As the senior Symposium class anticipates the arrival of this year’s Symposium author, Tayari Jones, the students are tasked with the creation of their first passion project. This challenges them with the task of designing a piece that both encapsulates a work of Ms. Jones’ that they choose, while using their own creative talents as a medium.
Whether they are interested in art, dance, music, or research, the students are encouraged to portray Ms. Jones’ writing in a unique way.
This year’s Symposium teacher William Martino describes the atmosphere of their class as a “meeting of minds.” While Mr. Martino has read Ms. Jones’ novels several times in order to prepare for analysis in class, he finds that his students are able to formulate ideas about authorial choices and themes that he had not even considered.
In order to excel in the class, the students need to be independent and self-motivated. The passion projects were primarily driven by the individual student, who is responsible for both choosing what form their analysis will take, as well as grading themselves. After their proposals were approved, the students formulated their own rubrics which they would later use to grade themselves.
For example, senior Lucia Martinez-Castro chose to grade herself on her project’s relevance to the book, creativity, effort, write-up, and time. By using a canvas and her artistic talent as her tools to portray Ms. Jones’ ideas, the scope of this criteria may fit her project more than a student who chose to do a research project.
While given the opportunity to read four of her novels, students chose one of her works to focus on more closely. Senior Tess Chapman chose “Silver Sparrow.” “One of the most prevalent themes in the book is hair,” Tess said, “so I worked on a research presentation about the significance of hair to black identity and culture.”
Due to her experience as an African American woman in Atlanta, Ms. Jones is able to depict modern struggles from a first-hand account. Through her characters within her novels, she covers pressing social issues such as mass incarceration and gender equality. Her writing focuses on real-life problems through character-driven storytelling.
By analyzing Ms. Jones’ use of her characters as tools to represent modern society, the students found deeper meaning in her texts. Topics such as wrongful conviction and the Atlanta child murders that students may not have encountered before have now been transformed into paintings, songs, dances, and research presentations.
The new knowledge they have from their research will be used to complete another part of their course, teaching classes to Upper and Middle School classes. While the Symposium class has read an array of Ms. Jones’ works, other classes have read at least one of her works, such as “An American Marriage” or “Silver Sparrow.”
The most exciting part of the course will be in January when Ms. Jones will be on campus for two days. While she is visiting, there will be a dinner and a masterclass with the Symposium students. Mr. Martino anticipates that her presence will be joyful and extremely inspiring.
When asked what she is most interested in asking Ms. Jones, Tess was quick to respond. “I want to know if she sees herself in any of her male characters,” she said. “or does she go about crafting them in a completely different way than she does with her female characters?”
The ability for the students to connect with the texts will maximize what they will retain from their time with the author. Since she is a teacher, her ability to connect with students will make the time productive for the class.
This year’s Symposium class has encountered social issues that challenge students’ understanding and ability to portray themes and stories through talents of their own.