‘Their worlds just got a little bigger’ | TheUnion.com

‘Their worlds just got a little bigger’

Staff and students at Grizzly Hill and Washington Schools enjoyed a conversation with the staff and children of the Al Farah Choir in Damascus, the capitol of Syria.
Submitted photo

Nevada County Arts Council and Twin Ridges School District have been teaming up on a new international project piloting in the United States, called Dream A Difference.

This week the Council’s teaching poets met with elementary and middle school students at Grizzly Hill and Washington Schools in order to connect them live via Skype with students from Syria, in sharing poems written for one another.

Eliza Tudor, executive director at Nevada County Arts Council, said: “9 a.m. on the Ridge meant 7 p.m. for the children of the Al Farah Choir in Damascus — but a lack of tech and poor lighting didn’t hold these young ones back. We connected via a laptop and watched the beginning of new friendships spanning continents.”

Dream a Difference began in 2016 as a poetry project connecting small schools in the United Kingdom with others in Jordan, Palestine, Malaysia and Zimbabwe. During 2018, Nevada County Arts Council piloted this program in the United States and is this year again partnering with Twin Ridges Schools District to coach children in poetry at Washington and Grizzly Hill Schools.

“All of us take for granted that Washington and Grizzly Hill Schools form one of the smallest school districts in the United States,” said Tudor. “Yet through Dream A Difference our students form part of an emerging global community of young people who are gaining awareness and learning empathy for the way others live and, in the spirit of sharing the poetry they write in the form of song and recitation, share their own experience of life in rural California.”

Students within the Twin Ridges Schools District are also offered an opportunity to recite their poems at the Sierra Poetry Festival which takes place in April during National Poetry Month each year. Here they meet Nevada County Poetry Out Loud participants, gaining valuable foundational insight and preparation toward this nationally-recognized high school program.

“To watch the children recognize themselves in the music and poetry of children thousands of miles away reaffirms that we are all more similar than different, regardless of culture and physical distance,” said Kirsten Casey, California poet and coordinator for Dream A Difference. “To put a human face and voice to the lessons is more valuable than any words written on the page, but the initial poetic exchange made this particular meeting not only possible, but successful.”

“Of course, this sort of program simply couldn’t exist without the support of visionary classroom teachers and an even more visionary superintendent school principal.”

“(Superintendent Principal) James Berardi has been super supportive of the program and has provided seed funding for our teachers,” said Tudor. “He made sure to attend this special conversation with Syria, and it was heart-warming to watch his face and the faces of both teachers and students as they glimpsed members of the choir so far away.”

Berardi spoke to the opportunity the Dream A Difference is affording his students.

“The Twin Ridges School District is so very honored to be participating in such a groundbreaking program,” he said. “The opportunity for our small rural schools and students from Nevada County to have created a connection with kids on the other side of the world in Syria through the arts is unbelievable. The kids’ exposure to a new language, music and poetry from a distant culture makes the world seem so much smaller and more connected. It is simply amazing that the kids got to experience this week the similarities they share with their Damascus counterparts.

“This was an experience that they will never forget.”

Another of Nevada County Arts Council’s resident teaching poets is Conrad Cecil. Cecil described his experience of Dream A Difference: “It was an unexpected experience of a very different world. The school of the Little Town of Washington is a family, and Dream A Difference fell creatively just outside institutionalized learning.”

During this week’s Skype session with Syria, Twin Ridges Business Official, Deborah Messervey dropped by.

“It was such a wonderful opportunity to see our children conversing and engaging with the children from Al Farah Choir this morning,” Messervey said. “Watching the curiosity grow, the children’s realization that even though they live continents apart they are very similar. The appreciation for poetry on both sides was tremendous to see. If anything, I think all of their worlds just got a little bigger.”

Students from Grizzly Hill and Washington Schools will be reading and reciting their poems at a community open mic at BriarPatch Food Coop at noon on Saturday and again at Sierra Poetry Festival on April 27, which takes place all day at Sierra College in Grass Valley.

To learn more about Sierra Poetry Festival go to http://www.sierrapoetryfestival.org. To learn more about Dream A Difference, visit http://www.nevadacountyarts.org/arts-in-education

Source: Nevada County Arts Council

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