In November-December 2018, Andres Sandoval-Hernandez and Irene Macias from the University of Bath initiated poetry and street art workshops in two secondary schools in Iztapalapa, Mexico City. Located in the southeast of the Mexican capital, Iztapalapa is one of the city’s most densely populated and deprived areas with a high crime rate, much of which is linked to drug trafficking. This collaboration was designed in collaboration with ‘Alas y Raices’ (Wings & Roots), an organisation governed by the Mexican Ministry of Culture, a team of local poets from ‘Poesia y Trayecto’ (Poetry and Journey) and a local street artist, Oscar Roman. The workshop was aimed at students aged 13-15. It was facilitated by two PhD students from the Department of Education at Bath, Jo Davies and Eliana Osorio-Saez, who helped with the data collection and worked collaboratively with all partners while spending a month on secondment in Mexico City. They were also involved in the subsequent data analysis, which resulted in a written report summarising the impact of the workshop on the perception of the neighbourhood.
The intervention was designed to develop the young people’s voices and their perceptions of themselves as agents for positive change in their community. It involved writing individual and collective poems, illustrating them by painting a mural, and publishing a collective volume of poems. The workshop culminated in a community event where students shared their poems in front of the mural they had created outside their school. The intervention also involved a research element using qualitative and quantitative methods. Interviews and questionnaires, completed by students both before and after the workshops, were used to understand and measure the impact of the intervention.
The first part of the project involved establishing contacts with the schools, meeting with all involved partners to co-design the activities to be run with the students. Then, a baseline survey was completed with the students. This included questions about themselves, their schools and their neighbourhoods, using an adapted version of the International Civic and Citizenship Education Survey (ICCS). The survey was then followed by some very engaging poetry workshops, delivered at the test school by four brilliant poets from ‘Poesia y Trayecto’; Cynthia Franco, Edwing ‘Canuto’ Roldán, Karloz Atl and Alain ‘El Galo’ Young Whitaker). Although the poets only had two mornings with the students, they were able to quickly establish a supportive environment for expression using a range of confidence and team-building activities around poetry. After some short writing exercises, they moved on to the actual workshop involving the creation of longer poems. This was a deeply moving process in which students expressed intimate feelings about personal and painful topics including abandonment by family members and sexual harassment. The support provided by classmates in terms of smiles, pats and hugs was also very touching and powerful to witness. The workshop resulted in a series of poems in which the students expressed ideas about their own identity as well as deep-seated feelings about their neighbourhood and the challenges they face in their everyday lives. Many students felt empowered by the experience and its tangible results. As one of the poets put it in the closing session; “poetry is a tool students have for life now – that no-one can take away from them”.
Once the poetry sessions were completed, the students at the test school took part in two days of street art, painting a mural on a wall outside their school using imagery and words from their poems. The workshop culminated in a closing event to which all students, teachers and parents were invited. The event took place in front of the mural where students shared their poems with the audience and received a copy of the collective volume to which they contributed. Following this event, the project team asked the students at both the test school and the control school to complete the questionnaire for a second time. Finally, a workshop was also run at the control school to ensure students there can also benefit from the experience. The questionnaire results for the students at the test school were then compared to those of the control school. The results showed a positive impact on students’ perceptions of themselves as actors for change within their schools and neighbourhoods (i.e. openness of classroom for discussion, school climate, citizenship self-efficacy, and civic/community participation).
In May 2019, Andres Sandoval-Hernandez, Irene Macias, Jo Davies, Hugh Lauder, Pilar Miramontes and Christina Horvath from the University of Bath returned to Mexico City to share the results of the project with UNAM researchers as well as project partners Alas y Raices and Poesia y Trayecto. Andres and Jo presented the result of their research at UNAM in a session of the Co-Creation course designed and run by Maria José Pantoja, José-Luis Gazquez, Pamela Castro and Hector Quiroz at UNAM on Monday 13th May. A formal meeting at the Ministry of Culture on Thursday 16th May was the occasion to present a written report summarising the results and the impact of the intervention to Alas y Raices. But the team also had some informal meetings with the four poets, a few productive work and team-building meetings (including coffee and lunch) with the UNAM team in which further exchanges and jointly run workshop activities and future guest lectures were planned and scheduled.
The Bath team also transported the Co-Creation exhibition they had designed to be showcased for a week at the Foyer of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UNAM. Unfortunately, the planned opening event and Hugh Lauder’s lecture had to be postponed due to soaring levels of air pollution which led to school and university closures. However, the private view improvised on Monday 27th May, the day of closure, was well attended by staff and students who participated in an affective mapping activity, and enjoyed a buffet lunch sponsored by the International Office at the University of Bath. Further collaboration between the two teams will be facilitated through £13.000 complementary International Funding from the University of Bath, which will enable UNAM researchers to travel to Bath to take part in a five-day Co-Creation workshop to be run on 10-14 September 2019 in Bath. In addition, the UNAM researchers will be invited to present their research in seminar events scheduled for November and December 2019.