Nations in Neighborhoods

By Zeitlin, Steve; Dargan, Amanda | Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore, Spring-Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Nations in Neighborhoods


Zeitlin, Steve, Dargan, Amanda, Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore


"Today, we learn a new word," said teaching artist George Zavala, as he addressed a group of fourth graders at PS 11 in Queens, New York.

"The word is palette. Who knows what it means?'

"It's where an artist puts his paints," one child said.

"Yes," said George, "and it is also the range of colors the artist uses."

For the lesson on this day, each child was given a Styrofoam plate with three splotches of primary colors along with a glass of water to hold their brushes. They were painting handmade clay "artifacts" representing their cultural backgrounds. "What do you get when you mix the red and yellow?' Zavala asked. "Orange!" several children shouted in unison. Known to the children as "Mr. George," Zavala went on to teach a lesson in science and art as the children discovered they could make every color of the rainbow from their three dabs of paint.

Looking at the faces of the children, we also see a rich and varied palette of colors. Every hue on the spectrum shines in their eager faces. Queens is New York City's most diverse borough. Fifty-five languages are spoken at the school whose students come from all over Latin America, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, China, Japan, Nepal, Ireland--and many from mixed backgrounds, as their parents from different cultural backgrounds intermarry in this country. In these classrooms, the stories and experiences of how and why they came to this country embody the American dream. It makes us feel that the future of this country is in good hands. Someday, we believe, one of these kids is going to be the president of the United States.

George Zavala is a teaching artist in Nations in Neighborhoods, a fouryear federal Model Arts Development and Dissemination grant awarded to the NYC Department of Education District 28 and City Lore to test the efficacy of the arts in building student achievement in math or English language arts. The outside evaluator for the project, Dennie Palmer Wolf of Wolf Brown Associates, worked with City Lore's education staff and participating teachers both to develop some new assessment measures for the arts as well as track student progress on standardized tests.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Our evaluation measured both arts vocabulary and skills through classroom observations and multiple in-depth interviews with students, preand post-assessment tasks, as well as standardized English language test scores. …

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