SAFE @ SMART & URBAN JUNGLE
September 2012-April 2013
PROJECT FUNDED BY WATES GIVING AND THE WATES FAMILY TRUST
Safe @Smart derived from an exhibition which myself and Jenny Wainmann (Counsellor in Education) attended at a local special school. We were instantly struck by how the students were so engaged in their art and spoke about how the group had started off as a dysfunctional group and had through art and drama created a community project and new friendships. This was the problem which Jenny and I had identified within our school community. Working in an Urban Pupil Referral Unit, we have many students who come to the school because they have been bullies or were themselves bullied. This sometimes creates within the school environment an explosive contested space and our current cohort of students were worryingly more aggressive towards each other than we have experienced in previous years. We saw this project as a means to bring about a community spirit within the school. We purposely selected and invited the bullied and their bullies to join the project.
Together with Andy Alty (Project Manager) from the Wimbledon Civic Theatre Trust, Becky Warnock (Art Specialist), Guy Jones (Drama Specialist), Chloe Jones (Art Therapist), Phil (ex-convict) from Only Connect London, Barry Mizen (Father of stab victim, Jimmy Mizen), Jenny and Myself (Art Teacher) a collective plan of action was developed to address the identified problem in the Smart Centre. We named the project after our primary aim; we wanted all students and staff to feel emotionally safe within the SMART Centre. So we named it SAFE @ SMART.
After considerable research, we decided to concentrate on promoting emotional literacy in the project. We wanted the students to transform their emotional literacy by giving them the skills to think critically through discourse, art and drama. During the project, we created spaces for the students to exchange ideas and insights in order to create a better appreciation for themselves. We hoped that through the better awareness of themselves they would be able to comprehend their reality better and gain more self-respect for themselves. We hoped that’s as their self-respect grew so would their self-realisation and this would result in a greater emotional literacy and better school community.
We experienced with even the most engaging of activities the students resisted by not engaging. This is where the Counsellor and Art therapist would contract the students and find out what the cause of the resistance was. Most of the time the issue was not the activity but more an underlying deeper personal issue that the activity had bought to the surface and the student’s instinctive reaction was to resist the activity and isolate themselves from the group. Although the programme was designed to contain a lot of emotion within the group context; our Counsellor and Art Therapist were on hand to deal with any emotional issues that became too big to deal with in the space of the group.
We invited Phil and Barry to join the collaboration as we wanted the students to have discourse with both the victim and the perpetrator, thereby humanising both parties and allowing the students to become ‘’critical consumers’’ of the information both parties provided. Based on Friere’s model we wanted each party to make a stand in their position and to explain their stand to the students. After the discourse, the students evaluated the information through a free-form drama about the respective parties’ lives. We hoped that these two juxtaposing intense realities of life would help create a critical pedagogy whereby the students would connect to both parties collectively and individually bridging their realities and connect with them on an inimitable level.
We had initially planned for the students to produce a drama piece but the students collectively wanted to create an installation of a collective language of their realities because they had been inspired by their trip to Tate Modern. They called this installation the ‘Urban Jungle’ because they felt that although they were in an urban school that they were still in a Jungle of emotions and Hidden Curriculums.
My most empowering part of the project was when an ADHD boy came to me, his body puffed up and with pride in his eyes, he looks around the installation/exhibition and says ‘This is just like the Tate!'.