For this new edition of #HowWeGotThis, Nathalie LEISEING MINGO, English teacher at LFSF, on the primary campus, tells us more about her class projects related to the Diversity in the Arts and about the conversation that happened between New York City-based Choreographer and Dancer, Shamel PITTS and her 4th grade students.
LFSF: Hi Nathalie, could you please introduce yourself and tell us more about your role at LFSF?
Nathalie: Of course, I have been teaching English and ELL on both the Sausalito and San Francisco LFSF campuses for the past 7 years. I have a pretty long history with the AEFE network of schools in the United States, but I am currently teaching a group of outstanding 4th graders at our temporary Richmond Campus in San Francisco.
(Nathalie with her students during Halloween on the Sausalito Campus - OCT 2018)
LFSF: Your Grade 4 students are currently working on a class project about diversity in the Arts. Can you tell us more about this project and its context?
Nathalie: Absolutely. As you well know, Covid has caused some turbulence in our lives to varying degrees and it has been an arduous year for parents, students and teachers alike. We had our first Back to School on Zoom, moved to a new campus in October and had to learn how to teach in person while respecting the necessary health protocols. A huge part of learning revolves around hands-on projects, group work and experiential learning outside the class and also bringing the outside world into the classroom. Needless to say, these things can’t be replaced with technology, iPads or a large screen in the classroom. I felt like this was definitely the year to share my appreciation for the Arts with my students because dance, music and personal connections are one of the most effective ways to build community.
My intention with this project was to think about diversity from a different lens. Our school has a reasonable amount of prep work and training to delve into before we take on any type of Diversity Equity Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) work in the classroom especially as it relates to race, gender, and cognitive differences.
LFSF: On that occasion, we heard you invited Shamel PITTS, a New York City-based Choreographer and Dancer, to meet with the students via Zoom. What a great opportunity for them! How did that idea come to be? How did you manage to set it up?
Nathalie: One of my closest friends, who is originally from Paris is the founder of the NYC-based boutique dance agency, Lotus Arts Management. Lotus Arts offers distinctive artist representation for select established and emerging artists. Although I knew it was a far fetched idea, I ran it by her one evening and within two days she connected me with Shamel Pitts. Her text read: Shamel would be ideal for the gig! He is about to be the next rockstar contemporary choreographer, his work is out of this world and he is a brilliant and kind individual!
(Shamel Pitts - Discussion with LFSF Students - FEB 2021)
LFSF: The students seemed very engaged and their questions were remarkably pertinent during the conversation with Shamel. What was the experience like for them? Did they share any feedback with you?
Nathalie: Oh yes, they shared feedback throughout the entire process. However, it’s important to note that I had to trust my instincts with this unique group of students and the way this project came together. Shamel’s work is complex and it’s produced for a mature audience! My son who is currently in 7th grade wished me “good luck” with the project when I was working on it over a few weekends. He asked me “how are you expecting 4th graders to discuss this type of dance?” My intention with this project was to think about diversity from a different lens. Our school has a reasonable amount of prep work and training to delve into before we take on any type of Diversity Equity Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) work in the classroom especially as it relates to race, gender, and cognitive differences.
Both Shamel and I were impressed with the specificity of the questions and the high level of interest that came from the majority of students [...] When children are presented with content that is alive and meaningful they respond in a way that showcases their critical thinking and overall interest.
Students have been sharing their personal artistic practices with me and it seemed like this year’s 4th grade cohort would be open enough to explore performance art and contemporary dance. A few students are still more comfortable with the idea of researching Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci for their individual projects and that’s completely fine because I studied these artists as a student myself; however I have a young dancer (Anne-Mei) who is researching Kinetic Light a performing arts company that is a disability arts ensemble. I did not anticipate discussing disability aesthetics and culture with my students this year and I’m so appreciative to be exchanging with such an inquisitive group.
Both Shamel and I were impressed with the specificity of the questions and the high level of interest that came from the majority of students. Students had precise technical questions for Shamel regarding his comfort level with dance forms that revolve around maximum gravity and some students commented on “his type of dance” which seems “less graceful than ballet, yet more “appealing and liberating”.
(Screenshots of students during their meeting with Shamel - FEB 2021)
It was touching to see how each student in the class related to his strength of character and unique dance style in a personal way. One of the students, Valentina, wanted to know about his experiences as a person of color; the schools and institutions that supported him and the experiences that may have been the most frustrating or disappointing.
This validates the fact that children respond appropriately and honestly to material that allows them to think about topics differently. You can hand them a worksheet and they will turn in a product that doesn’t necessarily reflect a nuanced perspective or critical-thinking. When they are presented with content that is alive and meaningful they respond in a way that showcases their critical thinking and overall interest.
(4th Grade students during Back to School 2020 on the Richmond Campus)
LFSF: Thank you Nathalie for your time, is there anything you would like to add?
Nathalie: yes, but my time is limited! So I will end by thanking Mr. Texier, Mr. Cailton and Mrs. Maine for their trust and support which allowed me to invite Shamel into our little classroom. Of course, I am ever so grateful for the time and attention that Shamel dedicated to the children. He responded to their questions with love, respect and attention. They felt honored and they definitely did not take this experience for granted; it’s still fueling our creative power in the classroom to this day! And I need to thank my beloved friend Sophie who works tirelessly and passionately to support the most outstanding dancers on this planet!
#HowWeGotThis is our series of testimonials showing how our teams and community are pioneering, reinventing themselves and imagine new ways to operate in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.