By Amelia Pak-Harvey
LOWELL -- When UMass Lowell professor MinJeong Kim was working on a literacy project at the Bartlett Community Partnership School, she realized the school didn't have a single Cambodian-American children's book -- despite the high number of Cambodian students in Lowell.
Now, Kim and fellow UML professors Allyssa McCabe and Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy will work to bring original Southeast Asian folk tales to Lowell's elementary students.
They've received one of three "creative economy" grants from the UMass president's office, using $23,750 to collect and create stories from Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam.
The professors hope to host literary nights for each Southeast Asian group, inviting families to share stories they grew up with and also stories of their own immigrant experiences.
From there, they will choose three folk tales and one story of an immigrant experience for each ethnic group. Illustrations for the books will come in part from associate art and design professor Karen Roehr.
The group hopes to publish the books by April, in time for the Southeast Asian new year.
The grant includes a day of professional development for teachers to learn about the books and family engagement in general.
"It's just a matter of engaging immigrant and refugee communities in a culturally respective and responsive way," Uy said.
The three professors are tackling the project with the belief that children might not understand stories from different cultures as well as their own.
Case in point: The first time Kim's 4-year-old daughter saw snow, she called it rice.
"That's something she relates to when she makes a story and when she makes sense of the world," Kim said.
Funding for creativity
Another creative-economy grant will go to professor Pouya Afshar in UML's Department of Art and Design. He will use $18,669 to launch an animation program at Lowell High School, which will open this month to 25-30 students.
The money will pay student instructors from UML to teach the workshops, which will run twice a week for 11 weeks.
At the end, LHS students will make a film.
"We're going to start with some basic projects in animation for them to warm up and get to know how the technical side of animation work," Afshar said. "From there, we're going to shift our gears toward narrative."
The program is a win for everyone, he said, because UML students will also learn arts instruction.
"One part of being an artist these days is to do the practice, but also you need to be able to convey, transfer what you know," Afshar said.
History professor Chad Montrie will use $22,182 for an "Urban Waters Revolution" project he is working on with Groundwork Lawrence, the Lawrence Heritage State Park and the Essex Art Center.
The project will install educational signs at Lawrence's Ferrous Park, and create elementary-school lesson plans on Ellen Swallow Richards, who worked on experiments in water and sewage treatment at the park.
Richards, the first woman to attend and teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, worked on filtration efforts that eventually made Lawrence the first city in the country to filter all of its water for disease prevention.
Richards is an important part of that effort and has been very much under-acknowledged until now, Montrie said.
Those experiments, too, are a big part of the Lawrence story, he said.
"The main thing we want to do is communicate how important Lawrence is to the environmental history of the United States and really in sort of understanding how it fits in terms of many improvements that we've made in other parts of the world," Montrie said.