Second graders at Short and Laurel Dell elementary schools in San Rafael created vibrant collages showing what a healthy neighborhood needs.
We began by looking at the work of artists like Faith Ringgold and the late Romare Bearden. Working with Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, we used the “wax resist” method to write our names on watercolor paper and mixed blues and greens to paint a “cool” background. We talked about what a neighborhood needs to be strong and healthy, and what we need to be strong a healthy. Both classes included schools, libraries and homes of different sizes and shapes. There were some surprising additions too. At Short, one student suggested a carnival. At Laurel Dell, a student created a community art studio.
We then created collages, using only warm colors for our structures. That made them stand out when they were placed on the cool colored background. This gave us a chance to review what colors are warm, and what colors are cool. Once they were dry, we flipped them over and cut out our shapes. Details were added later with pastel and more paper. We looked at doors and windows from around the world, and noticed they are not always square or rectangle.
“This was a complex project with many layers, and students did an amazing job,” Bowman said. “It was wonderful to see them make connections between their own lives and their neighborhood.”
Some of the paper that students used was made by rubbing crayons and pastels across textured templates, creating brick patterns and other designs. More connections were made as the textured paper was shared between the two schools.
The projects will be on display as part of the upcoming Youth in Arts’ upcoming exhibit: Kids Imagine Our World: In My Neighborhood. The show of 2nd grade work from both schools runs Oct. 28 through Dec. 6. The opening reception, which will be hosted by the Youth in Arts’ Board of Directors, will be held on Nov. 8 from 5 to 8 p.m.
First graders at Laurel Dell School in San Rafael have been exploring literacy through art with Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. Students love to look at their art. When we make art with words, we look carefully to find what we know, which means we practice reading.
Students built a colorful word mural from important words they know. Using a donated canvas splashed with graffiti, old encyclopedia pages, oil pastels and glue, they made big words and cut them into interesting shapes. The words were glued onto the canvas, which will become a living document; students will be encouraged to add to their work throughout the year.
The goal of the project was to teach the young artists that words are fun. Teacher Vanessa Nunez helped with the project by encouraging the young artists to brainstorm about words they know. She wrote the words on index cards before art class so students were ready to copy them and practice their spelling. The final step was cutting their words into interesting shapes.
“Art is a wonderful way to teach literacy since all letters are shapes,” Bowman said. “Students love to engage in creative art making and show what they know.”
When a large box became scrambled while students searched for their letters, Nunez created a teachable moment. Students who are English Language Learners took turns sorting the letters and then naming them before putting them in the right place.
“Working at Laurel Dell is a great experience because Principal Pepe Gonzalez and his staff are so supportive,” Bowman said. “Working in partnership enables us to accomplish so much.”
Art has the power to engage and inspire students of all abilities. Whether it is the visual arts, theater, dance, music, or new media, creative exploration has been known to help students reach learning and behavioral objectives in productive and innovative ways. In early October, Youth in Arts Staff travelled to the Quartz Mountain in Oklahoma to lead a 17-hour professional development with teachers from across the state through the Oklahoma Arts Institute. Together, we explored arts integration strategies and techniques for addressing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) goals with students informed by student-centered frameworks such as Culturally Responsive Teaching and Universal Design. Over the course of three days through visual arts, dance, music, and theatre, educators learned about the five competencies of SEL framed by the following asset-based questions:
Participants began by thinking about our personal identities and how they are informed by our experiences and our chosen and inherited family values. Following our daily warm-up and introduction, we created accordion culture books to give us a baseline for thinking about self awareness, and continued working on these books throughout the workshop. In order to take time to appreciate the process of learning and consider our work so far, we participated in a group gallery walk and reflection.
During our unit on Social Awareness, we performed our oral family histories through storytelling and embroidered mapping. After ruminating on the ways in which our divergent and personal stories gathered together at our point of contact – Oklahoma – teachers choreographed their collective family stories and performed them for the rest of the group. It became clear during reflection that building a culture of community becomes possible through the sharing and receiving of stories, and that we learn how to connect in the process of realizing what makes us different and what makes us similar. Additional theatre and movement-based activities were utilized throughout the workshop in order to offer kinesthetic and embodied ways to reflect on and engage in the core competencies of SEL.
Over the course of our sessions on self management, relationship skills, and responsible decision making, we explored multiple techniques for self portraiture using methods such as recycled collagraph prints, transparency portraits using lines that make our faces unique, and empathy portraits on vellum. To help build our visual arts skills, we practiced observational drawing techniques and considered the ways in which visual signals like lines could be characterized using all of the senses. At the end of the workshop, we layered our portraits in different mediums together to create a cover for our culture books.
On the final day of the workshop, participants reflected once again on the characteristic of storytelling utilizing graphic novels and Visual Thinking Strategies, as well as theatre activities such as The Moment Before. We then participated in a large-group Circle Story, pulling vocabulary from value words and personal characteristics that we had shared previously in the workshop. We added depth and meaning to the story by re-telling our narrative and introducing colors and emotions. We completed the workshop with an experimental painting activity in which participating educators were asked to create abstract, mixed-media artworks by following a series of instructions without knowing the expectations for the project’s end result. Following the activity, we reflected on what the process had felt like by discussing how decision-making is impacted by circumstances, and how we can help to empower and prepare our students to make impactful decisions knowing that they will not always know where those decisions may lead.
We closed the activities with a final group performance, utilizing performance-based techniques and strategies learned throughout the institute in order to communicate their closing thoughts and experiences. The process of learning and engaging was captured by facilitators and participants collaboratively through a Learning Wall, Youth in Art’s adaptation of the Making Learning Visible (MLV) process. Participants left the institute with access to arts-based resources created to help engage educators in practical skills for developing and fostering communication and collaboration, thereby creating more opportunities to empower student voice and identity in any classroom.
TK Students at Short Elementary School spent a lively morning painting their shape sculptures with Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman and teacher Maggie Dawes.
During the previous week, the young artists practiced naming their shapes and building sculptures out of circles, squares, rectangles and triangles cut from foam core. When the sculptures were dry, they chose two primary colors to investigate what would happen when they mixed them.
There were “oohs” and “ahhs” around the room as students discovered red and blue make purple and blue and yellow make green. Using flat brushes, students worked hard to get paint in all the corners to cover everything.
As the sculptures dried, we talked about how many different purples and greens we saw. The lesson provided good opportunities for reflection and for looking at art through a math problem: blue + yellow = ?
For students who did not attend preschool, it was the first time they had ever painted. Large brushes with long handles created good opportunities for fine motor skills practice. The children who were absent will use the third primary combination next week, combining red and yellow to make orange.
Reaching all students through the arts was the focus of a professional development workshop taught by Youth in Arts’ mentor artists Suzanne Joyal and Cathy Bowman. San Rafael teachers who attended learned how arts can facilitate a richer experience for students and support skill building in social emotional learning.
“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” (CASEL, 2019).
There are five core competencies associated with SEL including self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. The workshop focused on self-awareness. Self awareness is the ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior; and the ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.” At Youth in Arts, we frame this core competency with the question: “Who Am I?”
We began with the Brain Dance, a way to warm up our bodies, fire synapses, and get students ready to learn.
Observational drawing teaches students to look closely and to record what they SEE, not what they remember or think. We start by drawing familiar objects, then move into self portraits. Observational Drawing also applies to projects in science (recording experiments), math, social studies and language arts (descriptive writing)
Self portraits can be realistic or abstract: we drew lines that represented adjectives describing us, and then experimented with mirrors and Emotions Cards: what happens to our eyebrows when we are excited? Our mouths when we are sad? What do we do when we see these expressions on our friends? What can we do to change them if needed? We used the Emotions Art Cards and Booklet to help us imagine emotions we could show.
We also introduced teachers to the Student Strengths Assessment: a tool we designed to help teachers, parents and students find their best ways of learning.
Youth in Arts has also produced a Digital Toolkit, which includes six videos on inclusive teaching practices for artists, classroom teachers and parents. We have also developed a free ARTS Bank. The database, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, allows educators, parents and students to type in an IEP goal or grade level and find an arts activity that matches.
This workshop was made possible through the California Department of Education’s Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant that the Marin County Office of Education received.
Youth in Arts is thrilled to welcome Megan Bober as our student board member! Megan has been a musician most of her life, she’s played the piano since age 7, but for years she didn’t like to perform in public. “In middle school, I discovered how happy singing made me, and wanted to do it as much as possible, but couldn’t figure out where to pursue my passion along with other kids like me” she said. That is when she discovered ‘Til Dawn, “In 8th grade I went to their spring show,” she recalls. “As soon as I saw them sing, and saw how much fun they had together, I set being a part of ‘Til Dawn as my goal.” Now a Junior at Redwood High School, Megan has been in the group 3 years and says, “’Til Dawn and Youth in Arts have been the most important part of my high school years. I have found a second family amongst kids and adults who are as passionate about music and singing as I am.”
Megan looks forward to working with the board, sharing her unique perspective and conveying, “how important music and art can be to the emotional and intellectual support and growth of people my age.” She has also learned a great deal about Youth in Arts’ advocacy work and, “became passionate about how the organization ensures young people throughout Marin have access to the arts.”
Megan was fortunate enough to have great arts access both at home, through her piano lessons and regular museum visits, and at San Domenico where she attended school from pre-K though 5th grade. “I was given art and music education every day,” she shares. “While at that time I was not pursuing singing, I believe the importance placed on art and music, and the exposure that I was given, laid the foundation for my intense interest in music now. I also think that my early art and music education helped me to be a more creative person in writing and performance.”
We are thankful to have Megan’s passion and creativity on the Youth in Arts board.