Chancellor Nancy Cantor visits with Robert DiFlorio G’64, G’72, interim superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, at Nottingham High School. They were at Nottingham to announce the “Partnership for Better Education” between SU and the school
district in August.
Who are we? Who do we imagine ourselves to be? These questions, like our dreams, are profound. We start asking them in childhood and continue to ask them throughout our lives. Syracuse University students and faculty are taking up those questions with students and teachers in the Syracuse city schools in a collaborative effort to teach literacy through art and technology.
Our “Partnership for Better Education” began this year with pilot programs at nearby Nottingham High School and its feeder schools. Ultimately, we intend to expand this program to all city schools, marshalling our resources in the arts, literacy, inclusion, and in science, math, and technology.
In turn, our students and faculty in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, and the School of Education are gaining invaluable insights as the University joins forces with the Syracuse City School District to tackle one of our community’s most difficult challenges: improving the quality of inner city education.
As a social psychologist, I am glad that the elementary school programs, including the one at Edward Smith Elementary School, are grounded in the work of Abigail Housen, founder and co-director of Visual Understanding in Education, whose research shows that improved understandings of art facilitate critical thinking.
At Nottingham High, our initiative builds upon an ongoing partnership, now in its third year, between Syracuse’s Everson Museum, which has an immense and historic video collection, and Nottingham teacher Len Fonte. They are working together to help students learn to use sophisticated new video software to create and publicize their own digital videos. Owen Shapiro, director of the VPA film program and the Syracuse International Film & Video Festival, and two graduate students have joined Ken White, the festival’s educational outreach director, to help Mr. Fonte teach his students to write scripts. “They’re working on the great premise, ‘What if?’” Mr. Fonte told me. “‘What if you got to school, and you were the only one there?’ ‘What if there were gorillas behind the counters at the mall?’” We’ll see their videos at their world premieres at the Everson on the first Thursday in June.
In another program, for ESL (English as a Second Language) students at H.W. Smith School, Nottingham drama students will talk with middle school students who are refugees, collecting autobiographical stories that could be turned into student plays.
The new program at Edward Smith School begins in the spring. It draws upon a model established by photographer Wendy Ewald, who visited us last fall for a talk, an exhibition at Light Work, and a workshop on visual literacy (see story). Four classes of fifth-graders will work with SU faculty and 16 undergraduates on photographic projects on childhood, identity, their school, and their neighborhoods.
These classes will be team-taught by VPA professors Judith Meighan, an art historian, and Douglas Dubois, a photographer whose pictures of his own family are so widely exhibited that he once told me, “I like to brag that the MOMA has an image of every member of my family, and Grandma will be in the Getty.” Dubois is the first to admit that “the youngest person I ever taught was a college freshman,” but he’s excited, and so are we.
Our collaboration with the Syracuse City School District is bringing great things to our University and to our city.
Chancellor and President