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The arts as a means to engage in critical inquiry and problem solving, March – May 2010.

As co-directors of the Cultural Arts Coalition, judy butzine and Melanie Ohm, utilize the arts as a means to engage in critical inquiry and problem solving with incarcerated youth and youth in community settings in an effort to supplement both their GED and/or 3rd-12th grades education while giving them alternative ways to think about life lesson choices when they leave the class room.

In this particular after school facility Silvia Rodriguez taught twelve to fifteen, 6th grade students in a 45 minute block of time, 4 days a week for 12 weeks. Utilizing all of the arts as communicative methodology she presented the youth with the concept of a subliminal and universal language that can benefit their lives. Each artistic activity is intended to assist the youth in moving away from fear, a sense of uncertainty and control over their lives to a better understanding of themselves (their strengths) and creative means they have for making positive choices that impact their future.

Example of Thursday’s art class April 8th, 2010

We began with the review of the word "interdependent" and "interconnectedness" of all living beings, and why it is important to understand and respect this concept and the honoring of all things large and small on the planet. This pastel drawing by a group of youth became the material symbolic metaphor. Two books had already been read in the "Circle of Power" Life doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou and Antelope Woman by Michael Lacapa to provide reflective material for conversation on these themes.

Antelope Woman-An Apache Folktale by Michael Lacapa: Societies have developed many environmental belief systems based on tradition, folklore, economics, arts, language and science that shape their attitudes concerning respect and use of the environment. These values are important in determining human behavior and societal impact on the environment. Can you think of stories and behaviors within your family and from their cultural backgrounds that have influenced the way you think about nature and its importance in your life? What are some of the lessons you have learned from this story?

What are your dreams for the earth? What are some of the images that you can reflect upon? Draw them...

This particular day of lesson focused on the Huichol culture (lesson plan) as the Protector’s of the Earth. a pre-Columbian culture of individuals who use symbols and colors to convey stories from one generation to the next.

The room was set with Huichol artifacts and the informative posters in both English and Spanish to facilitate this quick social studies lesson.

The students after discussing their appreciation of nature and its importance to all of us drew their visual responses, "Dreams for the Earth".

The youth were also given an opportunity to dress up in the Huichol dress and perform. Performance was a creative means facilitated by Silvia to provide the youth a voice concertning questions she asked and then had them role play to physically focus on responses.

Continuation of the lesson the next day. These lesson plans comprise a lesson unit and follow a sequential developemental process. the emphasis is not on the product but always on the process!


We proceeded to discuss the phrase above that reinforces not only the concept in the book Antelope Woman, but the manner in which persons live in harmony together in small villages whether in Mexico (Huichol) or Africa. Desmond Tutu’s role in his country of Africa was explained. We spoke of the value of "I SEE YOU" and the importance of each person in the community in acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses to support one another. We then went around the room and looked each other in their eyes and said I SEE YOU and I value you because you bring (their strengths) to this class. I celebrate you.

They then each read and interpreted what this paragraph MEANT: "Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another. Instead of separation and division, all distinctions make for a rich diversity to be celebrated for the sake of the unity that underlies them. We are different so that we can know our need to one another." Desmond Tutu.

The art making activity was introduced through the material object of the Huichol "Intention Sticks" (lesson plan for this activity) for the needs of their community.

Each youth was to focus on the 3 statements below of Dreams for self and community , write on the back of a piece of paper their specific dream for the future then attach it to the intention stick with material, beads, yarn, feather, etc.

Anais Nin

Dreams are necessary to life.

Cesar Chavez

¡Sí se puede! (It can be done!)

Carl Sandburg

Nothing happens unless first we dream.

All of this preparation work was instrumental in creating two canvases during Global Youth Service day with Las Artes, Directed by Mike Graser and Martin Moreno and their students of 18-23 years of age.

April 19th, 2010, in Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day.

Silvia gathers all in the "Circle of Power" to read Alejandro’s Gift illustrated by Sylvia Long, local Arizona artist and written by Richard Albert.

Students assist one another with the reading of this literature, share the story, and discuss the illustrations with the other students.

Summary: Lonely in his house beside a road in the desert, Alejandro builds an oasis to attract the many animals around him. Alejandro learns about the animals’ need of feeling safe as well as their need for water. Alejandro not only gives a gift to the desert animals, but he also receives one. Each student took turns reading a page and observing the images.

The realistic illustrations of this book are full of life. The animals and plants, as well as Alejandro himself, are captured beautifully. Alejandro's gentleness, thoughtful nature, and hard-working spirit are wonderfully brought to life. The pictures and text together offer a good message about respect for nature.

The book ends with a short "mini-encyclopedia" that names and illustrates animals and plants of the southwestern United States: mesquite, saguaro cactus, the sage sparrow, the collared peccary, and more.

They were all were very attentive and appeared to enjoy the story.

Silvia then posed a list of questions answered by the youth relevant to the context of the literature.

Alejandro's Gift by Richard E. Albert

This story provides a rich context for teaching several environmental educationconcepts. One or several of these concepts may be the focus of the lesson, reflecting the developmental level of the audience. An art making activity follows.

Because there are no page numbers in this text, the first page with words has been identified as page one. Noted pages have recorded suggested environmental education questions to discuss.

Page 1
What do you notice about Alejandro's environment? Why would someone stop by to refresh oneself? Why would this occasional visitor cause Alejandro to be lonelier after he/she left?

Page 2
Why would planting a garden make the lonely hours more endurable? Who or what might the desert visitor be?

Page 5
Can anyone creep like a ground squirrel? Why did the squirrel come to the garden?

Page 7
Compare and contrast the desert and the garden environments.

Page 8
What was the realization that came to Alejandro?

Page 10
Describe the different animals at the watering hole. Use the animal reference in the back of the book for names, descriptions. Talk about the food chain that one might see in the garden at the beginning of the story. Discuss the natural cycle of life.

Page 15
What did the skunk's quick departure illustrate to Alejandro?

Page 16
Why did Alejandro put his second watering hole in the safety of heavy desert brush?

Page 21
Even though Alejandro had worked hard to provide a watering hole for the animals, why did he feel he was the one who received the gift?

The students also discussed their personal strengths to attain their DREAMS: good writing skills, loves sketching, positive thinker, thoughtful, playful, smart, honest, focused, possesses leadership skills, desire to succeed, enjoys learning, talkative, shy, quiet, self controlled, works hard, nurturing, erudite, perseverance, funny, enjoys acting, compassionate. The next 2 days Silvia focused once again on developing theater skills.

Thursday the students painted the back grounds for the 2 canvases and Friday the murals were completely painted.

These two canvases then went on exhibition at ASU DT Phoenix Campus with artworks about Children's Dreams.

Honoring Box Project following the reading of book about Cesar Chavez, April 29, 2009

Remembrance, Respect & Reflect-the art history lesson followed with information concerning the universal need to give material form to thoughts of remembering ancestors, honoring of self and asking for assistance and protection. Shown are the Tibetan Gau box carried by herders when they are with their animals; Peruvian honoring box of the cycles of life and interconnectedness of all beings; personal honoring boxes to a family’s pet and to women depicted as various warriors.

Before class everyone enjoyed the pictures Victor brought in of himself as a child.

Silvia discussed the honoring box she had created and explained its contents. She then instructed the students to continue cutting out images that are metaphors for their dreams and the honoring of themselves as they become adults.

Individual pictures were selected from those the students had taken of each other during the past six weeks for their boxes.

Pictures from magazines as symbols of ideas for the students’ honoring boxes were selected to place on their structural forms.

Everyone was attentive and thoughtful during this creative process…

Silvia had the students finish up the projects and they went home on Cinco de Mayo.

On May 10, 2010, Mexican Mother’s Day was celebrated with the continuing art making project of the Origami Crane following the reading of the book Sadako, a true award winning children’s story for all ages.

Two days earlier the student’s read Sadako in the "Circle of Power" and discussed the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during WWII. The consequences of this action were the aftermath of what happened to so many people the result of radiation poisoning. The artwork is by a Vietnamese gentleman who was a "boat child" following the Viet Nam war who now is an Intel computer specialist and visual artist. It is called Dreams.

The power of one person to create change, the long term consequences of war, and the values that are cherished by all cultures was related during this reading.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

We produced the award winning video SADAKO AND THE THOUSAND PAPER CRANES based on the classic book by Eleanor Coerr. We also produced the companion instructional video, HOW TO FOLD A PAPER CRANE.

Our purpose is to help educators use the true story of SADAKO AND THE THOUSAND PAPER CRANES to teach children about the power of one person to create change, the long term consequences of war, and the values that are cherished by all cultures. This web site will introduce you to the story of Sadako, provide instructions on how to fold a paper crane (you can do it!), and lead you to a variety of educational resources including videos, books, supplies and related website addresses.

Enter here to learn more about the story of Sadako and our video programs.

On day 2 of this lesson plan the youth were instructed in the folding of a paper crane out of white paper. This is NOT an easy task and takes lots of patience and precision during the folding process.

By day 3, within this 45 minute block of time, the youth now created a crane out of colored paper and added 10 selected beads of their choice to wire. The beads were to be thoughtful reminders of the love and gratitude for their mothers.

When they had finished they preceded to create a second one to take home.

By the 4th day of this lesson plan the youth were given the words

ORIGAMI CRANE—and were to create as many words as you can from these 2 words. (there are more than 70 possible words) The Origami Crane has become a symbol of world peace through the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who tried to stave off her death from leukemia as a result of radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II by making one thousand origami cranes, having folded only 644 before her death, and that her friends completed and buried them all with her at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

This is the second time during the 9 week block of creative arts classes that this kind of literary arts activity has occurred. Everyone really enjoys the seek and find of this challenge. One young lady was the winner with 65 words. I was totally impressed with these students’ competency and attention during this activity.

It has been a joy to assist these 6th graders to find their creative selves and to work with materials many have never had an opportunity to design and create into an artwork with significant meaning as a metaphor for a life lesson.