A student-to-student mentoring effort known as the Athena Project has just finished its spring semester session, held over 10 weeks in the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park in Oakland's Fruitvale District.
Sponsored by the California College of the Arts, the Athena Project brings together 12 juniors and seniors from the college with a group of middle school-age students in grades six through eight from the United for Success Academy, a short walking distance from the park.
At a recent end-of-semester party at the park, the students showed off the work they had completed together -- mosaic paving stones for the community garden, and painted and beribboned story poles planted in a circle, among other projects in which older students introduced concepts of expressions through art to the younger group.
Virginia Jardim, an associate professor at CCA, established the Athena Project class in 2005 with the college's Center for Art and Public Life, and, for the second year, collaborated with Peralta.
Jardim used the name Athena Project to evoke Greek mythology. Athena, a daughter of Zeus, ruler of all the gods, was the Greek goddess of wisdom, justice and the arts. Athena gave guidance to Mentor, a character in the Odysseus saga, and the word mentor has come to mean faithful and wise adviser. The purpose of the class, Jardim said, is for CCA students to mentor youths while sharing their artistic talents.
Some of the college's students this year came from outside California. "We went on walking tours of the Fruitvale neighborhood so that they could get a sense of the rich cultural diversity and history of this part of Oakland," Jardim said. "We followed self-guided neighborhood walk maps provided by staff at Peralta and then sampled eateries along the International Boulevard corridor. The students then posted blog accounts and photos of what they came across."
Jardim told me about a freshman this year named Robert Morrison who is studying animation. "Seven years ago, Robert was a middle school student in North Oakland and was one of the youngsters in the Athena Project class that semester," she said. "After being exposed to artistic projects and concepts back then, Robert continued to take art classes as he grew older. Now he has started college at CCA. I feel like the program has come full circle."
On a recent tour I took of the Peralta complex, Peralta outreach coordinator Ben Glickstein explained to me that as an official stop on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historical Trail, the Peralta park has been able to take advantage of grant opportunities to recruit and train residents who live within a one-mile radius of the park to be docents.
"Our budget allows us to pay a stipend to our graduates (of the training program)," Glickstein said. "Our next training begins in July and we will be conducting the class in Spanish so we will end up with docents who can give tours to non-English speaking visitors." An open house to learn more about the upcoming training is scheduled for June 2.
For more on summer programs and classes at Peralta Hacienda, go to www.peraltahacienda.org.
On that site, look for the link to CCA's Athena Project blog and see past examples of creative work coming out of this unique student mentoring project.