My name is Wendy Leigh Curtis and I’m an artist-educator-activist (http://www.wendyleighcurtis.com/.) I’ve been living in New York City for the past fifteen years and teaching art more full-time the last five years. I recently started teaching high school full-time for the first time at Inwood Academy of Leadership Charter School (http://www.inwoodacademy.org/). IALCS is a still expanding 5th-10th grade school. I’m very excited to have an opportunity to create a strong Visual Art program at the high school level. Our population is about 95% Dominican and 5% other. Many of my students were born and raised either in Inwood/Washington Heights or the South Bronx and many are English Language Learners (ELL’s). Using school appropriate language has been a big push for the school this year and is quite a challenge for teens spending a lot of time using “unprofessional” language when not in school. Cursing in English and/or Spanish is a cultural norm for many of my students. As part of an advisory trip, my colleagues and I combined groups and took students to Harvest Moon Farm as a way of getting out of our cultural comfort zones (both adults and students) and getting to know one another.
Jahsiah with the goat (Chip) didn’t have such a big grin on his face earlier in the week when he refused to do any work in my class, using loud unprofessional language. In fact, he had such a good time, he told a Dean that he and I had a deep talk and that we were cool now and he didn’t need to complete an accountability sheet or “detention” (a total lie). With that said, this experience and the photograph did help me remind Jahsiah that he has a choice and that his best self can and will make a better choice in my class for our sake and for the sake of other students. I now have this photo posted on the board with a speech bubble that says, “Jahsiah and Chip”. This photo and the experience helps me remember that Jahsiah really loves animals and has many of them he cares for in his apartment (even when he curses in anger at me or other students in class). It also helps him remember me as a photographer who was curious about his interaction with a goat, instead of someone who is always nagging him about being his best self/someone that he doesn’t really know. Please also note that these high school students in the group shot are not showing gang signs in the photo, but peace signs and “spider-man” signs, I did ask for clarification just to be sure.