“Portraits of Citizens” at Hill Center’s Young Artists Gallery

Photo:Lisa Ochieng

What does it mean to be a citizen?  Four and five year old preschool students at J.O. Wilson ES pondered that question last spring under the guidance of Elizabeth Wyrsch-Ba and Lisa Ochieng. 

The two teachers collaborated on the ChildrenAre Citizens Project, connecting the idea of citizenship to as many parts of the curriculum as possible.  The project is a Reggio Emilia-inspired professional development and research initiative based on the premise that “young children can be fully engaged citizens of Washington, DC–not hypothetical or future citizens.” The curriculum focuses on exploring places in the city that are of significance to the children. Ms. Wyrsh-Ba was particularly concerned that the students “identify that they themselves are citizens.”

Students learned about portraits on view in the school art room and made a field trip to the National Museum of Women in the Arts to study those hanging there.

The kids then created their own self-portraits using markers, colored pencils and oil pastels on paper. As the children finished their drawings, each was asked what it means to be a citizen.

Some focused on the responsibilities of citizenship: according to Cathleen, a citizen is “somebody who does what they are supposed to do”; Micah says, "A citizen is somebody who helps you whenever you get hurt and gives you a Band-Aid"; or as Alice puts it “someone who helps the world.” Others recognized that they and others they know are citizens: from the general per Charles, "A citizen is the kids in our class" and Destiny, "My family and friends are citizens" to the highly specific: from Tarje ,"A citizen can be an artist and a President" and Max, "A citizen is someone who lives close to the Washington monument who is 27 years old."

The Portraits of Citizens show will hang in the Young Artists Gallery on the ground floor at HillCenter, 921 Pennsylvania Ave, SE through the end of October. Ms. Wyrsch-Ba hopes viewers are as delighted as she is by “the students' charming understandings of what it means to be a citizen.” Come see the exhibit and consider what citizenship means to you.

Photo:Lisa Ochieng
J.O. Wilson students at work on their drawings. Photo:Elizabeth Wyrsch-Ba
Image of a “Citizen” on view in the HillCenter Young Artists Gallery. Photo credit:Lisa Ochieng