• serra akcan

CHARACTER STUDY

Güncelleme tarihi: Oca 9

A PROGRESSIVE SCHOOL IN TURKEY USES DRAMA AND ART TO HELP CHILDREN LEARN.

Story and photos by Serra Akcan/Narphotos for KIWANIS MAGAZINE

With a flat yellow smile over a purple and pink bow tie, Toros the puppet is changing the way Turkish children study social studies, while also challenging perceptions of one of the nation’s most troubled schools.

Located in Ankara, Turkey, Aksemsettin Elementary School had a bad reputation. It’s a school where children from poor, nomadic families attend. Past violent incidents contributed to its notoriety.

“It’s very difficult for children from the countryside to adapt to the big city life and classes,” one teacher explains.

That’s all changing.

With support from the Ankara Kiwanis Club, Aksemsettin now draws on the creative arts to complement traditional courses. Students can now see possibilities when they dream of careers.

Ilgin, 8, dons red ruffles across her hair and darkens her eyebrows to animate a Frida Kahlo self-portrait.

“It seems Frida suffered a lot in her life,” Ilgin says. “Despite everything, she was a very powerful woman and that’s what I liked about her. Ilgin wants to be a pastry chef.

Berat, 7, loves pantomime, soccer, Scooby Doo and English class. He hopes to be a teacher. Or a pilot. Or a detective.

Ayse, 10, teaches her young brother some of the things she has learned through drama, including silent movie acting, a favorite activity. “I’d like to be a brain surgeon when I grow up,” she says.

A Form 2-A teacher explains why she sought to make a change. For she has worked at Aksemsettin Primary School, searching for new ways to reach and teach the children. The students, she says, had low levels of comprehension and problematic behaviors.

“It was hard to gain their attention and include them in the learning process using techniques from the syllabus,” she says. “So I began to implement different methods, starting with social skill activities like how they will sit, stand, interact with one another. And I implemented a reading program by which students interpreted the text using different branches of art.”

At first, she applied the program in her classroom, until Kiwanians stepped in with financial support and engineering and construction expertise. Five years ago, they built a “Dreams Studio,” where students could read books, discuss them, re-enact the stories and portray the characters via different art forms.

Impressed by the reading program’s success, school teachers and administrators encouraged the Kiwanians to expand the program by building a drama studio that would broaden creative opportunities for children to unearth talents, express themselves better and improve communication skills.

“The more important part is to make it useful for the students,” says member Unal Peker, an architect who designed both studios. “That is the second stage: to find people who will implement it.”

The arrival of a new drama teacher created an excitement within the school. Students began counting the days they would return to the studio. Through improvisation, storytelling and puppeteering, they improved their skills of observation and empathy. They began solving problems together. Parents and other teachers became involved too.

“In schools like ours, parents are not expected to participate in social activities or to help their children, but it’s not like that in our case,” says one teacher. “They are involved. They produce art with their children.”

One mother told her mother-in- law she had to attend a PTA meeting just so she could get away for a visit to the studio. She and other parents spent the time painting, drawing and talking about the old days when the school didn’t have a good reputation.

Most of the school’s teachers noticed differences in their students’ progress and are now trained to use the studio themselves.

“We are teachers of a disadvantaged group of students,” 3-A teacher says. “They are unhappy. Their parents have problems, yet we want to change their perspective on life. I believe that these projects may help the children forget about their problems and show them that another world is possible.”

Another teacher, who has worked at five difference provinces over the past 18 years, says Aksemsettin has been a turning point in her career.

Kiwanians are pleased with the results too. “Aksemsettin has become a very active public school, both because of the structure of the classrooms and the working enthusiasm of the teachers, who are unlike those you will find in many private schools,” says club Secretary Cahit Erkut.

Aksemsettin’s headmaster reports that she has seen a difference in her school’s students. “They are laughing as if they are not in school,” she says. “I see happy children. I see children with high communication skills, with high imagination. I think I see everything that should be. So what more should I expect from them? All of this happened within nine months!

“There should be 12 studios instead of 12 classes.”


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