Academics, Upper School

Building Empathy Through Art

In January of 2017, the city of Seattle declared a state of emergency around the crisis of homelessness. For two weeks in March, as part of our Summits program, students explored the persistent issue in Homeless in Seattle.

The Summit paired students with Path with Art, a Seattle-based non-profit that offers free arts, poetry, and music courses to individuals experiencing or recovering from homelessness, to learn about the regional crisis, discuss ways to make an impact, and to build connections through art.

“We want to break down the stigmas and stereotypes of homelessness and homeless people through real human connections,” says Humanities teacher Daren Salter, who taught the course with Humanities teacher Victoria Dryden. “The premise is the bridge building power of art and using that as a vehicle for our students to build relationships and empathy as a motivator for action with a marginalized population.”

Each day was split into two segments. In the morning, students researched and discussed the many facets of homelessness, watching documentaries and learning about Seattle’s issue through a series of guest speakers. Students completed a research project on a sub-aspect of homelessness, such as race, gender, mental illness, or addiction.

In the afternoon, Northwest students engaged with the Path with Art participants. Nine Path with Art members designed and led the students through three different artistic projects: creative writing, visual art, and ceramics. Senior Mikaela L. enjoyed the community building the art projects enabled.

“We learned from the participants at Path with Art, who are so passionate about their work, and it was such a great way to connect with someone,” says Mikaela. “They are able to bring in their passions and share that with us, and that is a really special and profound feeling.”

Senior Xavier D. signed up for the Summit because he was interested in the policy end of the discussion and, noting that homeless populations are such a visible issue in Seattle, he wanted to learn what he can do to help.

“Everyone sees homeless so much in Seattle, and this population is largely ignored,” says Xavier. “In the Summit, we learned about the number of homeless. Most importantly, we remember they are people, not just numbers.”