On this day in in 1095, Pope Urban II called all Christians in Europe to war against Muslims and regain the Holy Land, beginning the first of nine crusades. Two Chicago Public School teachers/Fund for Teachers Fellows have set out on a related, conciliatory quest rooted in culture. We share their student impact below…
Sounds of clay drums filled the air as visitors strolled among stalls of Islamic art, stopping to have their names written in Arabic. A storyteller shared tales of adventure in one corner as craftsmen carved woodblock animals in another. The musicians, calligraphers, storytellers and artisans weren’t occupying a Moroccan souk, but rather an Arabic Fine Arts Night in the cafeteria of an urban Chicago elementary school.
Earlier that year, art teacher Shana Pearlmutter (Bell Elementary) and Arabic teacher, Mohamed Danja (Lane Tech College Prep) documented with a Fund for Teachers grant the effects of tourism, global development and poverty on the ancient culture of Morocco. Shana’s students recreated art forms researched on her fellowship and both Shana and Mohamed’s students crafted personal biographies to exchange with young women the teachers volunteered with in Marrakesh. Mohamed’s Arabic students continue to write pen pal letters with their Moroccan peer, with whom they also participate in a video conferencing/global awareness project.
“Through relationships we forged during our fellowship in Morocco, we have now an international troop of artisans, students, teachers and collaborators dedicated to helping us promote a cross-cultural dialogue about society, stereotypes and prejudices between students in Marrakech and ours in Chicago,” said Shana.
View this slideshow of images from the Arabic Fine Arts Night.
Inspired by their new global literacy, eighth graders graduating from Bell Elementary decided to dedicate their school’s 100th birthday year to combating hunger and inequality as outlined in the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainability in 2030. Every K-8 student pledged to support the UN Global Goals and, on UN Global Buddy Day, partnered with peers from different grades to discuss their intentions for changing the world. Their written pledges eventually comprised a permanent “Change the World” mural.
“My experiences in Mr. Danja’s Arabic class were instrumental in my continuing to study the language in college,” said Seth Davis, a former Lane Tech Arabic student. “By making the Maghrebi culture part of the class and collaborating with the festival at Bell Elementary, he tied the teaching of language into the appreciation of culture. We were exposed to fantastic artists and craftspeople and I still listen to the music he introduced to me in class and at the Bell event.”
This winter, Bell Elementary and Lane Tech will host in Chicago a peer met in Marrakech, coming to shadow their classes and share with students more about life in a Muslim country.
“This work keeps me going,” said Shana. “I love making connections that build awareness and cultural bridges.”
To learn more about this fellowship, visit the blog Shana and Mohamed maintained for students to follow throughout the experience.