The idea of Exit Studio was born in a classroom in 1994 as Edwin Fontánez was conducting an art workshop in Washington, DC public schools with a class of 2nd-graders. “Does anyone know what a vejigante is?” he asked the group. One little boy’s face lit up and he smiled broadly as he raised his hand. “The vejigante is from Puerto Rico. That’s where I’m from!” the youngster exclaimed. When Edwin saw the cultural pride this simple question aroused, he knew there was a need for teaching materials that reached out to the overlooked Hispanic population. Since those first workshops, Exit Studio has created video and activity book sets that have been used in classrooms across the country. With every new project, the goal is to create something that will educate and inspire as well as entertain. And Exit Studio is dedicated to providing parents and teachers with the tools they need to get the most out of the materials by providing notes, glossaries, and lesson plans—all at no charge.
Some teachers have found even more ways to use the materials. Marjorie Nott, a teacher in Holyoke, MA, used the Vejigante set in her classroom to teach ESL, math, art, and music. The students recorded their own videos teaching the steps of maskmaking to practice their spoken English. They were so inspired by the masks they made that they decided to create the vejigante’s costume, which became a math lesson in measurements. Then to show off their creations, they worked with the music teacher to learn vejigante chants and led a parade down the halls of the school. “My 4th grade English as a Second Language class began the process this month of becoming Vejigantes,” said Nott. “As the mask-making neared completion, they said, ‘Let’s have a parade!’ I can’t express how happy and proud they were. Your work is fantastic. Perfect for meaningful learning. The experience of becoming mask-makers, of becoming Vejigantes will never be forgotten by my students.” The students expressed their enjoyment through letters to Edwin. “I made my mask different colors. There were many people watching us dance and clapping for us. I thank you for making the video because it is beautiful,” wrote 4th-grader Daisy.
Edwin Fontánez continues to work directly with educators by conducting workshops for teachers on how to integrate Puerto Rican themes into all facets of their curriculum through art activities. Teaching Tolerance magazine, a leading guide to quality classroom materials, wrote, “An island paradise is the setting for Taíno, a creative video-and-activity book set that tells the story of the native people of Puerto Rico. After watching the video, younger students can color the pictures and play the games in the bilingual activity book, while older students can answer the questions in the accompanying discussion guide.” The adaptability of the material is one of the things that makes them so perfect for parents with children of different ages or teachers with limited budgets for classroom supplies.
Whether he is working one-on-one with kids at children’s museums across the country, meeting parents at book fairs, or inspiring teachers in workshops, Edwin Fontánez is bringing Exit Studio’s message of cultural learning through the arts to people both young and old who are eager for quality materials with a positive impact.