Sixth- through eighth-grade students at FAIR School Crystal have come together for a video project, This is me #Identity, which started as a school initiative for students to reflect on who they are and how they’ve changed.
With school starting again, it seemed inappropriate to pretend like nothing is happening, said Laura Mahler, a theater teacher at FAIR School. Mahler is hired through Stages Theatre Company in a partnership with the FAIR School. She has been with the Robbinsdale Area School District for three years.
Mahler didn’t have a storyboard planned ahead of time. She left it up to the students as to how they wanted to express themselves. Some sang, played an instrument, showed artwork on screen, rapped or recited a line from the song “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.” She then edited the student’s pieces into a cohesive project.
Leading by example
Mahler made her own version of the This Is Me project to introduce herself at the school open house. In it, she rapped about quarantine, sang, danced, roller-skated and showed herself working with students. It demonstrated how their project could come to fruition, she said.
A group effort
With classes at the FAIR School being entirely virtual amid COVID-19, students can feel a sense of piling on with all the different classes, she said. Staff members wanted to eliminate student’s stress of juggling the concepts and themes while learning in isolation.
The choir teacher is teaching the “This Is Me” song. In theater classes, students are focusing on how to express themselves, the history class is discussing identity and leaders from the past and present who have brought change. The intention is to clarify the work so students can focus on the same thing throughout the day, she said.
The students are still mourning what could have been and what they had, Mahler said, adding she misses her students. But, the video is a representation of resilience. It would be easy to give up and say we’re stuck with virtual classes and can’t do art anymore, she said.
Students often come to class and keep their cameras off. Mahler understands that but doesn’t give up or lower her expectations for students. There is something to be said about keeping the bar high while remaining compassionate and supportive of student’s situations, she said.
The project was about finding different ways to exist and be present in the classroom virtually, she said. It incorporates students finding their voices and continuing to create art that reaches out to and connects people, she added.
The combination of the Black Lives Matter movement with isolation is hard for students to process, she said. She empathizes with students who are juggling their emotions.
By coming together and working on a project that is personal and vulnerable, the students can find healing, realize they aren’t alone and have a community, she said.
At the Robbinsdale School Board meeting Nov. 2, students who participated in the project voiced their thoughts on their work.
BJ Rock, a seventh-grader at FAIR School, said theater is a big part of the school. The unit was moving and helpful in distance learning to be able to see and connect with theater while being at home. Rock was grateful that the school encourages students to express themselves.
Students have already made a similar video with a Halloween theme. In the future, Mahler hopes to put together a project in connection with the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis to allow students to feel connected to the landmark and to inspire their expression, she said.
To view the FAIR School student’s This Is Me #Identity project, visit bit.ly/Thisismeproject.
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