As part of a project designed to bring school staff and students closer together through art, Wiley H. Bates Middle School teamed up with a local film company to create a documentary, which will debut to the public Thursday.
Katherine Hicks, principal of Bates Middle, said the idea for “The Bates Story Project” sparked when teachers found connection through sharing stories of personal development during the coronavirus pandemic. The teachers found so much success that they wondered how they could share the exercise with their students.
“Everyone has a story,” said Tayler Grimail, arts integration specialist at the school. “When we don’t take the time to learn one’s story — or worse, create our own version of it — we lose the chance to find out what they need, which is the first step to empathy.”
Every year, students usually do a project that honors the school’s namesake, but this time, they acknowledged their personal contributions to the community. The roughly 50-minute film shows kids expressing themselves through art and interviews.
Over the course of the 2022-23 school year, staff and students participated in weeklong art workshops in which students used dance, songwriting, collage, photography, spoken word, film or any other art form as their medium to express a segment of their identities.
Each child who opted to participate started by creating an identity map on which they wrote their name and then made branches of their identity, such as family traditions, physical appearance, interests or hobbies.
Then they picked the branch they liked the best, and that became their project to share.
“Bates is a very diverse school; we are in a very diverse area,” said Chanell Barnett, a counselor at Bates Middle. “I want students to embrace their diversity but to do it with kindness and empathy.”
Local artists who specialized in the different media also joined the students and staff to help them with their projects.
“Courage isn’t when you do something without fear; courage is when you push through something even with fear or nervousness,” said Femi Lawal, also known as “Femi the DriFish,” a Baltimore-based guest artist for the project.
When the creative process began, so did the connections, according to 410 Films, the Annapolis-based film company tapped to assist the students. Students and staff discovered commonalities and built stronger relationships, creating a sturdy foundation for learning.
The hope was to cultivate an environment where students and staff were not only comfortable sharing their stories but also developed a desire to learn about one another.
“On our climate surveys, it said the kids felt like the teachers didn’t really know them, so with that data and seeing how many connections were formed during our time together, the ideas started to flow, and eventually, they got us to where we landed,” Hicks said.
Hicks said some of the best parts of the project were when kids expressed difficult parts about themselves and found connection with others who had gone through similar experiences.
“One student chose to write about his parents getting divorced and how that was affecting him,” Hicks said. “Then another student wrote about how his parents got divorced, but he met his stepmom, and now, he has a whole new cool addition to his family. It showed that the situation could get better, and the two boys ended up connecting as friends through their stories.”
Sophie Smith, a sixth grader during the project, said it was nice to be able to express herself using art instead of just explaining it, which is more difficult to her. She used dance as her art form.
“I think this project made this entire school just stop and take a step back and realize that we are all equal and we all have the same emotions and going through the same things,” said Stephaen Hood, dance teacher at Bates Middle.
The Evening Sun
The documentary will air at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday at the Bates Middle School gymnasium. The school is taking reservations through a Google form for the free showing.