GHENT – A group of students, mostly in their mid- to late teens, gather around a table in late January at the visitors center at Omi International Art Center to look at photographs they took of themselves under the guidance of Omi Education Director Sasha Sicurella.
Ms. Sicurella asks the students how they feel about the pictures, asking, “Do they look like who they are?” They each look at a series they choose of photographic self-portraits. “I think a lot of you were able to let go in a way,” she says as the students study their sometimes serious, sometimes goofy images.
The final phase of the project, which took place over four sessions, was for the students to use large print-outs of one photograph to trace onto clear paper and then paint as a self-portrait. Ms. Sicurella then hung the portraits against the windows at the visitors center.
The group of 12 students is made up of homeschooled children from around the county. Ms. Sicurella calls the session “I AM: Homegrown.” She has worked on similar projects with children in India, Ethiopia, Israel, France, Jamaica, Italy, Romania, Cambodia and Thailand as well as Albany and the Chatham Elementary School.
In other countries, Ms. Sicurella says she works with younger children who speak little to no English. In an interview during the final meeting of the homeschooled group January 29, she says that that working with the teenagers has let her explore more about the idea of identity. She says the group is “bright and articulate” and able to have in-depth discussions about the self-portraits.
Among the things they explored were myths about homeschooled children. “People think I’m too stupid or too smart to be in school,” said one of the students.
Emma Gardner, 16, said that another misconception is that homeschooled students “don’t do any work.”
These students were excited about working on their pictures. Emma and follow student Cecilia Bellows, said that it was interesting taking pictures of themselves. Emma said that as a homeschooled student she works on her own, but she does attend other group classes like this one.
The website of The Columbia County homeschooling community and cooperative The Alternative Learning Center (TALC), www.talcny.org, says the group’s membership includes 20 to 30 families, though not all of those families are from the county.
Chatham Central School District, which includes most of the Town of Ghent, has 26 households that homeschool, for a total of 42 students.
Ms. Sicurella said that she was approached by a home schooled parents to do this program and she was interested because it is a growing community the county.
The $435 cost for the program, which Ms. Sicurella says is paid for by all the families involved, covers the cost of the program and helps support her international work.
For more information about the I AM program go to http://iaminternational.net.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .