DC Day 10: July 31, 2013

From SW to NE, we’ve been crisscrossing the city.  On Wednesday we met at Brookland Station, in NE, to visit the Catholic University School of Architecture.  We toured the solar-powered house that they were building for the State Department’s solar decathlon, a competition between various college teams to see who can build the most cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive home.  After touring the house, and seeing the architecture department of the school, Professor David Dewane presented a lecture on his work.  Mr. Dewane was very enthusiastic and spoke extensively about a variety of topics including the need for our generation to make change.

After his passionate talk, we ate lunch at the Catholic University cafeteria and headed on to Columbia Heights.  In the heart of Columbia Heights there’s a small, public charter school named Mundo Verde (Green World).  The school stays true to its name and uses a curriculum focused on sustainability and English and Spanish bi-literacy.

At Mundo Verde we had the opportunity to teach a class.  We divided ourselves up into three groups, each with two Americans and two Japanese.  One group taught the kids Japanese games, another origami, and the last a Japanese song.  I was in the group that taught them a Japanese song.  The song was easy to learn, and quite catchy, and before I knew it, it was stuck in my head.  I thought it might be hard to teach the kids the song, given that they didn’t know any Japanese, but they caught on quickly and we soon were singing the song as a round.  The origami group worked away with their group of kids, as they folded the pieces of paper into hats and animals.  The Japanese game group laughed and shrieked as they cheered for their friends.  All in all the experience was a breath of fresh air as, instead of being talked to and someone else leading an activity, we were the ones in charge, and we were all having a lot of fun!

Had it been a “normal” day, Mundo Verde would have been the last stop and it would have been time to go.  Instead, we walked further down the block to Words, Beats and Life (WBL), a non-profit urban arts academy that uses hip-hop to transform lives and communities.  I knew that the Japanese students were very excited to visit this non-profit and I was excited as well, as WBL is a program that I participate in and I wanted to show off the amazing experiences that I’ve had with the program.  We heard from the director, Mazi Mutafa, about what WBL does, and then had the opportunity to engage in the classes themselves.  On that day, WBL was offering a graffiti/muraling class, a breakdancing class, and a DJing class, and we were encouraged to sample the different classes and participate in them.  At first, I thought that the Japanese students might be shy, but instead, they jumped right in.  They clutched the spray can with determination as they spray painted Japanese characters for “friend” and “love”, they bobbed their heads as the DJ showed them how to mix music, and stood in awe as the break-dancers leapt and spun.

I was proud that the Japanese were having such a great time at a program that I participate in, and I was proud that WBL could see me with my Japanese friends.  The sight of the group huddled around the turntables, as the DJ mixed rap with every single genre possible, was a great display of cultural exchange and cultural bonding.  It was clear that the music he was playing transcended any cultural differences that we might have.

They left with WBL t-shirts, which they’d wear continuously for the upcoming week, a testimony to the great time we’d have.

I noticed that each group was having a lot of fun teaching the children. Although the idea of teaching small children had originally seemed daunting and tiresome for some, everybody left happy and refreshed, as the kids were cooperative and fun to play with.  Who knows, maybe some of the participants are future teachers?

Wednesday was one of the longest days of the program, but arguably one of the most fun.  It was a day largely composed of arts.

Japanese students spray painting Japanese kanji next to Americans spray painting American letters.

Japanese students bobbing their hands to the music mixed by the DJ.

Arts as a bonding force, universal impact.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls
Washington, DC

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