Fire Island students recently participated in a unique collaborative art project with students from another island – Cuba.


In 2015, before President Obama began mending U.S. relations with Cuba, BOCES educator and longtime Fire Island School collaborator Deborah Gerken traveled to the country on a tour specifically for educators. In the course of her trip, she visited the Casa del Niño y la Niña, a nongovernmental organization in Havana, which provides children creative opportunities in the arts. There Ms. Gerken met program director Maylar Duran Rodriguez. After sharing information about their backgrounds, the two developed an idea to pursue a collaborative art project between their two respective schools.

Upon her return to the United States, Ms. Gerken collaborated with Woodhull art teacher Bianca Hansen to create a plan for the Cuban and Fire Island students to paint pictures reflecting the question "What makes me happy?" The students would create two copies of their work: one to keep and one to send to the other school, along with photos of themselves and handwritten letters. The rectangular canvas pieces would all be the same size such that they could be stitched together to form one giant canvas made of both schools' work. The nearly identical finished products could be displayed in both schools, respectively, as a monument to the rich cultural exchange.
     
To ensure consistency between the two schools' work, Ms. Gerken and Ms. Hansen decided to send Ms. Rodriguez all of the necessary supplies.

On May 16, the work of students from both schools was proudly displayed Woodhull's gymnasium, representing student interests ranging from pets and nature, to buildings and sports. The entire catalogue of photos and letters from Cuban students, in Spanish and translated into English, was displayed alongside that of their Fire Island counterparts, as family, staff and community members perused the works. A remarkable achievement on every front, the school plans to create a more permanent display of the project going forward.