The school where this unit will be taught is an arts magnet middle school in downtown New Haven, CT. New Haven is a demographically diverse city insofar as its containment of vastly different Socio Economic Status (or SES) groups living very closely together. The city is economically supported by Yale University, with its middle to upper class external associates, while present as well is a conversely impoverished demographic, woven in to the fabric of the community. The rich, the poor and everything in between represent the daily workings of this city.
Similarly, this middle school carries a diverse and occasionally polarized environment. The school rests in the south-western part of the city, outside of downtown proper, in a neighborhood known for poverty and crime. The arts magnet program is well established, esteemed, and well funded from multiple sources; it welcomes students from surrounding towns of varying economic structures to apply. We attract students from a wide radius including the surrounding suburbs. Because we are a magnet school, we have both great opportunities and great challenges, which are unique because of our internal environment. The school has an extensive dedication to the arts in all forms, both performing and visual.
Our opportunities lie in the extensive resources we have for artistic production that are rare for any school, let alone for students their age. We have two dance studios, a black box theater, three music rooms, and two darkrooms for photography. As far as human resources we have a dedicated arts supervisor, three full time theater teachers, two full time dance teachers, two full time art teachers, three music teachers and various part time staff. The class sizes in Visual Arts average at 10 students per class. It is rare to see such vast resources for the arts in any school, and to see it in a public middle school is outstanding. In this, we are fortunate.
Another opportunity we have is the presence of great diversity, much like our city, due to our range of applicants. This presents opportunities for creativity, collaboration and conversation; the presence of varying cultural expressions brings a vibrant climate to our student body. However, our challenges also lie in this. While the attendance of a wide variety of demographics brings diversity and a variety of perspectives, it also brings with it a variety of learning levels (due to different educational background), socioeconomic statuses, behavior expectations and cultural expectations that challenge the students in understanding one another at times.
For as many students that are integrated and have multicultural friend groups, there are students who find themselves occasionally segregated with little understanding of those with different cultures and few intentional conversations to understand one another.
Racism and/or lack of cultural understanding is a small but present barrier and can affect the learning experiences and camaraderie between students of different backgrounds. I am invested, as an educator in promoting cultural conversations, cultivating strong individual cultural identities, and discussing important issues in a way that motivates students to inspire change and unity, thus increasing effectiveness and expression in the arts. The arts are best when we are both individualized and unified; they are not mutually exclusive.