CLASSROOM OF THE WEEK | Lenox students exchange 'I Am' art with counterparts in Namibia

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Editor's note: Only the first names of students are listed in this story, as per Berkshire Country Day School's student information policy.

LENOX — How would you introduce yourself to someone you've never met, who lives more than 7,000 miles away, on a landscape completely different than here in the Berkshires?

In Sasha Sicurella's studio at Berkshire Country Day School, her students are starting with art.

The teacher is traveling with their drawings and personal poems, sharing them with students living in and around Walvis Bay, Namibia, located on the southwestern coast of Africa. Sicurella is a delegate with the International Society for Education through Art seminar, "Building Social Cohesion through Arts Education," hosted by the Society for Arts Education in Namibia.

In turn, Sicurella hopes to return to her students carrying work by 100 Namibian students sharing their perspectives and creativity.

The first work the students have created for each other is what's known as a "graphic letter," a comic book-style illustration of a scene from their life, with only a few words or short sentences.

"No detail is too small or insignificant," Sicurella told her fifth-graders. "Those details start provoking questions from our readers."

Several BCD students drew scenes of fall; others of eating ice cream, swimming in a pool, skateboarding and watching TV.

Niyah, a fifth-grade student said sharing the graphic letters is a good idea because "some kids might not get to travel, but this way they can see different landscapes."

"We might make a connection with them and find out something really interesting," Ellie said.

Her classmate, Emily, said: "When we learn about other people, we start experiencing and learning new things."

Sharing children's experiences and stories has been Sicurella's life work. The Canada-born arts education specialist, photographer and filmmaker also is the founding director of The I AM: International Foundation, which fosters youth empowerment through artwork and self-portraits.

Through this current art exchange project, Sicurella will be connecting Namibian students from Duinesig High School in Kuisebmond, Narraville Primary School in Narraville, and the Flamingo Primary School in Walvis Bay with fifth-graders at Berkshire Country Day

School, as well as Ichabod Crane School in Valatie, N.Y.

"Through a variety of mixed media art projects and the creation of photographic self-portraits, students will have an opportunity to reflect on the meanings of personal, group and community identity while learning about other students from different countries around the world," Sicurella said.

At BCD, Sicurella also collaborated with teacher Jilly Lederman to help the fifth-graders compose "I Am" poems based on their personal interests, favorite foods, family members and other experiences.

"They're very intimate poems of some of their earliest memories of childhood," Lederman said.

Aiden read his poem for the group:

"I am from TVs and annoying alarm clocks and / Skateboards and the remote control / I am from warm blankets ..."

Ellie read from her poem:

"I am from red piles of bricks, / from dirty cars to climb on, and rainy streets. / I am from slimy mud, / and grass, / and crunchy leaves."

Read Niyah:

"I am from rocks from Greece and jade crocodiles, from / Smiles and fuzzy fat dogs. / I am from family, hugs, and candy."

After reading her work, Niyah said, "If I could, I would switch places for a week just to give [the Namibian students] a chance to see what I like."


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