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How do we “See” visual arts?

Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal worked with children in Jay’s and Laura’s pre-k classes at Marindale this Spring. Following are her perspectives on the many ways the students experienced the visual arts:

Clara: "Can I make a rubber stamp "squeak" and also bang it like a drum?"

Clara loved to do all kinds of art: drawing painting, stamping, gluing, and squeezing clay. But her greatest joy was discovering the many different ways her materials could make noise! Each time I visited I would bring foil, or bubble wrap, or “crunchy” paper so that Clara could experience paint and color and sound in her art-making process.

Christopher contributing to the Class Project

Christopher was tentative with new experiences, but with a gentle touch and lots of encouragement, he was able to hold a paintbrush and draw with special soft crayons. With his new glasses on, he was able to see his plain white canvas come to life.

Marquise squeezing and rolling clay

Marquise has limited sight and could only see light and shadow from one corner of one eye, and loved working with Model Magic. When it was placed in front of him on a black board, he was able to find it no matter where it was placed, and loved to squeeze and pull and roll the soft, pliable clay. He also loved the “crunchy” shiny wrapper that the clay came in.

Paula drawing circles in yellow

The energy level was alive and exciting in Jay’s classroom, and I was able to work with the students in pairs. We learned to take one pastel at a time, to share with our friends, to wait for our turn, to be careful and respectful of our art materials, and to use these valuable skills to explore art-making in myriad ways.

Lindsey choosing one color at a time

Again, the students were open to any new experience, and were able to paint on mat board, foil, and plastic, to draw circles and lines with crayons, pastels, and even window-painting crayons. We explored textures with collages full of shiny bits, sand paper, soft fur, and much more.

Mixed Media: Model Magic on board with markers, paint, and glue

With Model Magic, we squeezed and pulled and rolled, and even poked it with markers to turn it new colors. The students taught me a whole new use for Model Magic when they squashed it onto their mat boards (it stuck there), and then proceeded to draw and paint and glue right on top of it. It was a truly multi-media process with beautiful results.

The classroom teacher, Laura Becker, had this to say about their time with Suzanne:

We are so excited to have Suzanne with us. We have students who are at times difficult to read, but Suzanne has gotten to know each child individually and has brought material that will excite and motivate each one of my students. I am so grateful that she has taken the time to know each one. Her projects allow each of them to express themselves and their abilities. It has been a real joy. She is very gifted.


Mentor Artist Michelle Gutierrez worked closely with the classroom teachers Nathan and Scott at the Lagunitas Public Montessori Program to bring Digital Storytelling to their 3rd through 5th grade students.


• Explore our Montessori identities creating digital images.
• Capture images that show how much we love our school and class.
• Introduce various techniques: scanning, creating digital images, mounting, digital photo editing, and preparing images for IPhoto & IMovie.


Montessori saw universal, innate characteristics in human psychology which her son and collaborator Mario Montessori identified as ‘human tendencies’ in 1957. We attempted to capture the following fundamental needs of humans with our cameras. We hope you enjoy our interpretations!

Introduction to Shakespeare: Language, Historical context and Performance

Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs worked with the seventh grade social studies teachers at Davidson Middle School to design an introduction to Shakespearean Theatre which would mesh with their 7th grade World History unit on the Renaissance.

Key words from the history lessons were incorporated into the work, and related Shakespeare to the student’s current lives as wells as our global situation. This unit prepared the students for next year, and their 8th grade introduction to Romeo & Juliet.

Engaging exercises included Shakespearean death scenes, a monologue performance, Shakespeare’s vernacular versus our own (which highlighting the parallels to HipHop). The project culminated in a tableaux performance of Romeo & Juliet, which highlighted the experience for students!

Dancing to the Monkeys

Students from Barbara  Royanne‘s Special Day Class at San Jose Middle Mchool  presented a very successful talent show as the culmination of their 20 weeks working with Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin.  The day began with a demonstration of reading rhymes to the upbeat , silly song Big, Pig, Fig.   Then the students demonstrated the amazing progress they made  over the year in their physical education classes through pushups and jumping jacks.

Finally, it was Youth in Arts’ turn.  The students choreographed two dances.  They began with a dance performed to the Monkey’s I’m a Believer, and once all students were in place all students regardless of ability level participated in a dance choreographed to Kool n’ the Gang’s Celebration.

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin chose music that the students were familiar with and enthusiastic about.  Students manipulated engaging and colorful props including beatiful scarves that danced around the room.

Thank you to all of the Para Educators and teachers who took an active roll and helped by following up with activities during the week!  All involved in this project felt it was a huge success.   Thank you to Youth in Arts for providing the funding and opportunities for these children and teachers!

Accessibility, Awareness and Success!

As we have for many years, Youth in Arts obtained funding to provide Visual and Performing arts residencies in 30 Special Day Classrooms. YIA Mentor Artists worked diligently to provide high quality, adapted arts lessons to hundreds of students with differed abilities, and to share their work with their family and main-stream piers.

For example, YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin celebrated the culmination of her 10 week music & movement residency with Rockne Beeman’s class of special needs elementary students with students from a general education class at their school. Some students from Mr. Beeman’s class were able to take leadership roles, helping their piers through the movements.  This was not only helpful, but those students were delighted and empowered by their ability to lead.

The feedback from teachers is overwhealmingly positive, and YIA Mentor Artists received the highest marks for their expertise in adaptive lessons, allowing each student to partipate to the best of their ability and to feel successful.

“Suzanne engaged my students and brough in art activities that were right at their level and really interesting for each of complicated little guys.  They all enjoyed their time with her.  A big huge thank you to YIA for enhancing our curriculum and the lives of these vulnerable kids.”

SDC Teacher, Marindale School

We look forward to serving these students and teachers again next year.  Please click on the yellow donate button to help support and save programs like these!

Our Lady of Loretto

Many beautiful pieces of art work have been created by the children from Our Lady of Loretta in Novato with the help of Mentor Artist Tajali Littman. Students were able to travel the world with art as they experimented with a variety of techniques and explored the art of Africa,  Australia, China, India, Italy and Mexico.

Second Graders made Huichol Indian -inspired mixed media rice paintings. Third Graders created Australian Aboriginal -inspired bark paintings, using local eucalyptus bark. Fourth Graders created illuminated animal mandala’s and animal spirit rattles while fifth-graders explored Chinese calligraphy  and Sumi-e painting. Sixth graders created India inspired Rangoli mandala’s as sidewalk art throughout the schoolgrounds. Seventh Graders made African Masks, and eighth graders learned Calligraphy art, Print making, Book making and Foil Embossing.

Click to See the Slideshow of Artworks

Fourth Grade Improv at San Ramon School

San Ramon Elementary 4th Graders all enjoyed their Drama course with Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs this Spring!  Teachers Ms. Ainsworth, Ms. Dick and Ms. Logue requested a “general theatre and improv” class. This introductory course is designed to teach basic theatre and improvisation technique through collaborative play.

Students learn respect for their instrument (their body & voice), through a series of fun warm ups every day.  The lessons are structured in a rehearsal format with a check-in and warm-up preceding content-filled theatre games.  Every class is spent actively up on our feet, so the elements of movement – size, weight, tempo, tension, focus, direction – is an early lesson to give young actors a vocabulary with which to work for the rest of the course.

Students learn that the stage directions "UPSTAGE" and "DOWNSTAGE" originated from the incline, or rake, common in english theatres from the Middle Ages through to the early Modern era. Upstage was literally up higher in elevation to improve the audience's view of the action!

Some other concepts the young actors learn include the essentials of theatre – from stage directions to the many roles in dramatic production.  The 4th Graders also practice the acting basics: objective, action & obstacle; and Stanislavski’s ‘Magic If’ exercises are an imaginative highlight.

Young actors warm up their bodies and imaginations with a "Bubblegum Game" during which they act as if they are enjoying their favorite flavor of this illicit sweet. They act out every detail from opening the pack to chewing every piece and blowing a giant bubble into which they climb and explore and finally POP!

In the spirit of improvisers everywhere we celebrate every mistake or happy accident with hands thrown in the air and a “Whoohoo!”  Kids love this take on ‘failure’ and it seems to propel them fearlessly into the lessons on improvisation where they further learn to be present, focused, enthusiastic young theatre artists.

Melissa Briggs Presenting to her students

Bailando en Novato!

This morning, the Novato Youth Center was full of colorful dresses and the sounds of music as San Rafael’s very own Ballet Folklorico Netzahualcoyotl performed regional dances of Mexico.  Under the direction of Maestro Netza, young performers presented traditional dances from the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Michoacan and Tabasco.

Youth in Arts has obtained a grant from the Marin Community Foundation to provide the Novato Youth Center with a free comprehensive arts program including Professional Development for staff, Professional Performances and ongoing classes in dance and theater.  Today’s performance was just a part of the Youth in Arts programming that will be taking place at the NYC during the summer and fall of 2011.

The audience of youngsters, as young as 2 years old, were in awe of the talented young dancers who seemed to float across the gymnasium floor with ease, grace and beaming smiles.  When asked if they had questions, there was only one, repeated by 4 different children: “How did they learn to do that?!”  Well, the students of the NYC will soon find out, as Maestro Netza begins instruction there next week, providing students with 10 sessions of Mexican Dance.  We look forward to seeing their final performance, where their parents and peirs will most likely ask “How did they learn to do that?!”.

Italian Street Painting at Lynwood School

The students in the Lynwood School Program just celebrated their seventh year working with Maestro Madonnara and Mentor Artist Genna Panzarella. Genna takes the students down the path she follows to create her world-renowned masterpieces. Their school has been decorated for many years with the student’s own masterpieces following this method.

The Incredible Hulk and Friends, by Lynwood Afterschool's 4th and 5th Graders

Students begin by brainstorming about their own interests and wishes, and create a list of what they would like to include in their final 9′ x 9′ collaborative piece.

Genna assesses drawing skills by asking students to draw a self-portrait or “favorite thing” which they will save in their portfolios. She then selects images from the students own imaginations to teach specific drawing skills (such as Mickey Mouse for “attitude and expression”, or the globe to teach “shading”. The Hulk became a perfect model to teach anatomy: especially of his hands and fists.)

Student’s portfolios grow with each drawing exercise, all in anticipation of drawing together on the ground.

Genna works with the students to plan the big picture, combining all of the images, and setting them in a context that tells a story.

Working from print- outs of each separate image and of the larger 9X9′ collage, students learn the gridding technique by practicing recreating their individual contributions onto larger squares on the ground.

Students form into small groups according to their interests in the final design, and practice drawing together with chalk in anticipation of…

The final day! Snap lines and drawing the big picture!

Mickey, Minnie, Mario and More by Lynwood Afterschool's 2nd and 3rd Graders

What Does the World Look Like Through Your Eyes?

Working with Mentor Artist Brooke Toczylowski, the Fifth Grade at Bayside Elementary spent three weeks this spring investigating painting and learning to EXPRESS themselves. Students looked at the connections between color, language, and abstraction. In our efforts to create a community of learners, we brought fifth and first grades together at the end of their residencies to share and learn from each other.

This unit was inspired by my amazing teacher colleagues, Ascha Drake and Evan Bissell.  This spring Ascha and I led a teacher Professional Development on encouraging literacy through artmaking.

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