The role of an intern in the creative process, a reflection by Lauren Gerald


In the beginning of the semester, before the interns got to choose the groups we’d work with for our “Stories from Stagville” project, I had gravitated towards a particular table of boys. While they seemed a little distracted during some of the initial writing assignments, I figured they’d settle down more once we all adjusted to the routine. It wasn’t until after I had already gotten attached to them that I realized the group’s silly nature was not because of a change in their usual routine. They were “that group”, as their teacher sometimes referred to them—one that would need more guidance to keep them on task. I’d seen each of the boys do good work when they were on their own, but when they worked together, their attitudes changed.

 
I used to deal with distracted students when I worked as a school tutor. I worked with students one-on-one then, and I could usually get a student to focus on their work by reminding them that I could send them back to the classroom and work with a better-behaved student instead. My former students saw working with Duke students as a privilege. The situation at Club was a little different. It was expected that I’d work the same group, so I couldn’t use myself as leverage. When we began the video making process, there were other privileges that I could take away if students were being disruptive. For example, if they boys started running around on the playground when we were supposed to be filming or looking at Internet memes instead of images for the video, I could tell them that we’d go back to the classroom if they couldn’t handle it. My goal was to keep them from inhibiting their own creative processes, but it felt a lot like behavior management. When we were still working in the classroom, either reading ex-slave narratives or writing their own stories, I had to take a different approach to keeping them on task. Rather than taking away privileges, I had to actively work with the students to keep the students engaged. I asked a lot of questions to keep them focused on the task at hand. When one student fell behind, I made it the table’s mission to make sure that he finished, meaning that the other two boys were not allowed to distract him. Here I saw my role as trying to get them to engage with and start making connections with the materials that were given to them. I felt less like I was managing the students and more like I was actually working with them.

 
The image I chose to write about is a still from our video. It’s a close up of two students shaking hands. The students chose to use this action in the reenactment of a slave purchase. Out of context, the image represents how I think LTP interns need to work collaboratively with the students, instead of just telling them what to do. While guidance is necessary, it should be more hand-shaking than hand-holding.

Bringing a vision to life, a reflection by Avery Waite



 

As I wandered around the property of Club Boulevard Elementary School looking for the perfect place to record the Stagville videos with my group, I found myself noticing potential distractions or background items that would take away from the students’ videos. Listening to children on the playground or cars driving by would not enhance the performance of the students in my group or the quality of their final product. After searching for the perfect spot, Liam sat down on a bench with a broken chain link fence in the background and declared that this was where he wanted to record his video. I was initally skeptical. Why would he want a broken fence in the background? I thought that maybe he did not notice that it was there, so I decided to point it out to him: “Hey Liam. What do you think about that fence in the background of the video? Do you think that fences like that existed during slavery?” He looked at me and responded: “I don’t think these fences existed during slavery, but I want to record my video here because the chain link fence to me could represent the chains of slavery.”

 
In that moment, I was amazed and silenced. Where I saw a broken, modernday fence, he saw something that he could use to symbolize slavery. I found the insight that he demonstrated in that moment to be remarkable. He had clearly given this some thought, as everything he had done up until this point was deliberate. In class, he moved through his writing slowly, not because he did not want to participate, but because he was so carefully crafting his narrative about Clay Bobbit, who was enslaved in North Carolina. He wanted to give himself the time to think between each sentence as to what the next logical thought should be. When it was time to record the video, he took five or so minutes to gather his thoughts before he improvised a very genuine monologue where he demonstrated both respecet and empathy for Clay Bobbit.

 

In addition to his deliberate decision making, Liam’s creativity also impressed me. While he would likely not describe himself as creative, his ability to link two seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts was impressive. It just goes to show that creativity is so much more than having the ability to draw or paint. Liam was able to take in the world around him, and use what he saw to create a greater message than one he could have expressed solely through writing or drawing. While he wished that he could have worn a different outfit in his video, he was very pleased with the outcome. After he recorded his monologue, he looked at me and said, “I did not expect this to happen, but I am really proud of myself.” It is moments like these that make LTP so special.

A reflection by Maura Schwitter

The LTP class has opened my eyes to the community and school systems around Duke University. It is a shame that some people go to school here without experiencing some type of exposure to the city of Durham. Not only did I learn a lot about the city of Durham, but also I learned about education, effective learning techniques, and the importance of stimulating students’ creative juices.
 
Sometimes in LTP it must be hard for the students to imagine where the work is going or what the final project might look like in the end. However, this is part of the creativity. Showing them past years’ examples might change how they go about their own work. At the beginning even I didn’t fully understand how my LTP internship would culminate with a final movie. I had a general idea of the timeline we were following, but it wasn’t until I saw “Stories from Stagville” LTP videos from past years that I understood what our work would look like in the end. When the students at Club Boulevard School began looking at ex-slave photos and narratives, they were excited, but still not fully convinced about our project. They would talk amongst each other and even joke about the pictures, but once we discussed that these were real slaves who had very hard lives they were more eager to work towards it. For example, Jayla wrote an awesome story from the perspective of her ex-slave named Jennylin. Jayla wrote her first draft very quickly – she took the directions and ran with them. Jayla’s opening sentence was “Blood, it was the most blood I ever saw in my life.” This was really inspiring to read. This single sentence showed that Jayla really grasped the pain and suffering the slaves had to go through. While other students either didn’t get to their first draft that day or wrote fictional/fantastical stories, Jayla was writing diligently at her corner seat a story that really impressed me and the rest of the class. I read it to the class to give them an idea of what we were looking for, and even though Jayla wanted to remain anonymous at first, she was very proud of her writing when all the other students responded with “Woah! Who wrote that?” I was really excited to see Jayla come up with such a unique first-person narrative of Jennylin. Her writing was sincere and graceful, and from that moment I was really excited about where our LTP project was going. This writing encouraged all Jayla’s classmates to focus more on the stories they were writing. I loved how they were able to learn from their peers and inspire each other to work hard. Their stories about the slaves’ lives went from mystical and fictional stories to very honest and serious stories.
 

Below is a screen shot of Giovanni’s video-recording.  It was his first take on camera that was not used. The screen shot is from the video right after he said he messed up. Even though this video wasn’t used, it is one of my favorites.  I loved watching Giovanni’s narrative come full circle. When I read through Tiney’s narrative with him he was borderline enraged by what the Yankee robbers had done to Tiney’s mother and brother. We talked about how it was impossible to imagine being in their shoes, and I encouraged him to write his feelings down on paper. After his paper got ripped I urged him to try to remember what he had written down. Just to speak from the heart about how he would feel in Tiney’s shoes. We had to do a couple takes because he was a little sheepish on screen and lost his train of thought a few times, but he was smiling through it and had fun with the project while taking it very seriously at the same time.

A reflection by Justine Kim

“Do I really have to do this? I really don’t know anything”
 

Our semester-long project of working with 5th graders at Club Blvd. Elementary was a constant process of learning. When I first decided to take the LTP course, I was merely excited by the chance to work with local elementary school children and do something fun. However, I soon realized that it meant much more than just ‘having fun’. The “Stories of the Stagville” project involved studying slavery in Durham, visiting Historic Stagville and then writing and performing the narratives of ex-slaves from various perspectives. I easily found some students very excited that they got to do some writing that involves imagination and creativity; however, I also easily found some students who were merely uninterested or even annoyed.

 

Anthony was one of them. He was not excited at all having to write and perform about something that seemed not at all relatable to him. When we headed outside the classroom to shoot the video, he did not have his script— neither in his hands nor in his mind. The picture above was taken by his classmate Nadia, who found it funny that he refused to be part of the video. I found this picture to be a condensed moment of his complex feelings in which he really wanted to leave and do nothing, while knowing that he had to be part of the project. This picture is also especially powerful to me because eventually he did become the courageous one who performed boldly in front of the camera.

 

Seeing how Nadia and Heather-Marie were coming up with such interesting narratives seemed to stimulated his own thinking about the story of Henry Bobbit, the ex-slave his was studying. It was really interesting how all the days we spent in the classroom, reading and writing, did not move his interest, whereas a single performance of his classmates made him so involved. He spoke up for Henry Bobbit in a way no one else would have. I still remember how he told me that he would keep his hood on since Henry would be gloomy and gloomy people hide under hoods. I could really see for myself how creativity and improvisation played its role in LTP.

 

It was Anthony who added humor, excitement, and sincerity to our final video. He was the one who took the project most seriously in the end. I never knew a child could change so dramatically throughout the project, and through him, I really felt the power of LTP. There have been several touching and impressive moments that I have never experienced before I met these kids at Club Blvd. I feel like Anthony will remain in my heart for a very long time.

“Donnel! You won’t show up in the picture!” a reflection by Yizhou Aria Jiang


Today is the last day for me this semester to intern at the Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet Elementary School. As my group finished our video for the “Stories from Stagville” project, I gave my phone to a student from another group and asked her to take a picture of my group.
 
Everyone except Donnel was readily by my side when Donnel suddenly kneeled down on the floor and posed as if he just won a football game. From my angle, it looks like Donnel was in a much lower position than everyone else. I started to get worried that Donnel was not going to show up in the picture so I blunted out: ”Donnel! You won’t show up in the picture!” Donnel insisted. I was a little frustrated because I thought the picture would look really weird with a huge gap between us four at the back and Donnel at the very bottom.
 

Anyways, the student took the picture. When I checked out the picture I was stunned – the picture turned out so much better than what it would be if Donnel had followed my instruction! The composition of the picture is great and the picture looks extremely lively. The subjects fit the diagonal lines in the picture; The “hand map” serves as background, David, Jaida, Mayra and I serve as mid-ground and Donnel perfectly fits as the foreground.
 

This instance prompted me to reflect on how I have been working with this group of fifth graders. As an adult, when it comes to decision making in the group project, I have been unintentionally putting more weight on my opinion because I unconsciously think my way is the “right” way. On the other hand, I sometimes fail to recognize the fifth graders’ ability to analyze situations, to solve problems and to create. In the case of this picture, I ignored the ability of the student who was taking the picture as well as Donnel’s initiative. Instead, I chose to give more weight to my perspective and even hoped to convince the students to follow my way of thinking.
 

LTP has been a great medium for me to observe, communicate and collaborate in depth with others. LTP involves a great amount of creativity and self-expression. Through the process of creating something together with others, I have been able to understand others’ perspectives and thinking process, which is hard to do normally. To me, to be able to get to know more people in depth is the most inspiring part of LTP.

A new group of kids, a reflection by Cindy Metzger

When the 5th grade groups for the LTP “Stories from Stagville” project were announced, groans were heard across the classroom. Jonathan said “I hate school” and Tayshawn seconded that with an “I’m not doing this.” Macy was upset that she was the only girl in her group and Harrison sat quietly in the corner. Needless to say, none of my group members were thrilled to be there.
 

Fast forward two months and the kids are ecstatic each time my fellow interns and I walk in the classroom. Tayshawn’s anxious to go outside and film the videos, while Harrison and Jonathan debate what music to use for the soundtrack, and Macy chimes in on how the video needs her feminine touch. It was like working with a new group of kids- ones that were excited to show off what they had learned, about their respective ex-slave’s history, and get outside of the classroom for a more hands-on experience.
 

To me these kids exemplify the ideals of LTP- giving students a project where they have to think on multiple levels, pull all of their thoughts together, and work hands-on. The end results are sparks of creativity that ignite a joy for learning, all the while bonding the students in a way that wasn’t otherwise possible. For “Stories from Stagville,” my group of kids first worked on knowing the ex-slave they picked, owning their story, and articulating it into a narrative. They then worked together to edit their writings, pick locations, film, direct, and put the final video together. (Though agreeing on a final music choice was quite the struggle between Team Fall Out Boy and Team Linkin Park).
 

Before this internship at the Club Boulevard Magnet School, I had no experience with LTP. But after having worked on this project, I have a new respect for the LTP methodology. If you give a student a piece of paper and tell them to write an essay, sure- some kids will dive right in, but most kids will struggle, both with finding the words and the motivation to write. However, as I’ve now seen firsthand, if you give a student a piece of paper and a picture, if you ask them “What do you see?” and “How do you think this person felt?” it opens another avenue of thinking. It allows for creative thinking. Suddenly the students have a personal connection to what they’re doing, which makes all the difference. If you top that off by telling the students that this essay will lead to a movie being made and them being filmed, well then excitement ensues even more. All of the sudden, school has become less mundane and the students have much more freedom for their voice to be heard and their creativity to shine through.
 

I have seen many things during my time at Club Boulevard: students who say “but I can’t write” turning in paragraphs, shy students leaving their shell behind while in front of the camera, and group members going from having no connection to being good friends. But what has been the most incredible to see is the pride on my group members faces as their final video has come together. All of their hard work, creative thinking, and 5th grade antics culminated into a video that all four of them are proud of- and that they show off to their friends, of course.

LTP is for everyone, a reflection by Heather Hoffman

Public schools in our country aren’t really doing so well. Dropout rates are high, and even some of those who do receive their high school diplomas are left unprepared for college or the workforce, despite the government’s attempts to standardize schools. Having studied critical issues in education while at Duke, I was initially drawn to LTP as a way to reach struggling students, and to teach lessons much more valuable than any test preparation could. Incorporating LTP into the classroom gives students a voice, especially those who are not encouraged to express themselves at home or in school, and creates a safe environment for students to tell their stories. During our time at The School for Creative Studies, our first LTP internship site, I was amazed at the bravery of many of the students as they wrote about an injustice they had faced in their life. Their writing was eloquent, meaningful, and all their own.

 

During the Memories from Past Centuries project at Club Boulevard Elementary, we asked our students to study primary historical materials and then write narratives about slavery from perspectives of slaves, loved ones of slaves, and slave masters. Oliver’s story stuck with me from the first time he shared it, and as I got to know him in our small groups, his writing from the perspective of Clay Bobbit’s mother became even more powerful. He refers to Clay as “the mischief king,” getting “his fair share of cow hide across his back.” In addition to his vivid details, Oliver illustrates his emotional connection to the project when describing Clay’s sister’s death and how this changed Clay’s personality. Oliver closes his monologue with, “And every day, when the sun set behind the rolling hills, he would weep next to Deliah’s grave.”

 

My youngest child, Clay Bobbit 11 years old is the most stubborn child I ever came across and that’s saying something. He would disobey Massa Grant Bobbit’s orders and get his share of cowhide across his back. Sometimes, before he brings the food for white people, he picks some off for himself. Master Grant ain’t the only person that beats him. Cause in our cabin, Clay is the real prankster so sometimes he deserves a little smack to the ear. Just cause he’s the mischief king don’t mean I don’t love him. He may be the craziest one in the family, the craziest one I’ve known, but he’s still my son. My other two children, Henry and Deliah, are Clay’s role models ‘sides Jack (husband) and me.

 

Once Clay was ‘bout 15 years old his sister died of yellow fever. Since then Clay was never the same. He would obey Massa Grant Bobbit’s orders absentmindedly, following the rules no matter what and every evening when the sun set behind the rolling hills, he would get out and weep next to Deliah’s grave. We were like the dogs cleaning off the scraps of food the Master’s family didn’t eat. Clay started to get over his sister’s death…