Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Interfaith Living Museum Brings Us All Together

Today's blog is from Amanda Lanceter, Manager of Curriculum and Teacher Programs, who took some time to write about one of our very favorite educational programs. Thanks, Amanda!
For the past five months, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a remarkable group of 5th graders through our Interfaith Living Museum program, which brings Jewish and Muslim students together to create their own museum exhibition, using artifacts from their families to celebrate their heritage. The program works with students from four schools: Al Ihsan Academy, located in Queens; the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan; and Kinneret Day School and the Islamic Leadership School, both located in the Bronx.
When we began the program on January 10, we asked the students what they hoped the other students would learn about them. Many shared that they wanted the other students to get to know their personalities and their interests to find common ground. They hoped that other students would learn more about them and their beliefs and realize that they are not so different from each other.  Of course, as educators we had the same hopes.

It’s easy to get 5th graders to talk to someone they know; talking to strangers is another matter entirely. Through “icebreakers” the students began to see each other as kids who shared a lot in common. These introductory conversations helped make it easier for the conversations about heritage and culture to happen. To learn more about Jewish culture, the students visited the first floor of the Museum, learning about Jewish life cycle events, holidays, rituals, and culture through studying artifacts. As we went through, we asked the Jewish students to share what they knew already and asked the Muslim students if they could make connections to their own culture.. In our visit to the Metropolitan Museum’s Islamic art galleries, we used the same model, with the Muslim students sharing their knowledge of their culture, teaching from the artifacts there. We also visited a synagogue and a mosque.

In February we met at Al Ihsan Academy to begin work on the Living Museum they were creating. Students brought in their own artifacts from home. They shared them in pairs, teaching their partners about their objects, why they were significant to them, and how the artifacts reflected their heritage. Partners then presented each other’s artifacts to the group. The next month, the students worked together to organize the artifacts into galleries and compose accompanying text. This exercise challenged students to explain why their artifacts belonged together, encouraging more dialogue about their cultures.

Families, friends, Museum staff, and invited guests viewed these galleries at the final exhibition May 30. Student representatives from each school helped introduce the evening’s program, demonstrating that their classmates’ hopes were realized. Each spoke of how meaningful it was for them to meet kids their age from another culture and discover that they had so many things in common, from the similarities in religious practices and beliefs, to their shared interests in the same TV shows and sports. It was moving for all of us who worked with these students to see how strangers became friends in just a few months. By working and learning together, they created an incredible final product, a Living Museum that reflected what makes their cultures unique, as well as the commonalities that link them together.

Photo of Martha Lieberman of the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan with her great grandfather's tefillin bag and Hanan Kassem of the Al Ihsan Academy with a plaque from Yemen that her grandfather gave her father in honor of the first time he fasted for Ramadan. Photo by Melanie Einzig.


1 comment:

Melanie D said...
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