MSS Founder Joan Litman Joins Staff as Artist-in-Residence; NEH Scholar

Joan Litman is a part of the very fabric of Mustard Seed School. Along with Shanna Pargellis and Larry Litman, she founded Mustard Seed in 1979. The school culture that they built together has endured over the years.

If you know Ms. Litman, then you know that she is a community-builder and a wildly creative, much-loved teacher. Music is her specialty. Her passion for world music, for teaching both students and music educators, brings people from different places together.  Most recently, she has taught and learned from students and teachers in Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Hong Kong, Spain, and Syria. She has been a music educator for over 40 years, serving mostly at Mustard Seed School and the United Nations International School in Manhattan.

I am overjoyed to announce that Ms. Litman will join the Mustard Seed staff again this fall as an Artist-in-Residence.

Not only that, but this summer she was selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities to be a Summer Scholar. Below is press release about Ms. Litman’s study of Gullah Voices this summer. Please join me in celebrating!

Ms. Litman (center, blue dress) with MSS alumni)

Ms. Litman (center, blue dress) with MSS alumni

Press Release:

Local Teacher Selected for National Workshop on African American Gullah Culture

Joan Litman, a teaching Artist-in-Residence at Mustard Seed School in Hoboken, was one of 72 teachers from around the United States selected as a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Scholar. Litman participated in a Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop focusing on one of the early African-American cultures in the U.S in a program developed by scholars from the University of Connecticut and funded by a grant from the NEH.

Gullah Voices: Traditions and Transformations was a week-long workshop for K-12 teachers in Savannah, Ga. The curriculum provided historic insight into the Gullah community in the corridor between North Carolina and Florida, where people from West Africa, many from Sierra Leone, were enslaved to work on rice plantations.

Throughout the workshop, teachers experienced Gullah culture directly. They attended performances by groups and participated in traditional activities. They visited sites such as The Penn Center, a national historic landmark of Gullah culture in St. Helena, S.C.; and Hog Hammock, Sapelo Island, GA., the last Gullah community on the Sea Islands.  Workshop faculty included a cross-section of scholars, cultural historians, artists, and musicians who specialize in Gullah culture.

“The experience of standing inside a sweltering brick structure in Savannah where African families were broken up and sold was unsettling and emotional,” said Litman.  “It was an honor to stand among living decendants of the enslaved in places like to Sapelo Island, where a remnant of Gullah people still live on an island that was once their own, but has been increasingly claimed by the state and sold to developers.  The Gullah Voices workshop inspired in me a longing to know, more deeply, this central aspect of American history. And to share the Gullah voice and culture with my students.”

Teachers participating in the Gullah Voices workshop were selected as NEH Summer Scholars from a national applicant pool and received a $1,200 stipend to help cover their travel, study and living expenses. The “Gullah Voices” workshop is one of 21 NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops on a variety of subjects offered this summer for 1,680 teachers who will teach more than 210,000 American students next fall.

Ms. Litman will offer a workshop on children’s songs and singing games of the Gullah cultures during the school year. The program Gullah Voices will be offered again in 2016.

Thomas Postema

THOMAS S. POSTEMA, Head of School

Mr. Postema has been the head of MSS since July 2011. He has over 30 years of experience in education and has been a MSS parent, an Advisory Council member, and donor to the school.