Stonecatcher projects and International Day offer hope

Apr 28 2023

Stonecatcher projects and International Day offer hope

“He built and built and built. He dreamed bigger than one man could manage alone, but he was not discouraged.”
-Rock by Rock: The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand by Jennifer Bradbury, Illustrated by Sam Boughtton

Anyone who feels pessimistic about where our country is headed should spend time with Keystone students. The outstanding academic research exhibited by the juniors combined with their plans for addressing social and political issues left visitors to yesterday’s Stonecatcher Fair impressed and inspired. The fair kicked off an amazing array of activities on International Day, and the Little School Fiesta Float Parade at the end of the day showed the promise of a new generation of Cobras.

If there had been a theme for Thursday’s variety of events, it could have been the difference a single individual can make. Lower School students began their day by hearing author Jennifer Bradbury discuss her book “Rock by Rock: The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand.” A huge thank you goes to librarian Jeanette Vilagi for bringing Ms. Bradbury to campus to talk with students about her work as a writer and the themes of her beautiful book. Many students expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for Keystone’s hosting Ms. Bradbury.

Credit also goes to senior Sarah M for working with Ms. Vilagi on the program for the day. When she was a junior, Sarah wrote her Stonecatcher Project paper on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and some possible solutions to this decades-long issue. Ms. Vilagi introduced Sarah to the book “Rock by Rock” and they floated a plan for International Day that would include a variety of activities stemming from everyone reading the book and learning how one individual can produce meaningful change.

The junior year Stonecatcher Project grows out of the students reading Brian Stephenson’s “Just Mercy” for AP English with Dr. Lawrence. Each student chooses a topic, researches it, writes an analytical essay, and presents it to an audience of parents, fellow students, and visitors in a Science Fair format. In the process, students learn more about a topic in which they are interested and see themselves as potential agents of change by proposing solutions and acting upon them.

The potential for synchronicity between the Stonecatcher Fair and children and young adults engaging in activities around “Rock by Rock” on International Day seemed too good to pass up. Students in all grades read the book earlier in the month and learned how a man named Nek Chand collected discarded items and created a garden in his town in India to remind him of the village from which his family fled during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1948. In some grades, students painted rocks with inspiring messages and either placed them around campus or gave them to other people to brighten their day.

Juniors sharing what they had learned in the course of their research while their schoolmates heard the uplifting message from Ms. Bradbury proved an ideal combination. This was made all the more powerful on International Day as children sang songs, played music, read poems, and told stories from their own cultural backgrounds or created pieces that demonstrated their proficiency in Spanish and Frenchs. Through live performances and created videos, children and young adults showed their international perspective and the benefits of a global outlook.

While some presentations made us laugh, others caused us to think deeply about the interrelatedness of our world. For example, senior Diya explained the project she and other Keystone students joined this year: they collaborated with fellow teens in Ukraine in learning career-related skills like resume building, but also dismantling stereotypes, particularly regarding people in central Europe and Texas. A taped presentation from a fellow student in Ukraine manifested the benefits of children Skyping with their peers around the world and getting to know one another.

A little less serious but no less meaningful activity came that afternoon as our youngest Cobras at the Little School marched in the annual Fiesta Day Parade and proudly displayed the beautiful shoebox floats they made, with perhaps a little help from their parents. The children’s smiles and pride matched that of their parents and grandparents. Following the parade, students joyfully cracked cascarones on adults’ heads and finished the day with snow cones.

Reflecting on the day last evening, I was struck yet again by the creativity, ingenuity, and sincere passion of Keystone students. At a time when it can be easy to indulge in cynicism and pessimism, these children and young adults elevate and inspire us with their commitment to causes greater than themselves and their sincere desire to make a difference. Rock by rock, they are building a better world, and they merit our admiration and encouragement.

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