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Modern Mythmaking: 9th Graders and the Muse Project

Sarah Peeden
Mission Principles: Compelling and Connected Academic Program, Integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, Pursuit of the Balance of Rigor and Joy
For one night last month, Mullady Hall (our high school building) was transformed into a bustling and vibrant gallery filled with students, parents, and community members all intent on appreciating and exploring the ninth grade students’ Muse Project Museum.

Beginning in October, ninth grade students read Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. Like the Pacific Ridge students before them, the freshmen spent months in English class learning about ancient mythology, decoding the text, studying poetic devices, and discussing Odysseus’ relationships and adventures on his quest home to Ithaca. However, unlike earlier classes, their work did not culminate in a trial of Odysseus. Instead, the Class of 2019 paired up with STEAM projects coordinator, Richard Masland, to create their Muse Projects.

In ancient Greece, it was believed that the muse worked through the poet to inspire his storytelling. The muse brought the story to the poet, and it was his job to share the tale through his craft. In the spirit of this relationship, students created projects inspired by their reading of The Odyssey as well as their study of modern forms of mythmaking such as advertising and branding, social media, and contemporary art. Students were also challenged to tell a story through their chosen medium (conceptual art, Instagram, etc.) that was important to them. Finally, they were asked to write an artist statement that clearly detailed their personal connection to their piece, the way in which they engaged in modern mythmaking, and their project’s connection to The Odyssey. Finally, in preparation for the project, interested ninth grade students were given the opportunity to learn about the arts technology available at school including the laser cutter, 3-D printer, and recording studio.

With these open-ended guidelines, the ninth graders created projects that astounded their teachers and peers. They painted detailed landscapes on skateboards, crafted infomercials, designed dresses and denim jackets, and even choreographed dances. They filmed full-length documentaries, wrote novels, built art installations that took over entire rooms, and so much more!

When I look back on this project and the accompanying museum, I am excited by what our students were able to accomplish. These artists and performers clearly illustrated their understanding of both ancient and modern storytelling, as well as how the critical thinking skills they learn in English can be applied outside of the classroom. Beyond these academic achievements, the ninth graders put on display some of the character traits we have been working to develop all year, including grit, healthy risk-taking, empathy, and growth mindsets. Through this project, they each took a chance and shared a little more about who they are and what they individually value—a tall order for adolescents who are developmentally programmed to avoid standing out, and instead of being criticized, they each cheered on and celebrated their peers.

In the coming weeks, the freshmen will give orations, take their first finals, and head across the Pacific Ocean for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in China. I know that they have grown as people and as a class since last fall, and I believe that the Muse Project has better equipped them for these future events, as well as the rest of their high school experience.

Sarah Peeden
9th-Grade Dean & English