PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Friday morning, March 7, hundreds of very young Rhode Islanders gathered on a campus that is very old, and they had a blast making history.
They were middle schoolers from all over the state and they packed the Salomon Center to start their day on campus with a welcome from Brown University President Christina Paxson. They were the very first guests to visit Brown for its 250th Anniversary Opening Celebration. Paxson chose that historic moment to tell these 7th and 8th graders that everyone contributes to history, not just famous people.
“We all contribute to it each and every day,” she said. “Our artists know that well. They know that every performance and every cultural experience becomes part of us.”
Within the hour, students from Martin Middle School and Trinity Academy for Performing Arts were rocking out that very notion as Trinity student Idallis Taylor laid down a beat on an electronic music contraption – half instrument, half game – called the “ndial” invented by Brown graduate student Peter Bussigel. As Taylor manipulated the machine’s buttons and knobs, she was remixing sounds and randomly sampled music, filling the Granoff Center studio with music never heard before. She left the stage as a triumphant DJ to the applause of her classmates and peers.
“That was awesome,” she said smiling as she left for her class’s next discovery experience, an engineering class called “Throwing Paper Airplanes at the Moon.”
The electronic music class led by Butch Rovan, professor of music, and the paper airplane engineering session were two of many educational experiences produced by Brown students, faculty, and staff for the 32 school groups who came to campus. Schools were paired together for the morning to attend one arts or humanities class and one science or engineering class before heading to lunch at The Ratty.
Four schools in all, therefore, got to participate throughout the morning in a fast-paced interactive lesson about anatomy and medicine from five Alpert Medical School students in Peterutti Lounge.
Medical students Zoe Weiss and Andrea Haynes guided students from McCourt Middle School and Highlander Charter School through a game that was akin to “pin the tail on the donkey,” neuroanatomy style. After learning about six main regions of the brain, they had to match six cases of brain disease or injury with the brain region implicated in each problem. A problem of balance? Slap that Velcro label on the cerebellum. A problem with vision? Stick it on the occipital lobe.
Meanwhile across the room, other students were testing each other’s reflexes with doctors’ reflex hammers, making shins swing like they were seasoned pediatricians with the guidance of medical students Justine Cormier and Nina Ayala.
Highlander history teacher Soljane Quiles said it was a very easy choice to make when she received an invitation bring students to Brown for its 250th Anniversary. The day was proving to be an engaging way to expose students to their community and to college.
“I love that it’s interactive,” she said, as she watched her students tap each other with the hammers.
Her students loved the activities, too. Riley Kinsella was a particularly eager participant, showing repeatedly both during the brain activity and later during a talk by student Byrant Faria on the heart and lungs, that he knew his stuff.
He said he’s been to Brown before and loves coming to see what’s on campus.
“I like to be well-versed in different things,” he said.
After lunch the students returned to the Salomon Center for a Brown student show that almost certainly had the variety Kinsella was looking for.
Brown’s Chinese Lion Dance group raised the roof with an opening performance full of costumed spectacle and thundering drums. The roof never came back down as the show, emceed by sophomore Hayley Moss, featured the harmonies of the a cappella Ursa Minors, the bright colors and energy of the Badmaash South Asian dance troupe, the comic capering of Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan, and the precision step dancing of “Divine Rhythm.”
The nattily attired Brown Jabberwocks a cappella group performed the finale, beatboxing their way through cool, jazzy numbers in their blue blazers. They sent the kids back to their buses with a soulful rendition of “Feeling Good” from the 1965 musical “The Roar of the Greasepaint — the Smell of the Crowd.”.
The song’s lyrics fit the forward-looking theme implied by the plus sign of the “Imagine Brown 250+” — It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day it’s a new life, and I’m feeling good.
From the enthusiasm in their applause and the smiles on their faces, it was clear that these history-making 7th and 8th graders, were feeling good too.