Reflecting on the Connection Between a Community and Its Children

Tomorrow, I begin a study tour of Reggio Emilia Schools in Italy, thanks to a generous invitation from Lorella Lamonaca, a teacher I’ve met through my work with Scarsdale Public Schools.

“Your book reminds me of Reggio,” she told me, and my heart soared when she did. It’s not often that American teachers recognize the Reggio in my work, but those who know me well and especially, those who were close to my work with the WNY Young Writers’ Studio know that the spaces I’ve created for children are Reggio inspired, and Make Writing is the result of the documentation that happened inside such a space over the course of quite a few years. These are approaches I continue to champion in schools, and this is a culture that I feel I have much to learn from.

So, when Lorella told me that she brought teachers to Reggio each spring, I swooned.

And several days later, when she invited me to join her this year, I packed.

Rapidly.

We arrived yesterday.

I begin the tour tomorrow.

Many have asked me to document as much of my learning as I can, and I will do my very best. It’s important that I respect the boundaries that the school and program leaders have set for all of us here, though.

I am unable to take photos inside of the schools, and I must practice discretion in discussing what transpires there.

And I will.

I’m so grateful to be here, and I’m looking forward to pausing, documenting, and reflecting in this space when I can, even if it’s only to share the smallest things.

For instance, this evening we had the opportunity to explore the pedestrian tunnel of the railway station in Reggio Emilia. Here, the work of children provides an authentic and engaging backdrop for residents and visitors alike. It’s a permanent photo exhibit of the bicycles that many made from a variety of loose parts.

Why bicycles? Because bicycles are an important part of their culture. They are a traditional part of ordinary life in Reggio, and learning how to ride a bicycle is a part of the assimilation process for many new inhabitants.

The project challenged children to re-imagine the underground passages at the railway station, recognizing how they serve as corridors, bringing “people, places, memories, and diversities” together. It challenged them to think about all that can be gained, literally and metaphorically, from learning how to balance, pedal, and “tame” a bicycle. The project also challenged everyone in the community to consider the importance of the bicycle as they engaged in environmental, political, and town planning.

These pieces are a part of the permanent exhibit, which welcomes all who visit the train station.

A quick reflection tonight, since this is all that I really have time for: I’ve long admired Loris Malaguzzi’s vision of a community growing around and within the school and a school growing around and within the community. This kind of symbiosis is fundamental to the Reggio way. If this was his vision, what might we infer from the fact that this installation remains free of graffiti inside of a structure that like so many Italian structures, is glowing with it (keeping in mind that I, like many, view Italian graffiti as an unusually bold and beautiful thing)?

What does it suggest when graffiti artists choose to paint around, above, and under the work of the children in their community, instead of over it?

What does it suggest about the work of the children?

What does it suggest about the work of the graffiti artists?

What does it suggest about their community?

What lessons could this teach about respect?

That’s my research topic for this week……respect.

But before the research, there is rest. It’s been quite a journey so far, and I have a full day tomorrow. More to come, soon.

 

 

 

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