Carbondale Middle School artist year fellows give students space to ‘sigue soñando’
When Leila Milanfar first began working with the English Language Development (ELD) students in fifth and seventh grade at Carbondale Middle School, they did not consider themselves to be capable of creating artwork, she said.
“As we taught them the little things, they started to realize, ‘oh, I can do this.’ So for the theme for the museum, I wanted it to be something that shows kind of the whole culmination of their experience from starting with ‘oh, I don’t think I can do this,’ … to kind of taking ownership and saying, ‘wait a minute … anyone can do art, and I can do it, too,’” Milanfar said.
Julia Foran and Milanfar were the CMS AmeriCorps ArtistYear fellows and for their final project put together a virtual museum exhibit called Sigue Soñando, which is Spanish for ‘Keep Dreaming.’ Foran taught general music classes for all CMS students this past year.
All of the artwork can be seen at the website here, and features pieces from students at CMS, Glenwood Springs Middle School, Basalt Middle School and Basalt High School inspired by their dreams for themselves and the future.
“It was really fun seeing them interact with art through each other. Even kids who wouldn’t normally do an art project by themselves, if they had a friend with them they would get the confidence to make an art piece together,” Foran said.
Prior to working on the project, Milanfar said the students didn’t seem to think art had a place in school. For instance, one of her students, Tony, is a seventh grade rapper who writes music, produces beats and often collaborates on songs with high school students who are also interested in the artform.
“We gave him a theme and a prompt and he wrote to the prompt, and that was something really awesome to see because it just kind of proved that the art projects, they can be for people who are not at all artists, or for people who are artists but don’t think art has a place in school,” Milanfar said. “Tony doesn’t otherwise bring his art into school at all, but with this project, he was able to tell us, ‘oh, by the way, I do music, I make beats’ … I would have never known.”
Foran also mentioned her student, Johan, who wrote a song that included a motivational speech in the middle. Every student who participated wrote their own artist bio and project statement. In Johan’s description of his song, it reads, “The song and poster (are) full of a good positive attitude and a motivational speech to make the audience feel confident and hopeful. ‘Unlimited Dreams’ reminds us of the importance of inspiration and activism through art. In making this art piece, Johan used natural experience and sight of others for inspiration because (he’s) sick of people telling others that dreams mean nothing.”
As Foran and Milanfar watched their students grow their self-confidence, they also saw the way artwork enabled them to engage with one another in a new way.
“I think about this group of friends … their names are Ellie, Kitka and Alivya, and they just became really close artistic collaborators when they figured out they could be in a group together,” Foran said. “It was just really sweet to see them connect through that, and now they’re literally bringing their art to my class every single day to show each other.”
Milanfar added that these artistic outlets gave students an opportunity to show up to class with their passions in tow, and that being creative and expressing themselves became something they learned there is space for in the classroom.
“Introducing this project was awesome to be able to learn about the students, even more than they thought was acceptable to bring into school. So, they can bring their whole selves, including the art that they do outside of school,” Milanfar said.
Once the school year ends, Foran plans to keep pursuing her music as a violinist and violist, and to find more opportunities to teach outside of the valley. Milanfar will be attending medical school in the fall at the University of California at San Francisco, but said she’ll always take her artistic nature wherever she goes. Both of them encourage community members to visit the website and look through the pieces made by students from the Roaring Fork School District to be inspired to follow their own dreams and experience their thoughts and aspirations about the future in a tangible way.
“It’s a fun way to get to know kids in our community, looking at their artwork and reading their biographies. … They are amazing young people, they are just amazing. We’re just really proud of them,” Foran said.
ArtistYear is continuing in the Roaring Fork Valley and those who are interested in becoming involved can visit artistyear.org to learn more.
Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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