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My culture, told through pictures

Michigan 4-H China Project connects students around the world

Learning goals of the visual letters project

Collins Elementary fourth grader Cole Pugliese held a look of concentration as he used colored pencils to detail a crown he had drawn atop an eagle. The eagle, it should be noted, was eyeing an ultra-deluxe hamburger.

“An eagle because it’s the U.S., and I like hamburgers,” Cole explained with a shrug.

Clear across Kristy Jorgensen’s Collins Elementary art room, Samaya Squires also worked in colored pencil to depict a beach chair, palm tree, a skittering crab and a small table with sunglasses folded on top.

“I wanted a beachy vibe, because my mom is from an island, from Haiti,” Samiya explained. “I haven’t been there, but I would like to be there sometime.”

Plus, she said, there are beaches in Michigan too. “Even if you live in America it can be a calming life — even if there’s a lot of cities,” Samiya said.

Nitin Selvamani said Michigan is ‘a lucky place’ to live because ‘it’s surrounded by fresh water, and there are no hurricanes’

For the third year, Jorgensen’s K-4 students created Chinese visual letters as part of their participation in the Michigan 4-H China Project, conducted in cooperation with the People’s Republic of China.

Cultural Understanding

Program participants are invited to send “visual letters” to children their own ages in China. More than 300,000 Michigan kindergartners through sixth graders have participated in the project aimed at fostering cultural understanding.

Participating teachers receive nine or 10 original pictures by Chinese children, a study guide and a description of the pictures that come with the kit. A selection of Michigan artwork is then sent to China as a gift to children there.

‘I’m just making a random fantasy story,’ explained fourth grader Zack Kettner

“I just fell in love with the whole concept of sharing stories with kids on the other side of the planet,” said Jorgensen, who first took part 10 years ago as a teacher in Otsego. “I love this project because of the self-expression, the variety and the problem-solving students do as they come up with a story they want to share about themselves and the best way they want to tell it.

“They’re learning how art can communicate stories no matter what language is used.”


See visual letters from 2019

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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