Plan B: Because Something Unexpected Always Happens

Rosa Druker

Pintando La Parva: Afterschool art classes at La Parva school. Viña del Mar, Chile.

Week Two

      I’m sitting across for the principal, Juan Carlos, at Escuela La Parva. “We need a Plan B,” I tell him. I just finished up teaching a workshop attended by one student. One. Despite meeting several other students who expressed interested and committed to come that day, things were not going as planned. I had not dedicate enough thought to the cardinal rule: your lesson plan and impeccable pedagogy are worthless if the students doesn’t show up. So we get down to Plan B: call parents, invite students to share a meal, and decide it’s time to down to painting straight away.

While preparing for my project, I sat around at my desk in the United States and tried to imagine every possible circumstance that might be a barrier to my project. Now I’m sitting at a desk in Chile, dealing with something I never would have expected: the public school teachers of Chile are on an indefinite strike. For over a month, classes have been suspended. Teachers are demanding that the government rewrite its new educational law, raising the base salary, giving special incentive to teachers in schools serving vulnerable populations, and compensation for hours worked in the home preparing to teach. Teachers feel their profession is undervalued by society and that they are being denied the resources to do their jobs effectively.

What does this mean for my project? Although classes are suspended, the school is not shut down. Every day students attend workshops, eat school lunch there, and come to socialize. Most days the teachers come to the schools to attend meetings and plan how they will participate in the next march or demonstration. I underestimated how strongly the strike would impact morale of the community. I asked the one student who showed up to my workshop why his friends didn’t come, and he explained that because of the strikes everyone is “lazy” and doesn’t want to get out of bed. He isn’t the only one saying this: the art teacher who I’ve been working closely with sees the same pattern. The suspension of classes makes students’ backsliding inevitable, both in terms of their learning and work ethic.

My host mom explained her perspective to me as we sat in traffic on the way to the market. “We’ve been fighting the same issues since the 90’s, when I was a teacher,” she explained. “They will never meet their goals because the system is against them. The government prefers them to strike over actually meeting their demands.” Though I was surprised to hear her so pessimistic, her words gave light to a complex situation. Chile is a model of neo-liberal free market policies– a legacy of the brutal Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990)–which is starkly reflected in the educational system. Approximately 40% of Chilean students attend public elementary and high schools; the majority attend charter (a mix of private and public funding) or private schools. Public schools are overwhelming under-funded and serve Chile’s poor. Disparities in the outcomes of students in public and private schools reveal the deep inequalities at play. Education is a commodity, not a right, in Chile.

This Thursday is workshop number two. I’m hoping next time I write, it will be with more positive news. I will also continue to develop the theme of education in Chile, and post some pictures of the school. Hasta pronto!

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Above: Playing chess with Manuel, the music teacher, and Belem, the  art teacher at Escuela La Parva

La Mesa de Conversacion: The Preparation Whirlwind

It’s been a hectic reentry into my hometown of Nehalem, Oregon, where La Mesa de Conversacion is taking place. The weeks leading up to our first meeting have been filled with changed plans and anxiety about my own role in orchestrating everything.

While originally planning this project early this spring, I had prioritized bilingual youth, assuming that I could easily attract friends to take on leadership roles and help me out in translating the group’s cross-cultural conversations.

However, although everyone I contacted was excited about the project, very few kids were interested in committing to attending on a regular basis. People were busy with finals, working, and already spend a lot of time translating in their day-to-day lives. In planning this project, I had always dismissed a deep-seeded fear that nobody would show up; yet as the project start date neared, I realized that this fear could be a reality. I had overestimated my ability to draw in the latino community, and was worried our first meeting, if attended mostly by anglos, would alienate any latino folks who showed up.

So I made several changes, reevaluating my budget to offer compensation to one of my friends for regular translation services and delaying our start date until well after school had gotten out for students. I met with stakeholders, reached out to ESL leaders in the community, and designed posters in both English and Spanish. I also ordered bilingual books and dictionaries from Amazon (a deliciously fun task!) and contacted a local Mexican family-owned restaraunt about catering our first meeting. The night before that first Tuesday, I wrote in my journal, “nobody’s going to hate you for trying.”

I’ll designate my next post to debriefing our first few meetings. Perhaps I’ll even manage to finally take some pictures!

Greetings from Chile

Rosa Druker
Pintando La Parva: Afterschool art classes at La Parva school. Viña del Mar, Chile.
Week One

When I arrived in Viña del Mar, Chile, my friends Maika and Beno were waiting for me outside the terminal. The last time we had seen each other was New Year’s Eve, which I spent as a guest at their house. Beno, one of the executive directors of 360– my partner organization– got right down to business filling me in on our plans for the day. “Everyone is excited to meet you,” he assured me, “but first we are going to eat lunch.”

During my two months here in Chile, I will lead workshops on mural painting with the help of the school’s art teacher. Our dream is that the murals students paint on the school walls will be an important step towards transforming the physical space of the school, and expanding the art program beyond the bare minimum. Additionally, I will partner with teachers to bring art activities into the classroom. Older students meet with the art teacher weekly, but younger students are taught art by their regular teacher, who generally do not have the tools to integrate art instruction into their curriculum.

In the past week, I have settled into my life here. I spent my first week meeting with various stakeholders in my project, planning my lessons, and orienting myself in this new culture. My main task at the moment is to synthesize what each stakeholder sees for my project into one, consistent vision. The principal of the school hopes that our murals will explore the history of the school. My students are more interested in exploring new styles of painting. My partner organization want to launch a long-term project that could be brought to other schools. The art teachers wants to bring more opportunities to her students who excel in art. And what do I want? All of the above!

In my next post, I’ll talk about my first workshop and educational inequality in Chile. Now, I’m going to go eat a deep fried empanada.

Week 3 for SYK Youth: Checking In with the Dresser

Week 3- Checking in with the dresser

SYK Youth Dance Group,
Wynonna Ardiansyah,
Twin Cities, MN
Week 3

Hello from Sansei Yonsei Kai (SYK) Japanese dance group! Today we spent the first half cleaning up our dances and the second half getting the logistics down for our two performances on Saturday, June 6th and Monday, June 8th. For the purposes of the blog, this post will be focusing much more on the latter considering that the previous post covered the dance practices more extensively.

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Our dance director, Linda Hashimoto, and some of the girls from the youth dance group trying on their pink kimonos for the performance.

And really, the logistics of preparing for a performance is a complicated, yet fascinating process. Everyone was super excited about the costumes that ‘ll be wearing so the dresser, AKA our dance director, Linda Hashimoto went through her inventory to find appropriate ones. Considering that we’ll be performing at the Cherry Blossom Festival, she figured that a nice flower pattern would be nice for the occasion. We have loads of containers of different kimonos though so it was a challenge helping her find the right ones.

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Each dancer has a green bag to put all their costumes and equipment in. The red and white sticks on top of these bags are dancing sticks that we’ll use in a future performance actually.

Eventually, she settled on some lovely pink, polyester kimonos (with flower patterns!) for the girls and crisp, white happi coats for the boys. We also pulled down some flower hair accesories and headbands for the group too. We then put all our equipment into green bags that everyone decorated with their names back in the first week. It makes it easier for us to put all the costumes into one bag so that we can just grab it and go on performance day.

Though we’ve got all our costumes and equipment now, we aren’t done yet. We’re missing one last step: inventory!

Inventory taking may be the least exciting, but it is probably the most crucial. Every single item of clothing and equipment that a dancer wears has to be carefully noted down. Every kimono, fan, hair accesory, sock or slipper. In fact, each item has a number on it somewhere for exactly this purpose of inventory taking.

The way we do in our dance group, we write down the descirption and number of each item next to each dancer’s name in the master list. Each of the youth in our group took turns taking inventory of their own stuff so that they know how the whole process goes down.

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The master sheet of all the costumes and equipment assigned to the dancer for this performance. We have to make these as detailed as possible.

Meticulous? Yes. It’s a very thorough process. Some might say it’s overkill but we don’t want to lose or misplace anything in the chaos that is the changing room.

Week 2 for SYK Youth: Dance Flurry

Week 2- Dance Flurry

SYK Youth Dance Group,
Wynonna Ardiansyah,
Twin Cities, MN
Week 2

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Running through the dances with our practice kimonos can be uncomfortable but it’s good preparation for when we perform with our real-deal, heavy costumes.

Hello from everyone at Sansei Yonsei Kai (SYK) Japanese dance group! With the stockroom cleaned up after last week’s activities we were able to get a lot more dance practice in this week!

And it’s a good thing too because it turns out that we’ll be having our first performance at St. Paul’s Cherry Blossom Festival on Saturday, June 6th. Then we’ve got a private performance on Monday, June 8th for the St. Paul- Nagasaki Sister City Committe (SPNSCC) and the two kite flyers, Seikoo and Akiko Nakamura who are coming in from Nagasaki for the 60th anniversary St. Paul-Nagasaki sister city celebrations. That’s all coming up in two weeks!

The great this is that the dance we’re learning right now, the Sakura Ondo, is a sweet and quick one to learn. The movements in particular are a lot of fun, not just for us dancers, but for the audience too. This dance is actually supposed to encourage audience participation, but depending on the performance stage and setup, this might not exactly be possible. That’s alright though, so long as we’re having funnad dancing well, I’m sure it will show to the audience.

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Practicing the circle formation of the dance. We might not actually dance in this format depending on the stage layout but it doesn’t hurt to prepare, just in case.

We’re a bit pressed for time as it is, but I think we’ll be fine in the end. After all, we did a lot of practice this week and the youth are super quick learners. A flurry of dances this week to make up for the slower pace that we had last week, I guess.

It’s hard to believe that we only have one more practice until our first performance! Granted, next week will be a very laid back event and not the formal one we’ll have to do in August. Still, it would be a good experience for the youth and an opportunity for us to prepare performing on stage!

Week 1 for SYK Youth: A Stockroom Prep Party

Week 1- A Stockroom Prep Party

SYK Youth Dance Group,
Wynonna Ardiansyah,
Twin Cities, MN
Week 1

Hello from everyone here at Sansei Yonsei Kai (SYK)! We are an intergenerational and multicultural Japanese dance group that’s been around for over 40 years and we perform all around the Twin Cities throughout the year. With summer coming we’re excited to start the season off with a bang!

But before we can do that we need to do some preparations first!

After all, every good meal needs some prep time right? Same thing with dancing. We need to get our equipment and dance space in the stockroom all set up for practice.

And right now, well, it kind of looks like this:

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Our dance practices take place in a stockroom, but we can’t dance if it’s full like this!

All of our costumes, decorations and equipment from SYK’s performances at Festival of Nations haven’t been unpacked yet. We just didn’t have the time! There are kimonos, obis, lanterns even shoji screens laying about all over the place. It’s as if a gust of wind came in through the windows and messed up the whole place. And our stockroom doesn’t even have windows!

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One of our youth dancers in the process of folding a kimono

But that’s alright because having all this stuff becomes a great opportunity to orient new dancers into our group! For instance, we went through the process of how to fold different kimonos. After all, taking care of your costumes and equipment is important for everyone, let alone a dancer.

It was a nice, relaxing opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company. This was perfect considering that we had a lot of new, young dancers who were had never been in this space or met the other dancers before. It was a very chill environment, especially considering that we put up music from our previous dances up on the boombox.

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Everyone’s working to get the stockroom cleared up so we can start practicing more next week.

Although we did do a couple of quick run-throughs of dances with the group, it was nothing too intense. Today was just one of those days where the best option was taking it nice and slow. Familiarizing new dancers into the group is a process, one that starts by integrating them into the space, the equipment and each other.