VCMS students learning activism through art

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Wed., Nov. 28, 2012
VCMS eighth-grader Jillian Werner shows other students how to create the bone sculptures as part of the project for genocide awareness. Photos by Steve Smith.
VCMS eighth-grader Jillian Werner shows other students how to create the bone sculptures as part of the project for genocide awareness. Photos by Steve Smith.

Eighth-graders at Vernon Center Middle School got a lesson in art-as-activism on Nov. 26, when the class took part in a nationwide campaign to bring awareness about genocides taking place around the world. Social studies teacher Keith Miller led an assembly in the morning about what genocide is, and about the One Million Bones project, which is encouraging students to get involved by sculpting bones out of clay, which will be part of an installation at the national Mall in Washington, D.C., in April of 2013.

For each bone created, a $1 donation is given by the Bezos Family Foundation to CARE for its work aiding families of victims of genocide in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After the morning presentation, several workshops were held to create the clay femurs, ribs and radius bones.

Students in the school's Epoch Art Club typically work with community service-based art projects and have, in the past, taken on projects such as Mugs for Cancer, and Dinos for Diabetes, which helped acquire a guide dog for a boy with diabetes. They chose the One Million Bones project after seeing a video presentation.

“We didn't realize before this, that it was still going on today,” said Jillian Werner, one of the Epoch Art students. “Mr. Miller taught us about it, and we watched videos, and then we said, 'Yes, we really want to do this.' I love how you can use art to help someone. Normally, as an eighth-grader, you don't have that chance.”

The students were then trained by art teacher Sherri Nevins who led the bone-making workshops. Nevins, who helped bring the idea to the school along with Miller, said the lessons for students are not as much about the horrible details of genocide, but about civic duty and knowing what's going on in the world. “I think the big thing for us is not even the facts of genocide, but about teaching them that they have a voice, and they can stand up for what's right, and that what they do does make a difference,” she said, adding that there is a parallel between genocide and the more-locally-common issue of bullying.

“Bullying is picking on one person or picking on a group of people, so we saw a common thread between the two,” she said, “that if you don't stop the bullying, it could lead to bigger and badder things. That's really what genocide is - singling out people.”

She said the students also saw the connection, especially after the art students had their first workshop on a day where the school also had a bullying presentation. “I think they are absolutely getting it,” Nevins said.

“I was talking to my friend, who said she didn't know what genocide was before this, so it's really eye-opening,” Werner said.

Werner said the school had produced about 300 bones that day, but there would also be after-school workshops throughout the week to hopefully reach the goal of 1,000 bones, which will be brought to the One Million Bones' Connecticut representative and then on to Washington. Werner said she hopes ultimately the bone display will create a strong message to government leaders, and prompt them to act.

“I think it could be a powerful enough statement,” she said. “I think seeing bones in front of you would cause you to do something - to realize that this is a problem, and we need to do something.”

Nevins said the students are hoping to display the bones at other places in Vernon, and perhaps a group might make the trip to D.C. to see their bones among the million on display.

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