Hand in Hand | Laura Reeder

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More than four-hundred people held hands. They formed a human chain from Seymour School, through the playground, across the parking lot between Nojaim’s grocery store and the community health center, in front of the public housing buildings, alongside Gifford drug store, past the purple house with the plastic swans, down the sidewalk by the industrial storage place, past Iglesia de Dios, the vacant concrete building covered with graffiti, and across the lawn of artist Juan Cruz, and into la Casita Cultural Center. This was a performance and installation all at once. This had been imagined and planned for months. This was something called Seymourofus. 

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 Police officers stopped traffic. Folks at the grocery store parked their carts, and pre-kindergarten through 5th grade students extended their hands to neighbors and teachers to make a statement. We are here. You are with us. See more of us. Seymourofus.

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For many years in Syracuse, New York, I worked closely with an amazing team of teachers and learners at Seymour school to investigate ways that the arts were helping the whole school, students and teachers, to be better partners to each other. Recently, the art education students who I teach in Boston were studying ways that adults learned from children. I knew it was time to share the adventure that eventually became known as Seymourofus.

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Seymourofus was once a project that was mostly about making art, which was just fine. But ideas and enthusiasm from students could not be contained in a few assembled objects.

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Then it became an exhibit about how people can exchange histories, hopes, and ideas. But the exhibit attracted other people who wanted to learn from Seymourofus too.

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 It evolved into a curriculum when an exhibit could not contain what we learned from each other. The curriculum could not be measured, so it became a community and a work of art all together.

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Finally, it was a way of life for a whole school for many years. It became bigger than all of us.

Seymour school was struggling to be included in urban renewal efforts that were being made by the local university and community foundations. There are many adventures and arts-engaged stories that led to the peaceful hand-in-hand demonstration described above, but the most important and powerful message that emerged o was that a school is more than a building, a budget, and a body of needs. This school was a buzzing community of people who followed rules, wrestled with standardized systems, agreed and disagreed, made art, sang songs, ate meals, and came up with new ideas all of the time, but they were continually seen by the outside world as a low-achieving school in a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

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Yet, when folks could not resist and came closer to “see more of us”, they could see things like awesome, camo-peace kings and they saw that a Puerto Rican Princess could hold hands with a Dominican Princess. They could see that each person was a body filled with ideas and adventures. They could see personal stories and political stories. See more of us.

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Now, a few years later, I use Seymourofus as a teaching tool. But, is so much more than a few categories of pedagogical significance. There is not enough room in a blog to categorize the grade-by-grade investigations that were made, or unpack the qualities of the 100+ artist and community professionals who worked side-by-side with Seymour students each year. So instead, I prepare artist teachers to see complex potential in every little moment that they will encounter with the students in their future. Hand in hand, learning from teaching, everything is possible.

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