SEL Through Art: The Get to Know Me Project

July 10, 2024
Jeanette Adams-Price
CASEL Fellow Alum 2023
Monroe One BOCES
SEL Through Art: The Get to Know Me Project

Key Points

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  • Young people are currently living in a society that is facing divisions that discourage connection, understanding, and relationship.
  • A professional learning specialist has developed an art project that provides shared community and learning space for young people to truly understand themselves and others.
  • In this project, students create identity portraits and “protest art” to open the doors to connection, belonging, innovation, and love for all humanity.

Today, our nation often feels more divided than united. From the national political stage to community school board meetings. From discriminatory state laws under legislative consideration to calls for local book bans. Our schools reflect these trends, anecdotally reporting antisemitic, racial, and homophobic incidents. We are seeing and hearing hateful rhetoric in our school communities specific to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts, weaving its ugly tentacles into everything from pushback on books, to curriculum, to staff hires and student events.

We cannot let this be the standard we model for our young people about how we all coexist. What can be done?

Get to Know Me Project

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When I thought about these trends and how they could impact my community, I realized what we needed was to hear each other’s stories. In the words of Margaret Wheatley in Turning to One Another, “We do not fear people whose stories we know.” That’s why I created the The Get to Know Me Project. This art-focused activity incorporates social and emotional learning (SEL) principles such as agency, belonging, and relationship-building while forging connections and providing shared community and learning space for young people, allowing them to truly see and hear all of who they are to themselves and those around them.

To create The Get to Know Me Project, I partnered with the Levine Center to End Hate and its Youth Ambassadors. Through the project, the Youth Ambassadors honed their leadership and social and emotional skills by starting a journey of deep reflection about who they are and issues that are important to them, and they learned how to create environments of belonging.

We used the arts as the vehicle for expression of these discoveries of self and others. The Youth Ambassadors created identity portraits through photography and “protest art” about an issue they care about.

Youth Ambassador Itahlia shared that her identity portrait is “a gateway to who I am, showing what I love and appreciate—poetry, songs, art, my family, and friends”:

Nilmani hopes that her portrait will show others that “everyone deserves a safe space no matter where they are in the world”:

Jake’s portrait highlights his love of running, and Jordan’s, her deep faith.

When creating protest art, the ambassadors were asked to think about an issue they care about. Artist Jess Bird of Bless the Messy helped ambassadors formulate ideas and media to use. Itahlia hopes her protest art will help others think about perspective. “By showcasing the different women, it displays how they (should) show up for each other”:

The creation and sharing of art provided ambassadors with a mind’s-eye view into themselves and offered a chance to build connections to others, while helping them define their collective ‘we.’ The artwork became the tools we used to enter dialogue and educate one another.

What the Future Holds

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As the Get to Know Me Project expands its reach into area schools, it is our hope that youth leaders will use their skills to grow the learning in their home districts, helping to build more inclusive environments where everyone feels they belong.

An art exhibit developed by youth leaders based on their learning over the course of a year will include their work as well as the work of others with whom they share learning space. Artwork will highlight the development of their leadership and SEL skills while addressing a question, problem, or interest they care about or that is important to them or their school community.

Margaret Wheatley inspires us to not ask, “What’s wrong?” Instead, ask, “What’s possible?” The Get to Know Me Project is all about dreaming of what’s possible—the kind of world we want and that young people want for themselves. Margaret continues, “ … the only way the world will change is if many more of us step forward, let go of our judgments, become curious about each other, and take the risk to begin a conversation.”

A Final Thought

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It’s easy to identify the wrongs of the world. It’s easy to continue a dialogue that points out the obvious. It’s easy to exploit those wrongs and the people impacted by them via social media, television, and politics. When we open our minds and hearts to what’s possible—what we would like to see and be in our world—we open the doors to connection, belonging, innovation, and love for all humanity. Although this is a lofty challenge, it is my greatest hope that in even a small way, The Get to Know Me Project will have this type of impact.

The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.

Jeanette Adams-Price is currently a professional learning specialist with the Office of School Improvement Professional Learning Team at Monroe One BOCES in New York. She is a seasoned conference presenter at the local, state, and national levels and has worked with teachers and administrators of all levels and content areas. Jeanette currently leads professional learning focused on social and emotional learning; LGBTQIA+ education, inclusion, and allyship; and leads both the SEL Leaders Community and the Regional GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) Advisors Community. Jeanette is a CASEL Fellow alumna, having completed her fellowship in June 2023 where her work centered on the systemic implementation of SEL and building a community partnership and program (Get to Know Me Project) with the Levine Center to End Hate in Rochester, NY.

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