Head of School Blog

Our Annual Youth Leadership Summit: Learning Through the Arts

Jill Singleton
When asked what adults think about them, students in our Middle School had a variety of opinions to share. “They think we’re irresponsible, stupid, and weird,” wrote one student. “They think we’re in the way,” wrote another. “They don’t want us to grow up,” offered a third. Although the ages 10 -15 are known throughout the world as a time when the child’s inner life is in a state of turmoil and flux, one thing is exceedingly clear: these young adults have a lot to say – if only we would listen. Certainly we can all remember having strong opinions yet sensing that the adults in our lives didn’t take us seriously. “I hope that people stop killing endangered animals,” one student shared. “I hope people stop smoking,” offered another. At All Saints, we believe that being present and listening to the hopes and concerns of students in this age group is not only a meaningful exercise, but an important responsibility we all share. We also believe in the value of students expressing themselves in a variety of ways, including though the arts. Some students are more inclined to express themselves through their words, either vocally or in their writing, whereas other students can demonstrate their ideas most effectively through art.

The Month of the Young Adolescent Leadership Summit, scheduled for Tuesday, October 30, at 8:30am in the church, is designed to provide youth with a chance to have their voices heard through a variety of mediums. Their job is to speak, and our job is to listen. Now in its fifth year, All Saints put this international celebration on the New Jersey map in 2007 when it worked with the Governor to proclaim the event statewide. As is our tradition, students chose the theme for this year’s event: the dangers of texting while driving. Students will present formal speeches, art work and a special public service announcement about the importance of refraining from using handheld devices while driving. By requiring students to express themselves in all of these ways, their learning becomes more memorable and meaningful. Each student’s strength – whether visual, verbal, interpersonal, or otherwise – is accessed and celebrated in the achievements of the whole group.

Although there are many special aspects to this event, perhaps one of the most interesting is the integration of the arts into the students’ work. Students use their creative and artistic skills to construct meaning as well as an expression of self. For example, Fifth and Sixth Graders engage in a logo design contest for the event, and students wear the winning design on t-shirts specially made for the day. In their logos, students combine the visual elements with the letters “MOTYA,” an acronym for Month of the Young Adolescent, as a representation of the work they conducted for their Leadership Summit. Seventh Graders create hand drawings inspired by MC Escher, showing hands in compositions that illustrate the theme while encouraging people to step back from their technology to see what they’re missing. Initially, when students were presented with this concept, many were unsure of how they could effectively convey such a powerful message through art, but once they shared how they felt about the theme, they experienced the thrill of their ideas flowing freely from words to elegant visuals. One student chose to draw a child’s hand taking away a phone from an adult in a park setting – a scene with a hauntingly message for many of us. Another shows hands donating money to the families of those victims who were killed or injured in car crashes resulting from texting while driving. Eighth Graders have created a large-scale installation comprised of their interpretation of the negative impacts of texting while driving along with how much we allow technology to dominate our lives. Part of the challenge for the Eighth Grade class was not only to create multiple elements and combine them in meaningful ways, but also to work collaboratively. Through all of these projects, we challenge our students to convey their ideas visually while stretching their artistic capabilities and their understanding that concepts can be explored in ways beyond the written word.

Treat yourself to an hour of listening to what young people have to say about themselves, their community and the world, and learn more about the many ways in which art enhances the curriculum at All Saints. Be present for students on October 30, at 8:30am in the church as they practice their civic voices and develop their leadership skills. Their powerful messages, both spoken and visual, might just save our lives.

The Month of the Young Adolescent is an annual international collaborative effort of education, health, and youth-oriented organizations. Initiated by the Association for Middle Level Education, the month is designed to focus on the needs of children ages 10 to 15. The key messages for the celebration are:

• The importance of parents being knowledgeable about young adolescents and being actively involved in their lives;
• The understanding that healthy bodies plus healthy minds equal healthy young adolescents;
• The realization that the education young adolescents experience during this formative period of life will, in large measure, determine the future for all citizens; and
• The knowledge that every young adolescent should have the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams and aspirations, and post-secondary education should be a possibility for all.

Questions, comments, ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com