Honoring a Teen Space

Ginny Huo

When I was six years old, I immigrated to Virginia from Korea with my family. As an artistic girl who didn't speak English, I was not the most sought-after friend in our largely white community. I worried about smelling like kimchi, and I was afraid of mispronouncing "photosynthesis" while reading out loud. I got in trouble with teachers for not understanding the language and asking questions. My early, formative educational experiences were often painful, but they all had a lasting impact on my pedagogical approach. I view learning spaces as sacred, places where people are treated as humans first: respected, heard, and seen.

Since my public school education and time at religious Brigham Young University, I've spent years unlearning and decolonizing my education—a practice that continues and evolves. It is actually at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) while working on my MFA in the Rinehart School of Sculpture under the teaching of Maren Hassinger, I was introduced to The Studio Museum in Harlem and saw equitable and diverse education in practice. I have deep gratitude for the experience. 

I am inspired by great educators, writers, and artists (some noted below), to create spaces that are collaborative and democratic—not only in theory but in practice. To undo the hierarchical dynamic of a learning space – my goal is to focus on creating a teen centered environment where the teen’s interest, participation, leadership, and ideas are at the core of the community. My hope is that the students and/or participants in the learning space feel like more confident, critical thinkers, curious, and compassionate to themselves and to each other. This kind of learning community is cultivated through certain strategies, inspired by readings and research, that includes, but not limited to: 


• Building community within each other (from Emergent Strategies, by Adrienne Maree Brown)

• Creating respectful boundaries and communication (from The Art of Communication, by Thich Nhat Hanh)

• Constructive feedback structures (from The Critical Response, by Liz Lerman)

• Awareness of and accountability for oneself and spaces that one is in (from The Creative Process, by James Baldwin, and Theater of the Oppressed, by Augusto Boal)

• Exposure to inclusive and intersectional artists, writers, organizers, and curators

• Discussion of relevant decolonized historical and contemporary dialogue and issues (from Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Fiere; Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde; and The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney)


These conceptual frameworks are put into practice through creative exercises rooted in meditation, breathing, and movement, in which play and experimentation are at the core. I create a space of collaboration and understanding where a class or group is encouraged to create main values that are agreed upon and respected throughout the time it spends together. Every year the values are rooted in honesty, accountability, sharing, play, research, and rigor. I see myself in the role of a facilitator who brings people together for diverse dialogue, and encourages and holds the space for this self-discovery, as educator Paulo Freire describes this book, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change, "The teacher is, of course, an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves."