For Spring Break 2022, 16 Pratt Institute students traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they taught visual art to children in public schools and at a museum. Comprising students majoring in Art and Design Education and minors in Art and Design Education in New York City and museum and gallery practices, the group planned and delivered community education experiences to art and design alongside an immersion in the culture of the capital of the Caribbean island.
Aileen Wilson, chair of art and design education, and Borinquen Gallo, adjunct associate professor of art and design education, led the program in San Juan. Art and Design Education students must take Spanish classes and often work with Spanish-speaking communities in New York, with five of the students who joined this program being bilingual. This experience was coordinated to complement and expand their learning.
“When designing the program, one of our goals was for our students to acquire essential skills to work with communities in different contexts, to activate a kind of cultural intelligence and to help our students become effective practitioners and culturally sensitive,” Wilson said.
In partnership with the Instituto Nueva Escuela, a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming Puerto Rico’s public education system through Montessori philosophy and methodology, half of Pratt’s students have spent time at two public schools: Inés María Mendoza in Caguas and Luis Muñoz Rivera II in Guaynabo, both in the suburbs of San Juan. The other half taught students from kindergarten to 7th grade Miramar Museum of Art and Design in Miramar, a district of San Juan, in collaboration with Nadja de la Torre, director of the museum’s educational program.
“It was inspiring to see Pratt’s students put theory into practice and how seamlessly they transitioned and adapted to teaching in a new setting,” Gallo said. “I was particularly struck by the way Pratt students, and the students and staff they met at our partner Puerto Rican school sites, worked together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and reciprocity, their enthusiastic rapport overcoming language barriers.”
They also had time to explore the area to get an overview of the community. This included a walking tour of the Santurce neighborhood and its Santurce es Ley festival murals with Maité González Pérez, Academic Head of Visual Arts at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón; a salsa workshop with Tito Ortos; hiking and swimming in El Yunque National Forest; and a gallery conversation with Puerto Rican artist Pedro Adorno who shared his current exhibition.
The program in San Juan engaged students to teach and learn in a new environment and to be flexible in their work in different settings, whether a classroom or a museum.
“What I learned from this experience is how to adapt and move forward when obstacles come in and change everything,” said Michael A. Rodriguez, BFA/MA Art and Design Education’ 25. “This trip has reinforced my commitment, determination and passion for my studies at Pratt because I now know that teaching is my true calling.”