Welcoming educators into our classrooms to observe and having our teachers visit other schools to do the same is a common occurrence at BVP. We believe that to truly improve upon our educational landscape we must prioritize collaboration and the sharing of best practices. A few weeks ago our Network Art Director and Middle School 1 Art Teacher Michelle Turner welcomed another teacher into her classroom. After meeting at the RI Art Association Conference, Dana Janik, the art teacher at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf (RISD), and Michelle connected and the invitation to observe the choice-based art model we use at Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) was extended.

As Michelle and Dana debriefed their visit, an idea was sparked to bring the students at our two schools together and a new opportunity was born. High school seniors at RISD would be offered the opportunity to teach an art lesson to 7th grade scholars at BVP. For the seniors and 7th graders it would provide the opportunity to use art as common ground in a situation where communication would be challenging.

At BVP, we speak to our scholars often about “communicating across lines of difference” as well as about respecting and empathizing with the perspective of others. This collaboration would challenge our scholars to communicate across a line of difference and empathize with a situation that many of them had never considered before – being unable to use the spoken word.

When the day arrived both groups of students were nervous, but that quickly fell away. After introductions, our scholars were divided into small groups where RISD students facilitated lessons in teaching basic sign language and instructed them on drawing signs to make a banner spelling out “Blackstone Valley Prep.” Soon, they were laughing together, sketches were coming together, and the help of interpreters was needed less and less. Afterward, we asked both groups of students to reflect on the experience:

  • “I was very nervous at first, but the students were very friendly and open! I had the best time, and wish I could do it everyday.” -Alize Pabon, RISD High School Senior
  • “The students there made my day by how eager and enthusiastic they were! I was very glad I stepped out of my comfort zone because it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. All the kids there rocked! I had fun!” -Makayla Teles, RISD High School Senior
  • “At first, I thought it was going to be hard to communicate as well as we do with our friends, but by the end of the class we were having a lot of fun. In our group we laughed a lot. It was a lot of fun.” -Sophia Lombardi, College Class of 2026 BVP Scholar
  • “I think this experience really helped everyone here. You’re not always going to be around the same sort of people when you grow up. There’s going to be people that are different that you’re going to need to communicate with, so I think this experience really helped.” -Mercy Oyedele, College Class of 2026 BVP Scholar

After a tour is finished or when a classroom visit is completed, there’s usually one question left – the million dollar question – How do all of these pieces come together to help fulfill your mission to prepare scholars for the world beyond? Our answer: collaborations like this. Situations where we can bring lessons to life and allow our scholars to try their hand at applying what they have learned. The world is a complex place, so whether it be through a history lesson or through art we are going to take every opportunity to prepare them for it.

A special thank you to the staff and students at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf. We can’t wait to work with you again! Take a look below for some photos from our collaboration.