What defines me? What connects me to my peers? Does dancing make me feel alive? These are just a few of the questions that 10th graders asked themselves as they engaged in a participatory art installation in recent weeks.
To get students thinking about what makes an individual and how identities intersect, teachers—inspired by "Identity Tapestry” artist Mary Corey March—generated statements that they thought represented a range of 10th-grade experiences and interests: “I play an instrument”; “a grandparent lives in my home”; and “I feel like I belong” are a few examples. The phrases were stapled to a bulletin board and when a student connected with one, they wrapped their piece of yarn around its marker and went on to the next statement with which they identified, crossing the length of the board.
The result, in the hallway between English classrooms, is a web of 111 pieces of colored yarn representing pieces of students’ lives and personalities. This “web of connectivity” as the 10th grade English teachers are calling the project, is intended to break down barriers and create a sense of empathy and community among the class. “I realized that each string is a person who I may know, and who is here, and we’re experiencing similar things,” said Ava ’25.
Delving into identity as a class was useful as an icebreaker at the beginning of a new academic year, “helping students to feel a sense of togetherness instead of alienation,” said English teacher Jenny Gellhorn who spearheaded the project. It also coincides with their readings and discussions. “We’ve been talking in our class about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 'Danger of a Single Story' and applied that lens to Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, which was their summer reading,” said Gellhorn. “The idea for this project comes out of that text and our discussion of it and helps us think about the way identities are formed by different circumstances as we move into the unit on Night by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.”
Some statements were personal, and students were given privacy when they strung their yarns. But they were able to see the artwork progressing when they passed by, with a rainbow of colors around certain statements and fewer around others. “It was comforting to see other people’s experiences that could be the same as mine,” said Nadia ’25. “I realized I’m not the only one struggling.”
The connections, as well as the differences, are what make the board beautifully complex.
“With every two people who went out (to string their yarns),” said Griffy ’25, “it became more of a piece of art.”