Pintamos La Parva! (We painted La Parva!)

Rosa Druker

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

Week 7 and 8

We did it. Yesterday I walked through the gates of Escuela La Parva for what very well may be my last time. I gave a speech in front of approximately 30 people in Spanish. We put our final touches on each of the five beautiful murals. We shared sandwiches and cake. I taught my final art class to third graders. I handed out the tshirts that the art teacher and I designed and screenprinted in her house. I hugged everyone goodbye, took the bus home, and took a long nap followed by an empanada in bed.

It is difficult to condense all of the things I´ve accomplished and all of the barriers that I´ve faced in the past three weeks into this post. Firstly, a list of reasons I had to cancel workshops: the school was closed due to torrential rains for two days, the school was closed because the water in the neighborhood was shut off, and because the bus drives went on strike for a day. These minor inconveniences, compounded with the weeks of teacher strikes caused my project to be a bit rocky.  Thanks to the amazing team I´ve had supporting me, the confidence of the school, and the unwavering commitment of the art teacher, we never gave up on our vision. And of course, thanks to the wonderful students who participated.

When the strike ended and school resumed as usual, I took the opportunity to do art projects with first through fourth grade classes. We made paper mache masks, painted a handprint tree, and drew self portraits. I learned so much in this short time about how to get these age groups excited about art. I couldn’t believe how difficult and frustrating it was to try and command their attention. I saw some very sweet children treat other sweet children in a violent manner. I also was surprised by the beautiful artwork they created. I made a lot of little friends and answered a lot of really funny questions about life in the states. (Some of my favorites: Do they have the Simpsons in the US? What day in new years? Do you speak Japanese? If you were born in Chile would you be Chilean?)

Right now, I´m feeling exhausted, but happy. I spent the morning meeting with my community partners, NGO 360, to discuss the successes and failures of my project. My relationship with this organization has been complicated by our culture differences, and we were able to address that today. Learning how my presence has better prepared them to work with foreigners in the future is so gratifying. Next I´m going to travel to Quillota to say goodbye to the family of my best Chilean friend. I´m coming back to Saint Paul on Tuesday, and am truly ecstatic to come home.

This experience has challenged me in so many ways. My Spanish has improved vastly, as has my confidence in public speaking and interacting with young children. I will post one more time to share pictures in the next week.
¡Un abrazo a todos mis amigos Chilenos!

La Parva in action

Rosa Druker

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

Week Seven

The big exciting news that I mentioned in my previous post? Last Monday, the school filled up with teachers, administrators, and students wearing their uniforms. The past week has been so overwhelming, and so gratifying. After over seven weeks of being on strike, the union of public school teachers accepted that their demands would not be met. I stand witness to the frustration and disappointment of many Chileans– so much time and energy was poured into their movement, and the fact that the essential problems remain unsolved sets a grim precedence for equitable education in Chile´s future. Even as these thoughts swirled through my mind, I could not help but feeling a deep sense of relief. The students of La Parva and returning to normalcy, and that is a beautiful thing. As predicted, my project has accelerated and grown considerably in the past week. I´m feeling overwhelmed and overjoyed.

We held two mural workshops last week. Both were attended by over ten students (including two new ones, and some younger siblings). Tomorrow we will put our first marks on the walls, based on the paintings we just finished.

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I love this picture because of Nicole´s little brother in the background.

On Thursday, we achieved a major accomplishment. The art teacher, Belen, and I, took the students on a field trip to Valparaiso. Valpo (that´s what the cool locals call it) is right next to Vina– kind of like Minneapolis to Saint Paul. Valpo is world famous for its street art, and though Vina is close by, it feels like a different world. I rented a bus (only to have it cancel the night before), got a friend who works in catering to make us lunch, and begged everyone to turn in their permission slips on time. I´ve never been put in charge of 15 teenagers, and I´ve definitely lead a field trip anywhere. Thanks to my wonderful team, and my wonderful students I can say that we pulled it off beautifully. We walked through the hills of Valparaiso all day, and though it was cold and threatening rain, we stayed warm and dry.

A few beautiful coincides made the experience special. Firstly, as a we walked down a mural-filled street, we stumbled upon a couple of Belen´s college friends, working on preparation for a giant mural. After getting a great example of what a large-scale mural looks like in process, we went to a the house of another friend of Belen so that the students could use the bathroom. It turns out that he is also an artist, and was working on a large sketch to eventually paint his own mural.

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Pedro showing us his work in progress

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Random slide in the middle of Valpo. We spent a good 10 minutes playing here. Very educational.

This week I also met with first through fourth grade teachers to plan the workshops I will carry out in their classes for the next three weeks. Things are feeling hectic, but I’m happy to finally be making progress.

 

 

Setbacks and Exciting Progress

Rosa Druker

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

Week 4-6

I’m going to try to keep this entry quite general because I have some big exciting news to share for this current week, and I’d like to decide an entire post to my updates. I hope this cliffhanger is exciting for my dedicated readership (Hi, mom and dad!).

As you remember, since my arrival to Chile, public school teachers have been on strike, making the realization of my project painfully slow. The strikes continued for the past several weeks and we saw inconsistent attendance and a growing feeling of lethargy from everyone. Furthermore, the past two weeks were winter vacation, so many students were visiting family and could not come to class. We decided to open up the classroom twice a week to give more opportunities to the students who were able to come.

Each class we had between 1 and 7 students. We pulled out big paper, paints, markers, went outside to observe trees, googled pictures on our phones, brainstormed positive messages for the community and took selfies. Two friends of mine came to volunteer their time with us– a North American exchange students I met here, and a Chilean artist who currently resides in France. We had a blast. One of the great elements of my project is that the students are being exposed to people different from themselves right there in their own school.

During week four we divided into groups and each group picked a wall in the school to realize their mural. We all donned stylish paint smocks and got to painting the wall with white paint. This class was really enjoyable because we started to truly envision the final products and the impact they will have on the school. I left the school that day feeling that my confidence in our project had been rekindled.

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It finally feels real. (The person in the middle is my friend, generously volunteering his time)

The following week we started planning the murals, but our progress felt sluggish. The main frustration with the lack of a consistent attendance is that our project is by nature collaborative. When one or zero group members shows up, the whole process of collaboration falls apart.

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Brainstorming with markers.

A major personal success during these weeks has been the growth of my relationships with the students. Since we have had so much downtime, students who show up regularly have seen a lot of me. They feel totally comfortable asking me any random questions that might occur to them about my life. I am so impressed by the confidence with which certain students express their emotions and goals. One young man in particular has spoken to me a lot about his goal if moving into an apartment with friends because he finds his home situation to be stressful. Since I have lived with friends, I encouraged him to follow his dream, and also explained some of the potential challenges of that independence. They are definitely growing on me, even though they totally pretend that they suddenly don’t under my accent when I say it’s time to clean up.

Self portraits, sandwiches, and a mini-history lesson

Rosa Druker

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

Week Three

The bad news: the teachers are still on strike with no easy solution in sight. The good news: twelve students came to my class and we shared food and made art. Me and Belén, the art teacher at La Parva, had aggressively launched a campaign to spread the word: calling students, messaging them on watsapp (apparently I am shockingly out of date for not using the online-messaging app), and telling everybody to invite their friends. Plus the added incentive of free food. I looked around at twelve young faces gathered around the table, and launched into my earth-shatteringly inspired speech. “Can anyone tell me what a mural is?” Murals are for everybody. Murals send a message. “What themes can a mural have?” Anti-bullying, friendship, protecting the environment.

Getting ready before class.

Getting ready before class.

Our first activity was to draw self-portrait caricatures on big sheets of paper, to represent our unique characteristics. I walked around the room offering encouragement and admiring their handiwork. I kept having the same exchange again and again:

Me: Wow, that looks great.

Student: It’s ugly/bad. I don’t know how to draw hands/eyes/hair.

Me: You know it doesn’t have to be realistic, right?
Student: *looks at me suspiciously*

Finished products!

Finished products!

Seeing this attitude made me realize why I am here in Chile, doing this project. The students have a timidness with their creativity and self-expression, and there is value in whatever small my workshops change that, or open up their confidence.

————

In 2006, high school students went on strike for approximately two months, culminating in some of the largest political demonstrations in the past 30 years in Chile. Students in schools all over the country were occupied by students. They were demanding, in short, a more equal education system with better accessibility.
The catalyst of the wide-spread dissatisfaction? Under the Pinochet dictatorship, the legal framework for education was laid into place, and has remain relatively intact, despite the public condemnation of the regime. This neo-liberal policy minimizes the state’s responsibility for education, and puts it into the hands of private corporations and local government. As I explained in my previous post, education had become commodified. These protests set the precedence for social activism and strikes in the schools. However, many of the demands made by students where not met, and continue incite frustration and tension.

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

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.