Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Transforming the School Experience for Students

So much energy is invested in Standards and Tests -- There's a better way to introduce our children to the art of higher level thinking.   Parents and Educators need to remember that school can actually be a place of joy and creativity.  What?...Yes - School can be joyful.  Creativity opens the door to higher level and abstract thinking in a way that no standardized curriculum can.

I wish that instead of taking State exams today, that our children were engaged with Imogene Drummond's Divine Sparks program, as these San Miguel students are in the photo above.   She's my guest blogger today - and here she shares her experience working with at-risk students at San Miguel Academy in Newburgh, New York.

She demonstrates how Literacy and Creativity cultivate thinking and creative students.

Sparking Empowerment through Creativity
by Imogene Drummond

My Divine Sparks journey just got a little more exciting.  Recently, I offered the first of ten Divine Sparks sessions to seventeen fifth graders at San Miguel Academy of Newburgh, NY.  Why is this exciting?  Two reasons:  because San Miguel is a visionary school, and because we share the same goal--to empower young people. 

To understand my recent experience, it’s important to understand San Miguel’s location.  As the fourth most impoverished urban center in the U.S., and the ninth most violent, Newburgh was dubbed the “murder capital of NY State” by New York Magazine.  San Miguel Academy, an independent, faith-based, fifth to eighth grade middle school for boys from under-served families in the City of Newburgh, uses education--and a thoughtful, nurturing, safe environment--to break the pervasive cycle of poverty and violence in which these boys are raised.  Basically, San Miguel Academy is trying to keep these children from being used as drug mules, and to give them the skills and opportunities for a totally different kind of life. This is big picture stuff. 

To me, San Miguel is special because its vision remains intact throughout its multi-layered implementation.  Its president, board, and faculty clearly are doing a lot of things right.  Their sharply-etched thoughtfulness shows.  For example, surrounding the front door is printed in large, yellow and blue, capital letters “The Street Stops Here.”  To an artist who believes in the ability of art, symbols, and design to create change, this signage is powerful.  That these words are written on the “open” transparent medium of glass versus the opaque material of a barrier, adds to the transformative experience of walking through the entrance.

Prior to my presentation (during the lunch hour), I chatted in the hall with Fr. Mark Connell and Mrs. Kerry DiMeo, San Miguel’s president and fifth grade teacher, respectively.  An unusual thing happened.  On three separate occasions, a boy walked up to me, reached out his right hand, looked me in the eye, and confidently said, “Hello.  My name is [Angel, R. N.].  Welcome to San Miguel.” and briefly joined us three adults in conversation. Well!  I was surprised and impressed  by these students’ politeness, confidence, and assertiveness.  Being from the plug-and-play generation, I was taught as a child not to speak to adults unless spoken to. That San Miguel teaches its boys to speak up, be polite, positive, and proactively welcoming, struck me--like the sign surrounding the door--as significant.  

So, now you have an idea of where Divine Sparks will be the next ten weeks!  Let me briefly introduce this innovative multimedia that I wrote, directed, and produced.  Divine Sparks Film + Book sparks empowerment through creativity.  Three components combine in this holistic project to ignite and nurture the child’s creative spark.  The award-winning 30-minute film offers inspiring visual prompts.  The colorful, interactive book delivers an exciting toolkit with stimulating ideas, fun art activities, and delightful exercises that help students access their inner artist.  The project employs an innovative approach often using one’s own story/history/personal mythology as source material.  Each session involves three activities:  View, Do, and Discuss.  

In introducing Divine Sparks to the students, I shared my goal to help them develop their individual creativity, versus teach them art.  First, we discussed what they think “creativity” is.  Their ideas ranged from “being about line and shape,” to “thinking outside the box,” to “being about imagination.”  I was impressed by their ability to think abstractly.  This led to a discussion about how creativity can help us be happier, more satisfied with our lives, learn better, and sometimes even heal physically.  In discussing how creativity can help us become empowered and what “empowered” means, one boy said it means “helping us develop as whole people.”  Now, I was even more impressed with their abstract thinking!  

We then watched the 30-minute film, a whimsical story of transformation and wonder, followed by a Q & A.  I asked my usual questions: What were their favorite parts of the film?  What did they think the film was about?  What did they think the sparks meant?  A dozen or more hands shot up after each question.  Though the term is never used in the film, when one boy said he thought the film was about “the creative spark in us,” I just about levitated!  

Inspired by the film, the boys then did an art activity, “Visualize Words.”  Each student chose two favorite words (from a page in the book--see photo), and painted one word as the background and one as the subject.  A vigorous explosion of activity ensued with lots of paint being drawn, brushed, swooshed, smeared, and sponged.  One child said woefully “I messed up.”  That was my clue to share my mantra: “There is no bad art, you can’t mess up.”  “But,” I quickly added, “you can start over.”  To which he immediately said, “Can I start over?”  

Several boys painted outer space, making their backgrounds black--always a strong color!  Others depicted snakes flying over waves, a dark moon hanging above the ocean, and lyrical stars that look like lilies in front of the sun.  When discussing each boy’s art work, one boy said he chose his two images because they were the only two things he knew how to draw.  Hopefully, ten weeks from now, he won’t think that!  I hope he, and his fellow students, will come to feel increasingly equipped to embark on new paths that are their life, as they leave the street in their rear view mirror. 


Imogene Drummond is an award-winning filmmaker, painter, futurist, author of articles on cultural transformation, world traveler, and former psychotherapist. Her experience, talent, and vision converge in Divine Sparks. She has an M.F.A. from MICA (the Maryland Institute College of Art )—one of the country’s premier art schools, and an M.S.W. from The Catholic University of America. Due to her many painting expeditions around the world, she was invited to join The Society of Woman Geographers.

Find her on Facebook:
And her Divine Sparks Website:

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