South End Stories: Healing through history and creativity

‘What does home mean to you?’ Students from Cleveland and Rainier Beach High School and Orca K-8 School discussed this question while sharing breakfast with artists, educators, and community leaders during a field trip to the Seattle Art Museum earlier this year.

“Just listening to the middle and high school students at my table open up about their thoughts was inspiring,” said Lisl Stadler, a local radio journalist and educator. “There isn’t enough inter-generational conversation in the world.”

The field trip was part of South End Stories‘ work to engage students, teachers, and families in conversations about identity, history, and the healing power of art. Based at Orca K-8 in Columbia City, South End Stories is one of 31 partners implementing trauma-informed and restorative practices throughout schools in King County. Through arts-based learning opportunities, intergenerational mentorship, field trips, and community events, the program aims to strengthen a sense of belonging for students and families at Orca K-8.

The field trip to the Seattle Art Museum focused on empowering female, non-binary, and gender fluid students share their stories and build community. Sabrina Chacon-Barajas, a teaching artist with Arts Corps, led the visual art workshop. “The power of intergenerational communication was further revealed to me because of this event,” she said. “I am looking at ways to translate that kind of engagement in my own work.”

Best Starts for Kids Trauma-Informed and Restorative Practices partners WA-BLOC and Urban League also joined and helped fund the event, along with the Seattle Art Museum, the Stanley Ann Dunham Scholarship fund, and the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. At the close of the event, peace educator Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng, sister to President Barack Obama and daughter of Dr. Stanley Ann Dunham, delivered a keynote speech on listening and leading with peace.

Peace educator Dr. Maya Soetor-Ng speaks to students on listening and leading with peace.

“What excited me about the South End Stories event was seeing Dr. Maya and hearing her speak in a small setting. Her words were very amazing and inspiring,” said one Rainier Beach High School student. “The impact of the words was powerful in the intimate space of queer/femme folks… I learned a lot from the stories that were shared at my table.”

Elevating youth voices through film

At the close of the 2019 school year, the South End Stories brought the Orca K-8 community together once again for the South End Stories Film Festival. Like the field trip to the Seattle Art Museum, the festival was an example of how arts programming pushes schools and communities to center youth voices and perspectives on the issues that impact them.

Produced, filmed, and directed by local students from 3rd to 12th grade, the films showed student perspectives on issues like police brutality, pollution, homelessness, ethnic studies, social isolation, and the discipline gap. Other films explored sci-fi and fantasy, showcasing the goofy and fantastical stories only young people can produce.

“You can see the difference in our middle schoolers, they have more confidence now…The films reached audiences and gave the students a platform,” a bilingual instructor at Orca K-8 shared after the festival. “The students realized how much people are willing to hear what they have to say. I see [one of my students] for example taking pride in his work. He would show me his storytelling. He is very shy and usually hates people to see his writing or ideas.”

Surveys reflecting on the film festival consistently repeated one word: “inspiring.” One film festival attendee wrote, “I’m so impressed. Gives me hope for the future.” It’s a recurring theme throughout the first year of Best Starts for Kids-funded work at Orca K-8, which showed what is possible when youth, educators, and community members collaborate across divides and dare to dream big. At the close of the school year, one parent reflected, “The middle school came alive with possibilities, opportunities, and self-awareness.” With this platform to build on, we can’t wait to see what is next for this community.

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