Students provoke discussion with AIDS projects

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 | 10:28 a.m. CST; updated 10:52 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Rock Bridge High School students in Matt Cone's Contemporary Issues class met Tuesday morning to use artwork they had made about the AIDS virus as a starting point for intimate dialogue about the epidemic to interested students, parents, teachers and other community members. The Contemporary Issues students had a rigorous test last week about AIDS that helped prepare them for this event.

COLUMBIA — Kelsey Saragnese, a junior at Rock Bridge High School, used bugs and a Ken doll to illustrate the world AIDS epidemic.

Saragnese created a green board with the doll standing over a group of small ants, holding a magnifying glass. She explained Ken represented AIDS and the ants the impoverished countries of the world.


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"It's so much easier for him (the doll representing AIDS) to get to these people," she said.

Surrounding the Ken doll and ants were larger bugs, meant to represent the wealthier nations of the world. Though still within the doll's reach, those countries have better means to escape him, she explained.

For the ants, "there's kind of no hope," she said. "They couldn't get wings to fly away."

Saragnese's art display was part of a project for her Contemporary Issues class at Rock Bridge, taught by Matt Cone. Students created projects aimed to explain the AIDS epidemic and the problems surrounding it. On Tuesday morning, the class invited several members of the community to view the projects and discuss what they have learned throughout their recent unit on AIDS.

"We wanted to give students an opportunity to get others involved in a discussion about AIDS," Cone said. "And we wanted to use art as a jumping-off point."

"A conversation, like a book or a movie, can change your life," he said. "Sometimes a person can say something, and it can inspire you to change the world. And it can happen at any time."

The class set up the room with chairs creating a circle, where students sat on the inside and guests took the outer chairs, with one or two guests sitting with each student. After letting everyone introduce themselves, the guests were invited to start off with the art piece but were asked not to shy away from deeper inquiry.

"They're well-equipped to answer your questions," Cone said.

Students launched into discussions with their guests, explaining the symbolism of their projects and the things they've learned throughout their unit on AIDS. After about 20 minutes, the guests switched students and discussed another project.

Another student, Brenna Blazis, created a picture of a tidal wave engulfing a small village, representing poor countries most afflicted by AIDS. In front of the village, small sandbags represented what Blazis called weak foreign aid. Just like the sandbags would not be able to stop the wave, she said these poorer nations need more than what they're receiving.

"It's nowhere near enough to stop the AIDS epidemic," she said.

The guests, including parents of students in the class and City Council members, commented on how much the students knew about AIDS. Anita Cowan, a mother of a student in the class, said she was impressed both with how much the students knew about the problem and how easily the conversation came.

"It wasn't rehearsed," she said. "They actually felt what they were saying."

Erin Greer, a Rock Bridge junior and the teaching assistant for the class, was pleased with the varied approaches students took for the project. "I thought it was really interesting that everybody really did have different parts of this problem," she said.

Greer said she was also impressed that students' projects centered on solving issues of poverty and health coverage rather than throwing money at the AIDS problem.

Saragnese echoed Greer's thoughts.

"With the economy (in the United States), the first thing on your mind is going to be keeping your house, keeping your job, feeding your family, not, 'How much money can I send to Africa this week?'" she said. "It starts with education."

For a profile of Matt Cone and his work with the Contemporary Issues class, see the Weekend Missourian.

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Ray Shapiro February 25, 2009 | 3:15 p.m.

"With the economy (in the United States), the first thing on your mind is going to be keeping your house, keeping your job, feeding your family, not, 'How much money can I send to Africa this week?'"
And so it should be. If we struggle, and barely help each other, right here in Columbia, why should public school kids need to worry about AIDS in third world countries? Has the "AIDS epedemic" become the new "Children are starving in China" mantra?
Let the churches and the World Health Organization and not the public schools, (influenced by the federal government), over extend resources on foreign AIDS assistance.
We have enough medical, lifestyle, educational, cultural, economic concerns, etc. right here in the U.S.

(We're actually thinking about a 4-day school schedule to save money on utilities and transportation while this same public school system advocates that we educate third world countries about healthy choices and how foreigners should conduct their sex lives and needle sharing.
How about allowing our children to "get creative" on how to get to school without using "free" school buses?
AIDS in "poor" countries is a United Nations problem and possibly a religious missionary concern.
United Nations and W.H.O.
Christian mission: ALM assists more than 100 projects...
Give Public School kids a good education on healthy choices and use a better topic then "AIDS" for creative understanding of the plight of poorer, "less educated" nations.
(Like, maybe the political/cultural, socio-economic dynamics going on in these "poor" foreign governments.

(Report Comment)
Matt Cone February 25, 2009 | 5:06 p.m.

Greetings. I read your comment with genuine interest. I think that if you had been present in our class on Tuesday then you would not have emerged with a sense of skepticism as to whether we were tackling the right issue. Instead, I think that you would have felt encouraged that so many young people were so educated, articulate and passionate. I hope that you take the time to contact me as we would love to have you as a guest in our class in the future.

Matt Cone
Rock Bridge High School

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 25, 2009 | 9:00 p.m.

Mr. Cone:
Thank you for the invite.
I just might take you up on it.
My comments had more to do with the topic of AIDS more so then artistic expression.
I'm certain the students had fun creating and explaining their projects.
I tend to voice my opinionated personal views on current trends and priorities.
Such was the case for the content of my posting.
I wish your students well.

(Report Comment)
gabe frankin February 26, 2009 | 1:01 p.m.

ray sharpiro what have you done to help with anything with the current situation with the economy or changing anything that is currently a problem for anyone?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr February 26, 2009 | 2:23 p.m.

gabe frankin I should not speak for ray but I know he does work with at risk youth in this community and has several irons in the fire with other like projects.

(Report Comment)

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