martinez, who has hosted Miss Alicia, my fellow teaching artist, and me in his sixth grade classroom this semester, and another teacher whose name escapes me, but who greets me each time we pass in the hallway. I slipped out for twenty minutes to grab some lunch from the little store down the road. It sits across the street from a park so instead of driving right back to the school, I walked to a shaded bench, sat, closed my eyes, and chewed my tuna sandwich as slowly as I could.

The day before Miss Alicia and her husband had been at the school until eight o’clock, hanging artwork and prepping materials for the sixth graders’ final push on their portfolios.

Storytelling is serious business.

journey map in progress

journey map in progress

Ask A. who likes to move around and forgets what he’s doing when one of the boys at his table starts talking to him. A few weeks ago I realized he wasn’t going to finish his shrine in time for the show, and he still hadn’t finished painting his journey map. I wanted him to experience taking a project from start to finish, so we created a quiet place for him in the art room, and while his classmates glued images onto their shrines, he painted. It took a few more class periods, but he finished. And when he finished, he asked us to take his picture.

IMG_3031Ask L. who has been so diligent all semester. She takes her time. She focuses. She creates deep, heartfelt poems and paintings. And because she is so eager to create, I forgot how shy she is. She signed up to read the praise poem she’d written for her mom, but the night of the event, she pulled me aside and said, “Miss Michelle, I just want to read my poem to my mom. I don’t want to read in front of everyone.” I asked if she’d like me to stand with her, if she wanted Miss Alicia or me to read for her. She said no. But then, as the last reader made her way to the cafeteria stage, L. approached me and whispered, “I do want to read, but I want my friends to go with me.” When they took the stage, the friends, two girls and a boy, formed a protective shell around L. One stood behind her, the other two on either side. And then, they each lay a hand on their friend, one on each of her shoulders, one at the base of her neck. And L. read, “Alabanza, my mom.”

Alabanza. Praise.

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Published in: on May 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Beautiful! Brought tears to my eyes.

  2. this really gets my heartstrings going. and wondrously fabulous that you coach them in oral presentation. did i say that is wondrously fabulous?

    “When they took the stage, the friends, two girls and a boy, formed a protective shell around L. One stood behind her, the other two on either side. And then, they each lay a hand on their friend, one on each of her shoulders, one at the base of her neck. And L. read, “Alabanza, my mom.””

    mvs


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