San Ramon Elementary School, “Arts Unite Us”
Teaching Artist: Suraya Keating
How can we create a world where we learn to enjoy our similarities and our differences? Where we can use imagination to work out conflicts and different ways of being? These are the questions that catalyzed my residency experience at San Ramon Elementary School, where students from three 4th grade mainstream classes joined forces with students from Mrs. Lake’s 3-5th grade special needs class to learn skills of drama, and to put on a mini-performance of their work together. In 7 action-packed drama classes, students worked collaboratively as they developed skills of acting and ensemble work, including: group pantomimes, creating tableaus, and using their voices and bodies in expressive ways to communicate a story. They then combined these skills to act out three different modified versions of a traditional African folktale, “The Laughing River.”
At its core, “The Laughing River” is folktale which invites us to contemplate how to live in the world with all of our differences in such a way that we can all not only get along, but THRIVE. It also invited the students to contemplate the question: how can we effectively resolve conflict when we have differing preferences and needs? In watching the students in the three groups that I directed at San Ramon School, I loved observing how the students in each group used their imagination to come up with a multitude of ways to solve the particular conflict in their version of the story. For example, in one version of “The Laughing River,” one group of people became upset because another group was cutting down too many trees to make wooden drums. How can this conflict be solved? Students came up with a variety of imaginative and peaceful ways to resolve this. Below is an excerpt of what they said:
How about if the people who want to make drums only cut down dead trees?
How about if we get half the trees and you get half the trees?
How about if the people who make drums find a different material to make their drums so that the trees can live?
Listening to students come up with their own ideas about how to solve conflict made my heart smile. What also made me smile was to observe how the students listened to one another – taking in each other’s ideas and considering them rather than throwing them away. In our short time together, it felt to me that students truly became an ENSEMBLE, with everyone wanting the best for everyone else.
Thanks to the students and teachers at San Ramon Elementary for their wonderful work! And thanks to the generous contributions that support the Arts Unite Us program from The Lester Foundation, The Green Foundation, The Marin Community Foundation and Marin Charitable.