A Hero's Journey: An After School Residency at Spruance Elementary

This Spring White Pines Productions embarked on an amazing 7 week residency in partnership with HIAS.

HIAS is a Philadelphia based organization which works to "protect the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives and reuniting them with their families in safety and freedom."

HIAS "brings the lessons of HIAS’ history and Jewish ethics and experience" to their "commitment to serve refugees and other displaced persons of concern around the world through the following values: Welcoming, Dignity and Respect, Empowerment, Excellence and Innovation, Collaboration and Teamwork, and Accountability."



Val Harteg of HIAS explains that "The HIAS PA after-school program at the Gilbert Spruance School aims to support refugee youth who have been in the United States or three years or less. The three main goals of the program are to provide academic support through homework help, support English language development through interactive language activities, and encourage social development through peer socialization and community building activities."

We were lucky enough to be connected to HIAS's After School Program via Klementina Budnik of KXB Studio. 

Klementina is a long time WPP teaching artist and has taught animation class at White Pines for several years. 

KXB Studio offers "group & individual classes to people of all ages and abilities" Klementina's "curriculum is designed to provide a complete understanding of how to manipulate creative materials to tell animated stories." 



Klementina and myself set off to create a fun and engaging after school residency which would honor the goals and outcomes of the after school program. Over the course of our residency we led students through storytelling activities (both written and theatrical) which helped create a narrative that we turned into super hero puppet making project. After the students made their unique puppet, each with it's own personality and characteristics, we walked them through the mechanics of animation and voice over recordings. 

This final product "combines animation and literacy in order to author a short story as a class. As you'll hear in the video, several different students wrote and narrated sections of the story, and all 18 students contributed to the sound effects and designed a superhero and/or super villain paper puppet."


Val Harteg articulates the value of our programming as "arts enrichment activities support personal identity exploration and social development. Additionally art-based activities provide a platform for supporting language development. Students learn new vocabulary based on the content of the art projects and discover how to explain their artistic products to others. Linguistically, students are better able to express themselves through the practice of creating and talking about their art. Furthermore, art-based activities importantly encourage critical thinking, a learning goal that spans across school day and after school curricula. Because art projects are unique to the individual and what the individual wants to express, art-based workshops provide a space for even beginner level learners to completely be themselves and to have a voice that is distinctly their own. The hope is that this will develop a level of confidence that will transfer to the classroom and other activities in which the students participate."

We had a wonderful experience working with HIAS and the students and volunteers at Spruance and we look forward to next year!

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