Discovering the Power of Story: Nava

Capturing the El Otro Lado experience in the schools can be difficult. An emerging experience that grows over the course of the weeks, it is individual and yet, it is universal. Every one comes to the classroom with their own stories, but as the teachers, teaching artists, and young minds deepen their understanding of themselves and explore their sense of belonging, a community is formed.

We asked each of this years’ Teaching Artists to reflect on the first semester in EOL and their words were shared with students, families, and the school community. Now we would like to share them with you:

What 5th Grade Students have taught me about “Self Expression”

When Laura Mayo and I asked our students what they were learning from El Otro Lado, many commented they enjoyed the opportunity to “express themselves.” As I reflected on this particular (and re-occuring) comment, I wondered if they really knew what it meant to “express themselves” and how exactly they were going to “express” as the classes progressed.

However, I’ve realized that from the very first day of EOL, they had already began “expressing themselves” on a level that I wasn’t even aware of. I noticed our class expressed a natural interest in listening to each other and a genuine sense of pride when sharing about their own passions and personal history.

A part of our class routine consists of a “sharing/reflection” circle where we talk about art that inspires us or art we have created. This promotes a collective appreciation of the creativity that is all around (and within) us and prompts conversation regarding why we are drawn to certain styles and how outside art affects our own creative process and methods of expression.

EOL is a collaborative experience for both teachers and students. My students have taught me that expression is just a way of exploring our own individuality and background, so that we can share and celebrate our unique histories, which inevitably reveal how interconnected we all are.

Now when I hear a student say that EOL allows them to “express themselves,” I am aware of the depth and opportunity that comes with that dynamic comment. Self Expression is not just about the art that’s being created, but also the interwoven acknowledgment of personal journal, experience, and growth.

Philomena Salem
Teaching Artist