Discovering the Power of Story: Amy Biehl Community School

Capturing the El Otro Lado experience in the schools can be difficult. An emerging experience that grows over the course of the school year, 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:

Touchstones come in many forms: photos, pendants, carvings, rocks – mementos of all shapes, appearing as trinkets to anyone else but their owners. Often they are stationed quietly on desks, windowsills and bookshelves, waiting to be seen, held or remembered. On occasion we grant them reprieve from their life of collecting dust, but the periods between these rare occasions invariably lengthen over time, until sometimes, touchstones are forgotten. Such is the fate of our stories – of our very identities – when we do not bring them out and share them.

On the day students brought their touchstones, they were very self-conscious. After sharing with a partner, a number of them asked if they had to share with the entire class, the dreadful fear of judgment in their eyes. I told them they didn’t have to share, but it would be nice, because “sharing makes things more meaningful”. I wasn’t sure what I meant exactly, the words just came out. (Teachers have to improvise sometimes.) Fortunately, no one asked for clarification.

To make it less intimidating we had students display their touchstones all at once in the center of the “world-class” rug. Though resisting at first, students soon became interested in the touchstones of their peers; even the most anxious were distracted by curiosity. As I began to make sense of my earlier statement, I took a quick poll: “Who enjoyed learning about someone else’s touchstone today?” All hands went up. No longer was the focus on the object to be shared, but on the effect of sharing, itself – that heart-warming feeling of being included, when someone trusts enough to share something meaningful. By reflecting on how it felt to be shared with, students found courage that day to pay the experience forward. It was a small but victorious step toward honoring ones stories and oneself, and proudly sharing both with the world.

Amy Lin
Teaching Artist