Students and staff at River Trail Learning Center at L.O. Jacob (RTLC) celebrated freedom and beauty, peace and vitality with the school’s Art, Academic and Variety Show May 16.
Proudly wearing T-shirts proclaiming, “I will not bully – join me,” students displayed their artwork and various academic projects created throughout the school year and enthusiastically debuted the school’s Beyond the Mirror project.
“Students have been working hard throughout the year learning, growing and achieving in all aspects of their education,” said Veronica Jacobson, RTLC music specialist/therapist.
In fact, the Beyond the Mirror project was a powerful force in that education, said Vickie Pitney, program director at RTLC.
“Beyond the Mirror,” a book of poems published by Blaine resident and former emergency room nurse Marlene Jezierski, served as launch pad for RTLC students as they studied the signs and impact of various forms of bullying, learned to cultivate and celebrate strength and hope, and “began to recognize that they have choices regarding their participation in relationships that are in any way abusive,” Pitney said.
RTLC’s Beyond the Mirror project committee – headed by Dawn Strommen (formerly a therapist at Bell Center), RTLC teacher July Maass-Hanson and Jezierski – wanted to provide the opportunity for students to express their experiences through art.
The purpose of the project was “to utilize the fresh perspective of our youth and their art as a powerful venue, raising awareness of the dynamics and impacts of violence in all forms and to provide actions and solutions,” Pitney said.
Students spent 40 to 50 hours over three days in the course of the school year from October to April learning a variety of art forms they could use to express their learning as a community.
Art forms employed to communicate their energies, their insights and their enlightenment included photography, visual art, hip hop dancing and lyric writing, poetry and the spoken word.
Students worked with hip hop teacher Sara Kelly, amateur photographer Larry Retzlaf and visual artist/muralist/painter/sculptor/youth worker Jordan Hamilton.
Students ultimately worked to design and paint a four- by six-foot mural on the school’s main hallway. That mural depicts what people can do to end abuse and illustrates positive outlets students have to avoid abusive situations.
The mural portrays a stormy sky, depicting the violence and fear that results from bullying and abusive relationships. Farther on, the sky clears and the words “courage, loyalty, peace, strength, freedom, respect, love, and trust” are seen just above the horizon, illustrating values people can incorporate to establish a peaceful community.
The buffalo – RTLC’s mascot – is seen roaming the grassy prairie beneath the clear blue sky.
“A buffalo faces the storm head-on and buffalo tracks are a sign of great hope – hope for these students that when they face things head-on they can overcome, too,” said Hamilton.
Pitney further described RTLC’s Beyond the Mirror project.
“The purpose of this project was to utilize the fresh perspective of our youth and their art as a powerful venue, raising awareness of the dynamics and impacts of violence in all forms and to provide actions and solutions,” she said.
Using the unique ability of the arts to teach, RTLC students were inspired to recognize the forms of violence, understand it better and learn how they can be part of creating a peaceful community.
“Perhaps the greatest impact (of the project) would be the planting of seeds of peace that will grow and flower as those involved with and touched by the project spread their message,” Pitney said.
In addition to Jezierski and artists Kelly, Retzlaf and Hamilton, other participants in RTLC’s Beyond the Mirror project are the Alexandra House, the Alliance for a Violence-free Anoka County and the Domestic Violence Council of Anoka County. Many organizations contributed financially to the project, most significantly the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.
A book describing in words and pictures the RTLC Beyond the Mirror project will be available soon. Call Veronica Jacobson at 763-506-1988 for more information.
To learn more about Beyond the Mirror, visit beyond-the-mirror.org.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]