For the 2022 spring break, 16 Pratt Institute students traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they taught visual art to children in public schools and a museum. Including students studying for majors in Art and Design Education and minors in Teaching Art and Design in NYC and Museum and Gallery Practices, the group planned and delivered community-based art and design education experiences alongside an immersion in the culture of the Caribbean island’s capital.
Aileen Wilson, chair of art and design education, and Borinquen Gallo, adjunct associate professor of art and design education, led the program in San Juan. Art and Design Education students are required to take Spanish and often work with Spanish-speaking communities in New York City, with five of the students who joined this program being bilingual. This experience was coordinated to complement and expand on their learning.
“In designing the program, one of our goals was for our students to learn skills essential to working with communities in different contexts, to activate a kind of cultural intelligence, and to help our students become culturally responsive and effective practitioners,” Wilson said.
Partnering with the Instituto Nueva Escuela, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming Puerto Rico’s public education system through the Montessori philosophy and methodology, half of the Pratt students spent time in two public schools: Inés María Mendoza in Caguas and Luis Muñoz Rivera II in Guaynabo, both suburbs of San Juan. The other half taught K-7th graders at the Museo de Arte y Diseño de Miramar in Miramar—a neighborhood in San Juan—in collaboration with Nadja de la Torre, the director of the museum’s education program.
“It was inspiring to see Pratt students put theory into practice and how fluidly they transitioned and adapted to teaching in a new context,” Gallo said. “I was particularly struck with how Pratt students, and the students and staff they encountered in our partnering Puerto Rican school sites, collaborated in a climate of mutual respect and reciprocity, their enthusiastic rapport prevailing over language barriers.”
They also had time to explore the area to get a well-rounded view of the community. This included a walking tour of the barrio of Santurce and its murals from the Santurce es Ley festival with Maité González Pérez, academic leader of visual arts at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón; a salsa workshop with Tito Ortos; a hike and swim at the El Yunque National Forest; and a gallery talk with Puerto Rican artist Pedro Adorno who shared his current exhibition.
The program in San Juan engaged the students in teaching and learning in new surroundings and being flexible with their work in different settings, whether a classroom or museum.
“Something I learned from this experience was how to adapt and move forward when obstacles come into play and change everything,” said Michael A. Rodriguez, BFA/MA Art and Design Education ’25. “This trip made my commitment, my determination, and my passion for my studies at Pratt even stronger because I now know that teaching is my true calling.”