(November 12th, 2019 — Jersey City) As the culminating project for the first marking period thematic unit, the students at Explore Middle School put together a showcase that included art, videos, poems, short stories, and “Open Mic Night” performances.
“Identity” was chosen by the language arts department as the first thematic unit for the school year. As a part of the unit, all Explore students visited the Montclair Art Museum’s exhibit on identity. The 8th-grade students saw “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway and visited Ellis Island. John Halligan visited to share “Ryan’s Story” and all students attended a performance of “Island of Hope” from Living Voices.
In language art class, the students spent the marking period focusing on the essential question: “What defines who we are?” A variety of texts, multimedia, and their experiences allowed them to answer this question about themselves and others. The result of this focus was a variety of original work created by the students.
The culminating activities began with an “Open Mic Night” where students were given the opportunity to perform expressive art focusing on the day’s theme. Students read original poems, short stories, and motivational speeches. 7th grader, Aidan Chappas, performed comedian George Carlin’s bit “Baseball vs. Football”. Ms. Cirillo’s music CTE group, Explore Voices, performed “True Colors”.
Ms. Frances Bermas’ CTE art class created a variety of work including drawings, paintings, and collages representative of the students’ identities.
The 6th graders in Ms. Heather Garrett’s language arts classes explored their “identity” through the creation of self portraits accompanied by metaphorical writing. Their writing was used to describe parts of their identity that may go unnoticed to others.
“Explore Middle School’s Identity Showcase was a huge success. It was amazing seeing how all three grade levels brought their own creative flare to their work. I learned so much about the students through their artwork. It was truly a beautiful day!” Garrett stated.
6th grader Lizbeth Perez, “My poem was about my dad and his role in my life and it was also about my mom and her recent illness. I wrote about how I feel like a tired bear that isn’t able to hibernate. I wanted people to understand that my feelings right now seem like they’ll never go way. My self portrait was of me sitting with my chin rested in my hand. I wanted people to see that I had a lot on my mind and it was taking a toll on me, but I could only feel rested for a minute.”
For their showcase, the 7th graders in Mr. John Dunphy’s class were asked to write about what they considered to be part of their individual identities. Some students opted for the standard identifications of “son” or “sister” while others went so far as to identify as “gamers” and “scooter-ers.”
“The students were all very proud of their work. My favorite part of the experience was watching students showing off their own videos, starting off being shy and introverted, but by the end of the clip owning up to their work and beaming as their friends commented on their videos. This was an opportunity for the students to highlight themselves and the best of what they feel they have to offer and the students really came through to showcase all they feel makes them unique,” Dunphy said.
Ms. Justine Franco’s 8th graders created poems, vignettes, and art inspired by a variety of American authors. Poems “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar and “For My People” by Margaret Walker were read and discussed by students before they created poetry modeled after the famous works but focused on the students’ own lives. The 8th graders also read vignettes from Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street as inspiration for their own vignettes centered on the strengths of their personal and physical traits.
“I was not only proud of the work the students created for our showcase, but the extent to which they engaged with such powerful and at times, arduous, literature. They truly rose to the occasion and I was so proud of each of them. I think they were very proud of themselves as well,” Franco shared.
The students have begun working on the 2nd marking period thematic unit “Science: the Ultimate Frontier”.