“Friends, find your rug spot! We have an exciting activity waiting for us,” announced Class 3 Head teacher Miranda Orbach. She began placing small mirrors and white paper bags on each desk along with markers, crayons and other art materials while Associate teacher Kristi Lee took a seat in front of the class.
“We’re going to draw self-portraits!” announced a perceptive student.
“Yes, we’re going to begin our ‘identity bags’ project,” Ms. Lee said. “Starting with drawing a self-portrait on the front of your bag.” To serve as an example, Ms. Lee quickly sketched herself on the whiteboard while Ms. Orbach discussed aspects of identity with the captivated third graders.
“Remember, when talking about identity, we’re always going to be respectful and we’re not going to comment on looks,” she reminded. “What parts of our identity are ‘visible’?”
The students offered thoughtful examples including hair, eye and skin color; and wearing glasses or other accessories. “Yes, maybe I will draw myself in Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) because that’s part of my identity,” Ms. Lee said, and Ms. Orbach suggested that students could consider including their Chapin jumper since that’s part of each of their identities.
One student wondered if gender is a “visible” aspect of identity. One of her classmates suggested that gender might be part of your “invisible” identity because there are non-binary folks or people who are gender nonconforming, so gender can’t be assumed.
Ms. Orbach nodded enthusiastically and explained that, sometimes, stereotypes stem from assumptions, and that people can express themselves in myriad ways despite how they identify.
Drawing on previous lessons and their “identity key” hanging on the wall, students embarked on this creative endeavor. They thoughtfully studied themselves in the mirror (students, who were physically distanced, were permitted to remove their mask for a quick moment so they could clearly see their faces), selected a skin-colored crayon and began to draw on their paper bag.
Prior to this lesson, students pondered what factors comprised their “invisible” identities. They considered what they want others to know about them and what makes them the special, unique individual that they are. For these aspects, each scholar selected a few items from home to be placed inside of their bags.
Over the course of two weeks, the students fine-tuned their portraits and wrote descriptive words (student, tall, creative, Leo, youngest, traveler, reader and friend, among them) on a slip of paper to house inside their bags along with their objects.
“I love to draw and my favorite color is yellow,” one student said to explain the presence of a yellow crayon inside her bag. She also chose to include a photo from Holland (where she was born), a photo of her family, and a feather to depict her love of Harry Potter.
Another student included a packet of Persian spices and a photo of her younger siblings. “Being a big sister is part of my identity,” she stated proudly.
A third student showed friends a necklace that her grandma had given her when she was born. “It’s a tradition when a baby is born to receive one. It has your year of the Zodiac,” she explained, pointing to the special animal symbol.
Other important identity pieces included a small plastic menorah, a Jamaican flag and a Canadian flag keychain. One student even selected a tiny stuffed animal to represent her beloved hamster “Nugget.” (With ‘Pet-lover’ aptly included in her list of words.)
To conclude this thought-provoking project, which was undertaken in all sections of Class 3, Ms. Orbach and Ms. Lee's students came together as a class and each shared their identity bags with pride and joy, clearly appreciating the opportunity for self-reflection and enriching their shared connections.