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SHMS Students Get a Lesson in the Transformative Power of Music and Resilience of the Human Spirit

The Pleasantville-based Jacob Burns Film Center was filled with music, inspiration and hope for 7th grade students as they viewed and discussed Landfill Harmonica, a documentary about a Paraguayan teen orchestra. The film follows the South American teens as they make music on instruments constructed from garbage, culminating in a tour to play for audiences around the world. The animated and insightful post-film discussion covered a multitude of themes that resonated with the students including empathy, opportunity, ethics, resourcefulness, resilience, mentorship and the importance of the support of family, friends and even strangers.

“No matter what hardships you might have there are always creative solutions,” commented an astute 7th grader during a discussion about finding value where others might not. Another student, Chiara, said that the film left her with the impression that “if you are really passionate about something, you owe it to yourself to stick with it.”

The film screening is part of the effort by the seventh grade English teacher’s team to create a mini “Global Citizen” English unit to help the students look and think about the world differently. “Our hope is to get the students to see a world that is bigger than them,” said SHMS teacher Ms. Ramos.

The Recycled Orchestra of Landfill Harmonica hails from an impoverished village in the shadow of both a landfill and in a flood plain, where their lives are inextricably tied to the landfill. As part of the mini-unit the students also read the short novel, A Long Walk To Water, about the lack of resources and clean water in Sudan. “We want to expose the students to different pieces of text and media to get them talking about what is happening outside of themselves,” added Ms. Ramos.

The film ends with a message about how the recycled orchestra has created the opportunity for a self-sustainable change in the lives of the children and families for the people of Cateura Paraguay. As the Recycled Orchestra director Flavio Chavez said, “Music can change lives. Even when we live in the most unfavorable conditions, we must never stop dreaming. And to have nothing is not an excuse to do nothing.”