After an election in which Donald Trump made building a wall to keep out immigrants a major theme of his campaign, educators at Brooklyn International HS — a school composed entirely of newcomers from more than 20 countries — wanted to do something to help turn students’ fear and sadness into something hopeful that could reach others.
“I was talking with my students about positive ways to share their immigration stories and the power of being the narrator of your own experience,” said ELA teacher Amanda McKenna.
Together, they came up with the concept of building a bridge. After all, “the opposite of a wall is a bridge,” said Mariah Doll, a science teacher who also helped to pull the project together.
McKenna connected with artist Tim Kelly of the Puzzle Art Installation & Collaborative Project and the art-making began. Each student at the downtown Brooklyn high school decorated a wooden puzzle piece to share his or her journey, hopes and dreams. Later, the students were videotaped talking about their puzzle pieces and explaining the meaning.
On Valentine’s Day, the pieces were assembled in the community room of Brooklyn Borough Hall, forming a colorful backdrop for student performances including dance pieces “Still We Rise,” based on a Maya Angelou poem, and “Break the Chain,” a song about women’s and girls’ rights.
After the performances, the students’ video was screened to loud hoots and applause from the audience.
“The oldest and strongest emotion people feel is fear of the unknown, but when people start sharing their stories, they can discover that they have more things in common,” said one 10th-grader. “We’re all immigrants and we want to live in this country and be free,” said another 10th-grader who helped install the puzzle pieces at the show.
Dance teacher Megan Minturn, who worked with students on the choreography, explained, “This week celebrates the work we do all year to build empathy.”
The exhibit also included poster space for students to share their responses to the artwork on sticky notes. “I love how everyone’s puzzle (story) is different, but they all fit together perfectly,” wrote a student.