Everyone knows the arts can bridge cultural gaps. But do you know anyone who's been to Azerbaijan? A teacher from Westchester flew to the ancient capital of Baku this month to teach filmmaking and poetry.
New Rochelle High School English instructor Anthony Stirpe has taken his innovative program on the two subjects as far as California but this trip was 5,800 miles. The flight took 15 hours.
"It's a strange part of the world to be going to," he said ahead of the long journey. His week-long trip involved teaching students at the International School of Azerbaijan. Stirpe also led a program there for teachers from around Baku.
The poetry project brings together students from several art classes. Students create paintings inspired by a poem and make videos of themselves reciting the verses. Music students provide music and theater students create short movies inspired by the words.
For TISA, the program is a natural fit, said the school’s IT Director Dan Egorov. He learned about it just as the school’s educators were discussing ways to make poetry more engaging and to incorporate the use of technological devices.
"We had a number of goals that we wished to achieve with Anthony's visit," Egorov said in an email exchange following the trip. "On the surface of things, we wanted our students and teachers to gain an understanding of the main filming techniques, which they can then use in the classroom."
"We also wanted our Secondary School English Language and Literature students to collaborate with students from New Rochelle school on common projects. Our teachers had a meeting with Anthony right after his workshops finished and already made the connections and plans to collaborate. Everyone is extremely excited," Egorov said.
"Marie Favret, our Middle Years Programme curriculum coordinator believes that the workshop marks the beginning of a new era in our school's Professional Development Program," said Egorov in his email. The program features events at which teachers and students learn skills together, he explained.
Egorov initially arranged to have Stirpe go to his school after learning about his "innovative multi-media approach" to teaching film and poetry and was "hooked from the word go."
Stirpe said going there was about challenging students to use technology in "unique and different ways."
“Mobile device technology has democratized the creation process. What once upon a time was available only to the privileged few is now available to all.”
His programs have earned him several honors, including Apple Distinguished Educator. The company selects educators who transform education, and students’ lives, through technology.
Stirpe has presented the projects at conferences in several states, including Maryland, Texas, Illinois and Arizona. At TISA, he led two workshops, one for grades five through seven and the other for grades eight through 12. (The workshops filled quickly with a limit of 36 students each, Egorov said.)
Stirpe also led a workshop open to teachers from across Baku on the visit. Back home in Westchester, the connections among the students and teachers in Baku and New Rochelle High School will continue. They will keep in touch to discuss and share their project, with both schools using the same set of poems.
“We would be delighted for our students and staff to continue to collaborate with Anthony and his students at the New Rochelle schools by exchanging ideas and experiences and working on projects together,” Egorov said.