“It’s hard for me to express myself, but I got to express myself in the body sculpture work in ways I never could before.”

“A lot of people started out this class bored, or afraid — but it melted away into enthusiasm.”

-Student comments at the conclusion of an Upstream Residency at Washburn H.S.

This feedback delights a teacher to no end. Upon hearing it, my colleagues and I were floored, fully aware of the preciousness of such tender honesty from rough teenagers.

As I reflected more analytically–beyond the tears of awe–I questioned, what is the significance of students naming a “space for expression” and “overcoming boredom and fear” as the highlights of their time in Upstream classes?

We often turn to children to show us unbridled expression. The simplest of objects, met by imagination, keep a child invested for hours. They play. We play in Upstream Arts classes too. Upstream may have a sophisticated and strategic approach to our curriculum, but in many ways it is a return to play. In our EBD classes—a community where boredom and fear are primary emotions—this is revolutionary. Life circumstances have often forced these students into a sort of premature adulthood. Upstream returns to them the gift of play. Make up a song. Make up an image. Paint your imagination. Pretend you’re stuck in an alligator-ridden swamp – how will the three of you get out alive?  For an hour a week, they’re invited to set aside the posturing, the protective barrier of boredom, the terror of showing honest feelings – and rediscover, redefine, and remake their world. We play.

Post by Julie Kurtz, Upstream Arts Teaching Artist