Video Interview with Michael Shirzadian
By KEVIN PARKS
What started as a studio to encourage recent immigrant and refugee students at the Columbus Global Academy to learn English through writing expanded to include all forms of expression for the middle and high school kids.
Their work ranges from poetry and painting to photography and even knitting.
The students at Columbus Global Academy, 4077 Karl Road in Columbus, gave up lunch hours to work with students from the Ohio State University Writing Center, as well as their own teachers and guidance counselors.
The result was the Global Art Exhibition, which took place April 9 at Thompson Library on Ohio State’s main campus.
Being part of an art exhibition was heady stuff for Ayoub Hotak, a middle school student at Columbus Global Academy who originally is from Afghanistan.
“It was good,” he said as he and other participants in what’s now being called a community collaborative gathered April 17 to view again the works that were included in the exhibition.
“The university students really liked it. We went to show ... that in Columbus City Schools, we have students who are working very hard and teachers who are working very hard.”
“I really feel like the artwork was that bridge for communication, in a sense, where they were able to communicate their feelings and their thoughts and their emotions,” said Angela Smith, a Columbus Global Academy counselor. “With that, having the different showcases, they were able to practice their English and kind of explain their art in English.
“It was a really nice combination of resources and talents.”
Initially called a community outreach when the Writing Center students launched the effort at the start of the school year, the program had Columbus Global Academy students from the middle and high school programs, said Michael Shirzadian, one of the grad students involved.
“We began with sort of more formal writing instruction,” he said.
Columbus Global Academy students, for example, were asked to write their interpretation of a movie poster. But with most only able to read at a third- or fourth-grade level, Shirzadian said that was at times frustrating for them.
“We weren’t really engaging much of their interest, either,” he said.
The switch to a more collaborative approach that embraced communication on many levels made a big difference, Shirzadian said.
Getting to show their works at Ohio State was a big confidence-builder, the grad students said.
“They believe that their art and their writing belong there,” Shirzadian said.
“The amount of love and effort and pride that they put in the work is amazing and inspiring,” said Nicole Pizarro, another OSU student involved in the project.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Alexandria Straaik, also a writing consultant. “I think we all feel lucky, to be honest.”
“All of our kids are very new at learning the English language,” Smith said. “It can be kind of scary for them. The artwork and the friendships and the partnerships, I think it really did facilitate that feeling of being comfortable. It made it less focused on learning the skill of English so maybe there wasn’t as much nervousness or hesitancy. They were really able to be in a more relaxed setting.
“All of the OSU staff and students that we worked with, they are very passionate about what they are doing, and that really showed with our students.”