Rustin High School Students Help Cultivate Global Kindness

Rustin High School Students Help Cultivate Global Kindness

Rustin Students display their Memory Project portraits

Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated that "every artist was first an amateur." While that may be true for students in Ms. Bryan's Studio Art 1 class at Rustin High School, these young artists were recently challenged with a project that successfully pushed the boundaries of their artistic abilities.

The Memory Project is a charitable nonprofit organization that invites art teachers, art students, and solo artists to help cultivate global kindness by creating portraits for children around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as violence, war, extreme poverty, neglect, and loss of parents. Ms. Bryan first worked with the Memory Project years ago when her students created portraits of children from the Peoples Republic of Congo. When she learned that this year's Memory Project involved children living in the United States she knew she had to be involved again.

"We do a lot of equity work with students and teachers in our district, and I felt that this was a great way to talk about those subjects in the high school classroom and also allow the students the opportunity to do something small about it," says Ms. Bryan. "I talked to them about how opportunity gaps exist everywhere, including in Chester County and explained what that meant. Every student was excited to be a part of the project."

Ms. Bryan showed her students videos of children receiving their portraits from previous Memory Projects.  She said they were shocked at the living conditions of the recipients, but at the same time, they were delighted to see the positive reactions on the faces of the children, clearly moved by their portraits.

The students creating the portraits know very little about the recipients. The Memory Project takes every precaution to protect the identities of the children. Each student in Ms. Bryan's class received a picture of their subject, with their name, age, and favorite color. Armed with limited information, the students, in grades 9-12, got to work.

"It took them three weeks to complete the portraits," says Ms. Bryan "They had a real sense of commitment to ensure they did their best. They wanted the portraits to look like the child they chose. 

When the portraits are delivered, each one will include a photograph of the young Rustin artist who created it. Representatives from the Memory Project will be on hand to film the children receiving their portraits. Ms. Bryan says she will share the video with her students when she receives it at the start of the next school year. While the project was a challenge for the Studio Art 1 students, it was a rewarding one.

"This project was a way for me to show them how one can learn how to communicate through an understanding of the fine arts.  It taught them that art is personal, has meaning and is inherently connected to the greater society."