2018 Heroes Update: Laura Kanji AB '19

Laura Kanji AB '19 describes how the PBHA's Mission Hill After School Program utilized the Heroes grant to fund clay-based art workshops for its students this fall.

This fall, Mission Hill After School Program has been implementing clay-based art workshops with the funds provided by the Harvardwood Heroes award. These workshops have been wonderful opportunities for our students to use clay as a unique medium for their artistic creations. Out of the 5 classrooms that make up our program, 3 have had the opportunity to participate in these workshops. We are excited to purchase materials in the spring for the final two classrooms to be able to participate. The Harvardwood Heroes Grant has helped make these workshops a reality, as it has allowed us to purchase materials like air-dry clay, clay sculpting tools, and paint. Previously these materials were inaccessible to our program due to their high cost and our constrained budget.

During the first few weeks of the fall, curricula was implemented based around identity and art. Students learned learn about famous artist and how they conveyed their identity through their work, with a focus on famous sculptors and clay as a medium for this self-expression. Topics ranged from ancient Mayan sculpture, to more contemporary artists like Roberto Lugo. Once students had developed a base appreciation and understanding of utilizing clay for artistic expression, they got to try it out themselves. Clay workshops across these classrooms were very open ended in order to provide space for student agency and creativity. After a brief introduction of the tools available to them and a display of some example projects, students were given clay and the time to create whatever they pleased. Students having full agency in their creation was the most important aspect considered when developing these workshops.

TG_CLAY.jpgEach group produced amazing art and also seemed to enjoy the physical and almost therapeutic action of sculpting clay. One student in particular in our 11 to 12-year-old classroom asked to work on her sculpture every day after she had completed homework for an entire week. She had been going through a tough and stressful time at school (middle school can be rough!!) and loved how relaxed working with the clay made her feel. The clay workshops also helped facilitate friendships between students. Working on their art was a great time for students to sit with each other, listen to music, and talk in a relaxed setting. Some students even selected to make art pieces to give to other students in the classroom as gifts.

Overall, these workshops were really wonderful to watch and the final products were beautiful. The main challenge we faced while holding the workshops was when students got stuck and didn’t know what they wanted to make. We overcame this challenge by encouraging counselors to brainstorm ideas with the students, using online resources when needed, to come up with ideas the students were excited about. An additional challenge was the mess, but that’s all a part of the fun! Students had the opportunity to get messy and let their imaginations run wild!

These workshops provided a new learning opportunity for our students in many different ways. They gave students the opportunity to learn about famous artist that express themselves through a clay medium, allowed them to actually use the clay to make their own personal art pieces, and also aided in socio-emotional development within our classrooms. Our program has had so much fun with clay this semester and is so grateful to you for funding this experience! The rest of our classrooms eagerly look forward to incorporating the clay workshops into their curricula in the spring.

Lauren helps to run the Mission Hill After School Program, which serves 60 low-income youth ages 5-16 who live in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. The program’s mission is to provide a safe, fun, and positive learning experience through personalized attention, creative lesson planning, and involvement from the community. This year, MHASP is focusing especially on self-expression, student voice and empowerment, and novel learning opportunities. Thanks to the generous support of the Harvardwood grant, the Mission Hill After School Program will implement a series of pottery workshops for students of all ages this fall, with the aim of introducing students to pottery as a unique mode of self-expression.

In Spring 2018, we awarded four $500 grants through the annual Harvardwood Heroes program in recognition of Harvard alumni performing outstanding work at the intersection of the arts and service. This Thanksgiving weekend, we're catching up with the 2018 Heroes to share their program updates with the Harvardwood community and to express our gratitude for their inspiring impact on their communities.

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