School-Museum Collaboration Challenges Students to Engage, Empathize, Reflect

A new interdisciplinary and creative partnership between The Washington School for Girls and the Phillips Collection brought a museum experience to life for fourth and sixth graders. During numerous visits to the Collection, they studied artist Jacob Lawrence’s exhibit, “The Migration Series,” along with the works of contemporary African American artists McArther Binion and Whitfield Lovell.

The partnership integrated play writing and storytelling with themes from the exhibition, which explores the lasting cultural, political, and societal impact of the flight of over a million African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North following the outbreak of World War I. Faculty members worked closely with the Collection’s education staff in developing arts-integration lessons inspired by the Series.

At the museum, students engaged in and empathized with the works by sketching, modeling, and creating tableaux of the figures. In their Social Studies classes, they explored the migration pattern, read stories and poems from the era, and wrote their own creative pieces about what they learned. Sixth graders focused on Lawrence’s portrayal of life in the South and The Great Migration; fourth graders examined life in the North, the artist’s familial connections with the Migration, and his personal experiences living in Harlem.

“It was a remarkable experience for everyone,” says faculty member Shakenya Humphries. “One student was even inspired to write historical poetry and stories to creatively teach her classmates.”

To complete the project, they presented a showcase performance of their work at the Phillips Collection. Sixth graders offered original scenes, poetry, dances, and songs; fourth graders presented artwork, poetry, and reflections on how they’re looking to fulfill their own hopes and dreams.

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