Fostering Creative Communication
Seated in Providence’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School cafeteria, Yuko Okabe 17 IL watches intently as a six-year-old girl transforms a square sheet of paper into an origami frog. Once she has finished folding it, the girl presses a finger on the frog’s back legs, making it spring along the table littered with bits of tape and rainbow-colored confetti. With a smile of delight, she tucks the small pet into a plastic baggie containing a growing collection of paper treasures.
Arts educators were pleased to see this heartwarming interaction and countless others unfold during Monday’s MLK Day of Service – an annual cornerstone of RISD’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Series. On January 19 – the federal holiday marking King’s lasting impact – approximately 160 RISD students volunteered to engage a peppy group of diverse elementary school children in games, craft projects and conversation. Each year RISD partners with the Mt. Hope Learning Center to host the inspirational event.
“RISD students are interested in transformational activities that have potential to shift mindsets and make real change,” notes Interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID, who participated in the event again this year. “Today they’re exposing young children to the arts – a medium that often breaks down barriers by acting as a line of communication between people. This event is incredibly empowering for everyone involved.”
Throughout the school, volunteers work hand-in-hand with participating kids to make a wide array of inventive projects. Wearing a tri-cornered hat made of newspaper, Yalda Foroughmand Arabi 18 FS helps a young boy fasten a knot on the end of a yellow beaded bracelet. In the middle of the task, another child tugs on her arm and asks for help in making a keychain for his mother. “I signed up to volunteer because I’m interested in teaching one day,” the Foundation Studies student explains. “This is definitely a good training ground.”
Meanwhile, Eric Telfort 05 IL, executive director of the Mt. Hope Learning Center, arranges a group of RISD students into a neat semicircle toward the entrance of the building. He advises each of the artists and designers to actively listen to the children’s needs and use objective language when speaking about their work.
“There are different types of intelligences – every child learns in their own way,” Telfort explains. “Some are apt to quietly experiment with materials. Others want to talk out their thinking process. Whatever the case, just being a present and supportive figure is active engagement.”
In a far corner of the room, AmeriCorps VISTA Emily Gonzalez lays a tarp on the floor being careful not to spill a cluster of plastic bowls filled with neon paint. She encourages the eager kids to splatter wild streaks of acrylics across the blank canvas, which will eventually be hung as decoration in the school.
“Service should never take a day off,” Gonzalez notes. “It’s so important to remain connected to our neighboring communities. We all rise higher when we come together.”
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