It was the beginning of the school year, and she handed out a paper to each student. When she reached my desk, I didn’t dare look up. It was another school form requiring a parent signature.
I was five years old, staying at my Aunt’s apartment in NY while my parents were in Connecticut. They moved to CT to take over the family restaurant and I was staying in NY to finish up the rest of Kindergarten. I added the teacher’s form to the pile of unsigned papers in my folder. I wasn’t collecting them to make a statement. I just didn’t have anyone to sign them.
No one in my family knew English at that time. My aunt didn’t want to sign the forms on my parent’s behalf, because she couldn’t understand them. During our phone calls, I would tell them I have papers that they need to sign. They would ask me what they were for, but I couldn’t understand the papers.
Since English wasn’t my native language, I wrestled with words that weren’t natural to me. I thought that friendships were formed with words that weren’t meant to be mine. Naturally, I had a difficult time adjusting and connecting with other students. I often chose to remain silent.
Art class changed my perspective as a student and exposed me to a new way of communication. There was something about turning empty space into something that was captivating to me. Almost naturally again, I became interactive with my peers and was curious about learning because of art. I felt included and confident as a creator wielding crayons, eager to share my art piece.
At Community-Word Project, 19% of the students we serve are English Language Learners. Community-Word Project ingeniously integrates art in the school curriculum, pairing a writer with an artistic educator specializing in visual arts, music, photography, dance, or theatre. Through a multi-disciplinary arts curriculum, we teach children that they have a voice and their voice is strong and powerful.
As a student of the public school system, I was empowered through my exposure to the arts. I am humbled to be a part of an organization bringing back arts education to New York City public schools.