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Putney Reflection: “An irreplaceable experience!”

Contributed by Alyssa Kondo, Shinnyo-en Hawaii Youth Association

Alyssa Kondo, now a college sophomore, was one of the students who chose to attend the Putney School Summer Arts Program in-person this summer. She opted out from attending online workshops last summer that was shifted from regular in-person workshops to all online. Having been handy with crafts such as baking play doughs and clays, Alyssa preferred to experience Putney School in-person and further explore her artistic skills. Although she intended to attend metal jewelry and culinary workshops initially, Alyssa ended up taking metal jewelry, and weaving and fiber arts workshops. Culinary workshop was one of the few workshops that Putney decided to not offer this summer out of an abundance of caution due to the pandemic. She enjoyed both of those workshops immensely and appreciated the rare opportunity to work with the equipment and materials that are not easily available at home.

Putney School Summer Arts Program is one of the few organizations, with which Shinnyo-en Foundation has been collaborating over a decade to support a small group of Shinnyo-en youth, among a little over 100 other students from around the U.S. and several other countries, to attend every year. Located in the rural Southern Vermont with a barn full of animals, Putney School has offered a totally different living and learning opportunity to Alyssa who has never attended any overnight summer camps in Hawaii. Like many other Shinnyo-en youth who participated in Putney School Summer Arts Program in the past, Alyssa was anxious about living alone among fellow students whom she didn’t know anything about and being away from her family and close friends. She couldn’t think of what it would be like to not have her own mobile phone and other electronic devices for four weeks. Nonetheless, just like many other Shinnyo-en youth, Alyssa learned to challenge herself by meeting new friends, learning new artwork, and taking a full advantage of what Putney School has to offer.

Upon completing the four-week program, Alyssa shared with us her reflection on Putney School Summer Arts Program and permitted us to share it with the visitors of our website. We hope that you get a sense of how she adjusted to a very new environment away from her home in Hawaii. Please read on Alyssa’s reflection and enjoy the photos that she shared with us.

Alyssa in the middle with her instructor on her right and a new friend on her left

“In the weaving and fiber arts workshop that I switched from the life drawing by the third day of Putney School Summer Arts Program, the teacher gave us the freedom to do different projects such as weaving, crocheting, knitting, and felting. I was unsure if I would like this workshop before starting it but I’m glad I joined it because I never had the opportunity to weave before and it was a fun experience. I was able to weave a tapestry and a shirt that I picked the designs and colors for. Unfortunately, due to the long process of weaving, I wasn’t able to finish sewing the shirt myself. However, the teacher was kind enough to offer to finish and mail it to me later.”

Tapestry that Alyssa weaved

“My favorite workshop, which became my most favorite part of the entire Summer Arts Program, was the metal jewelry making. I had an amazing time learning from the teacher and learning how to make rings, chains, earrings, and moving metal parts. The teacher allowed a lot of flexibility in this workshop for the students to design and create what we wanted, and I was able to make sterling silver rings for myself and my family, a copper chain, and earrings shaped out of red copper wire attached to silver earring hooks that I made as well.”

“An opportunity to pay a detailed attention to small parts and use my hands to shape multiple types of metals to create what I wanted was an irreplaceable experience. I truly rediscovered my love for tactile arts. Every day, the three-hour workshops felt like they were flying by, and whenever I had optional open studio time, I found myself back at the jewelry studio continuing my projects. If I had access to the tools and materials, this could easily become a new hobby for me.”

Metal jewelries that Alyssa made

“Before coming to Putney, I was worried about being able to make friends from a pool of all strangers. My school experience was attending a high school with the majority of the students coming from the same middle school. At Putney I realized that I took this for granted and it became a crutch for me to make new friends from the friends of my friends. Although making new friends on my own at Putney was a challenge at first, I appreciate that this program was held for four weeks, giving me an ample time to warm up to people and build good relationships. Although my timid personality did not earn me a large number of friends, I was able to make a few very good friends, which made my experience at Putney extremely enjoyable and memorable. The students and especially the staff created an extremely welcoming community that I was new. My friends and I have even had discussions on how the community embraces self-expression and it makes us feel more comfortable than we do at home. It was an incredible month being able to be around many adults who shared compassion and held such passion for the arts…”

“What I would like to recommend strongly to the future Putney participants is to apply for it. Spending a month at the Putney School may seem intimidating first but it is an experience you can’t get anywhere else. Being immersed in the arts in an encouraging and welcoming community helps to learn more about yourself and make many new friends. I would also advise that they should have a strong passion for at least one of the workshops. As the students spend 15 hours in a workshop a week, it would be difficult to endure it otherwise. I would strongly encourage Putney School Summer Arts Program to anyone who takes an interest in art and would like to have fun while trying new things. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity.”

Alyssa’s dorm friends

We appreciate it very much that Alyssa allowed us to share her honest reflection with the readers.

During these unprecedented times, Putney School Summer Arts Program has adjusted their summer workshops to continue offering an engaging and safe learning environment for all participants. It must have been especially challenging for Putney School to meet the pandemic’s social and physical restrictions as we know of Putney as a prominently relationship-based learning environment. Students at Putney learn to trust not only their instructors but also themselves to get out of their comfort zone socially and artistically. As Alyssa described, the students were encouraged to explore and express themselves freely through arts without fearing their failures or mistakes. These kinds of outcome have been possible because Putney School keeps the workshop size small and intimate, and encourages students to get to know each other authentically through various break time, evening and weekend social activities. The past participants whom our Foundation have sponsored indeed benefited from this kind of comfortable, safe and personable learning environment and came home more assured about themselves. They also felt empowered by being able to make friends whom they have never met before while discovering their new or renewed passion for arts. Some of our past participants have decided to pursue their love for creative or performing arts as a major in college after they attended Putney School. We look forward to the time when Putney can resume their regular programming without as many restrictions as they had to apply this year.

For more information about Putney School Summer Arts, please visit their website here and also watch a short video from this summer.