"We All Belong Here"
In January 2018, an Eighth – grade class at DeWitt Middle School worked hard over just a few weeks to explore and express themselves and common themes in their lives with Musicians for World Harmony. As the project unfolded, they also started to sing, and the chorus for their piece is their chosen theme: “We all Belong Here”. In all 22 students worked in class with performing artists Samite and Nate Richardson, and their teachers Theresa Souchet and Aaron Arm.
Almost all Middle school aged youth face a lot of pressures, and expression in the face of those challenges can be difficult. On top of that, “At least half of the students in the class were not born in our country”, Theresa explained. This ELA class that combines children of immigrants, some who came as refugees, and others whose families are from Ithaca. All of them are in the midst of adolescence; some speak English fluently, others not as much, and two boys – new to Ithaca from Puerto Rico – speak almost entirely Spanish but worked hard on their project with the help of the teachers.
The students were given broad themes to choose from to express what felt relevant to them; their works include their thoughts on Peace, Not Giving Up, Family, Hope, Comfort, Friendship, and Fun. They worked in pairs and created a few lines each – some verses were playful. Others express calls to action, and others express appreciation to family members.
At the end of the project, 18 students took a field trip to Electric Wilburland Studio in Newfield to record their individual spoken-word statements and to sing as a group. At first, in the classroom, the singing started with a few of the boys who felt more confident with their voices; the rest were pretty quiet in a group. At the end of the recording session, all the kids there were singing loudly together, many also dancing, their laughter punctuating the verses.
At the end of the project, more than a few expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work with Nate and Samite and to check out the studio. A few noted they knew a little more about themselves or a classmate. For some, the foray into self-expression took courage and they were proud to have found their voices.
We look forward to sharing the recording with you when it is ready, and more photos! MWH is grateful to DeWitt Middle School, IPEI, and the Legacy Foundation for their resources to make the project a reality. The program was also made possible in part with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the NY State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Cuomo and the NY State Legislature, and administered by the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County.
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