The purchase of a ticket to Off the Grid serves two purposes: It gets you into one awesome contemporary art party and it benefits the Wex's education programs for children and youth. The party part, you can experience first-hand on March 4. To show how your night of fun supports our mission, GenWex intern Juli Sasaki spoke with a few of the participants in one of our most popular learning programs, Pages. As Juli notes, "Educational programs like Pages have clear, positive ripple effects in the community and beyond, and I hope that we can all gather together at Off the Grid to celebrate and support them."
Pages is one of a number of educational programs at the Wexner Center to benefit from GenWex's annual fundraiser, Off the Grid. Founded by Dionne Custer-Edwards, Pages combines the talents of local artists, writers, and educators to create a unique arts integration experience for high school students. Throughout the school year, students visit the Wex for three experiences—in performing arts, film, and visual arts—and they are encouraged to use critical thinking to reflect upon what they’ve experienced.
During my own high school experience, my visual arts class was critical to my sanity; it was a sanctuary in the midst of the constant demands of my AP classes. Yet this class was always separated from my other classes, unlike Pages, which integrates the arts in core classes and brings in creative minds from outside the schools to work with students, so I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. Visiting the class of Delaware Hayes High School teacher Tom Hering and talking with three of his students who have participated in Pages—Bella, Avery, and Keegan—I found an environment centered on support, growth, inquiry, and collaboration, a space where there is room for curiosity to be explored and a palpable zeal for learning is present.
After visiting last fall's exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, students were inspired by the experimental college and its learning environment, which fueled some of the most influential contemporary artists of the 20th century. Students thought about how they could act as agents of change and re-think programs in their own high school that weren’t working for them, rather than thinking of themselves as powerless in the face of adults and the administration. They thought: “We want this community to be more like Black Mountain College.”
In January, Pages students were invited to the Wex for a private screening of the film Never Let Me Go, an adaptation of the dystopian coming-of-age novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It happened to be Inauguration Day, which Bella noted was particularly difficult for her, and she found solace in interacting with the film—it created an immersive space for her to respond, to be emotional, and to be vulnerable. Avery spoke about analyzing the film as an interesting learning experience. His class contextualized the film beforehand, and this made him feel like the film had a greater purpose. It was learning, but it didn’t feel like a chore; on the contrary, it was something enjoyable.
As the students shared more about their Pages experiences, I noticed a common motif. For them, the arts integration pushes the classroom material into the realm of emotion and life application. Instead of just memorizing information, the students had to process it to traverse into a unique sphere of expression that was personal to them.
In Keegan’s case, expressing her personal life through her academic assignments was life-changing. The passing of her grandmother was a difficult moment for her, and Pages allowed her to turn that negative experience into an opportunity for healing. Keegan shared that in writing about the memory of her grandmother for the annual print anthology, “it was the first time that I tried to do something positive with it and not just try to push it away, or try to say something to make it go away.” When it came time to submit student works for the Pages anthology that's published annually, Keegan expressed that “publishing my work was hard, but thinking about how much that could mean to someone else, it gave me a different relationship with [Mr. Hering] than I would have had otherwise, and if I could reach out to someone else, then I think that that matters a lot.”
Hering noticed that a real feeling of community had been generated through Pages. Essays like Keegan’s have opened the door to a deeper level of interaction between students and teachers, not to mention the audience of artists and educators that Pages provides. Students feel freer to express their thoughts, both positive and negative, and to approach situations, in Herin's words, "with more love and compassion." When a student complained that he felt school was only about grades, Hering was driven to write a post for the Pages blog about it, communicating that, especially when integrating different disciplines together, “learning is about [the students], not about their future or a part of them that gets grades. It’s about the whole them.”
For me, the most beautiful aspect of the Pages program is that its impact clearly extends beyond the classroom for all involved. Hering is now advocating for arts integration in more schools. He noted that Dionne is creating educational activists, not just in the teachers accepted to the program, but in the students as well, who have absorbed his infectious love for lifelong learning.
Avery wants to continue exploring interdisciplinary studies and combine his love for science and digital design in the future. And Keegan, the bright and curious young woman who is still beaming from the effect of Pages on her life, wants to be a teacher and lifelong learner. She explains, “I want to have the kind of impact that Mr. Hering and other teachers, because of Pages, have had on my life. I want to have that impact on someone else.”
Pages fosters a community around thinking differently, summed up simply by words from Hering: “Gather together. Think and create.”
Warm thanks to Dionne Custer-Edwards for creating Pages, to Tom Hering for being a catalyst for genuine learning, and to the students for sharing so openly about your own educational journeys.
(Pages program photos by Katie Spengler)