Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist at Clinton & Hampton Elementary Schools
Last week, our Clinton students went on a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. This year's opera will be based on themes of adventure and discovery, and we thought a field trip would be a relevant and inspiring experience for them! The day was delightful, of course, filled with "fake tornadoes" (what they called the tornado simulator), hatching chicks, a maze of mirrors, an actual U-boat submarine, a traveling circus, wind tunnels and rainbow rooms and static electricity spheres and other WOW-inspiring exhibits too numerous to name. In follow-up with the kids the next week, we worked with them to process their experiences and to choose themes for songs that would based on those experiences, as well as imagined events that could have happened in the museum.
I could not keep up with the flow of ideas that ensued once the kids understood the "what if" directive. What if the submarine floated out to sea with only kids on it? What if the artful cadavers came to life, a la Night of the Living Dead? (Night of the Living Bodies was the title that student suggested, and which stuck, a nice nod to the classic horror flick.) What if the images of ourselves taken by the museum photographer came to life and tried to take our place in our own lives? What imaginations! Real-life scenarios that will be turned into songs for their opera include getting "lost" and reuniting with the group in the eating area; a song with the working title "Lost Until Lunch", and being disoriented in the museum's "mirror maze".
I'm so enjoying working with the kids to translate their everyday experiences into the end result of an opera, rather than imposing already-extant material on them. It is highly effective, in terms of getting them invested in the project, and also a very direct introduction to the creative process from start to finish. And kids are just so creative, when given the opportunity.
I was struck by the comments of two adults affiliated with Clinton; one, a field trip chaperone, and one, an office staffperson with whom I chatted this week before the field trip follow up class. During the field trip, I attached myself to a particular Clinton group and followed them as they progressed through the musem, taking pictures and asking the kids what they thought about this and that. I stepped in to help the chaperone as he encouraged the kids to enter a wind capsule a few at a time, rather than packing themselves in like soon-to-be-disheveled sardines. We watched the kids scream and laugh and pound on the plastic walls as they were buffeted by high winds.
With a smile on his face, the chaperone suddenly said that these trips were important because the kids, as they were exposed to all these different technologies and sciences and disciplines, might decide that they wanted to be astronauts, or scientists, etc.. when they grew up, and that they would then "participate in their communities". Screaming and silliness and static electricity balls aside, he perceived the trip as planting the potential seeds of their futures. Yes, indeed. How sad that, at one of our schools, due to probationary status, the kids must take a "virtual field trip" on which to base their opera. They can't have life-expanding experiences like field trips because they might not pass a benchmark if any test prep time is lost. There is something wrong with that picture. Sometimes, though, we can't see our immediate realities, our current snapshots, or the fruits they may eventually bear, lost as we are in benchmarks or funding issues or, simply, our own awareness.
My other moment was shared with a Clinton secretary in her sixties or seventies who was monitoring the sign-in table the week after the trip. She had seen last year's opera and asked what we were doing this year, and she shared her own memories of touring the famous Prado museum in Spain as a child. Picassos, Monets, all of that meant nothing to her at that age, she said; she had no context for it as a middle-schooler, the same age as this year's students. She recalled other students' parents, she guessed, telling them to emphasize those masters in their homework essays after her trip, and also remembered her parents scolding her for relating seemingly commonplace elements of her experience in her own essay. In her child's eye, she said, she remembered going up and down the stairs, over and over, more than anything else. She put that in her essay, and her teacher gave her an A, she said, because she did the assignment: she related her experience. But, she said; now, so many years later, she can marvel at the masterpieces she saw then, and appreciate them and the impact that visit had on her. Seeds were planted.
We never know whether the seeds we plant in the course of this program will end up in maturity. All we see are the initial sprouts of creativity and excitement; at the end of the year, an opera, a blossom produced during such a small part of the life cycle of our students. But I hope, indeed, believe, that our kids will have experiences that will expand their sense of the possible and, as our chaperone put it, inspire ideas for new life directions, even if, at the time, it seems like a lot of "going up and down."