By Mentor Architect Shirl Buss
Laurel Dell Elementary School third graders recently hosted Transit Practice Leader Bob Grandy in their newly renovated school in San Rafael. Bob, an engineer and principal at Fehr & Peers, introduced students to a possible career in engineering while sharing his expertise with them. He also presented a wonderful slideshow with images relating to transportation planning and design.
Architect Shirl Buss has been teaching at Laurel Dell through Youth in Arts’ Architects in Schools program, which she helped develop. Shirl is also the Y-PLAN elementary director at the Center for Cities + Schools at UC Berkeley.
Bob familiarized the students with the opportunities and constraints along Fourth Street in downtown San Rafael with a special focus on mobility and access. Shirl reported that his presentation was both inspiring and instructive, and will help students as they take on the challenges of how to make Fourth Street safe, welcoming, fun and hopeful for everyone.
“These children are continuing to build upon the work from the past two years that Laurel Dell students and teachers – in collaboration with Youth in Arts and UC Berkeley’s Y-PLAN – have been doing on issues related to sea level rise and the San Rafael 2040 General Plan,” Shirl said. “We expect these students to generate some exciting policy and design recommendations to offer to the Downtown Precise Plan.”
Thank you, Bob, for donating your time and expertise to our future civic leaders!
Students at Olive Elementary School explored shapes recently in a sculpture project that involved using common geometric forms: a sphere or circle, a square, a rectangle, a diamond and a triangle.
The young artists are part of Katie Kelly’s class receiving a 10-week Youth in Arts’ residency with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. The residency is part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us program, which works with young artists experiencing disabilities.
The children named the shapes made of foam core scraps and selected at least one of each for their sculptures. While the sculptures were drying, students looked at them all together on a table. We talked about the connection between the different sculptures and which ones fit together most easily.
“Working with shapes to make sculptures is one of my favorite projects to teach,” Cathy said. “I love that students are making connections between their own art and the work of their classmates. It really reinforces critical thinking and observational skills.”
To encourage sharing, Cathy provided one plate of glue for every two students. Building social-emotional skills through art making is a key part of what Youth in Arts teaching artists do. When students wanted more shapes, instead of saying “I need more shapes!” they were encouraged to transform that into a question, such as “May I please have more shapes?”
After making their sculptures, children will paint them and then create a painting of their sculpture. This supports hand-eye coordination and observational drawing skills. The sculpture lesson is an important foundation for lessons to come.
It was a wonderful celebration of souls and sound when nearly 50 current and former`Til Dawn members took to the stage for the SING OUT! concert, raising over $5,000 for the group’s scholarship program, through ticket, raffle, food and beverage sales. The goal was to reach $2,020 at the event to celebrate the New Year, and the event far exceeded expectations!
The award-winning teen a cappella group performed at Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael on Dec. 29. More than 150 people attended the event to celebrate the current ensemble as well as `Still Dawn, comprised of former members.
Headliners Stevie Greenwell and Erin Honeywell started off the evening. The two sisters are both `Til Dawn alumni, and Stevie taught last spring in Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us program.
Stevie Greenwell performs with the Thrive Choir and the Jazz Mafia Choral Syndicate. She is the founder and director of the Thrive Community Choir and the artistic director of the Diablo Women’s Chorale, and on the faculties of Stanford Jazz Camp and Own the Mic.
Erin Honeywell is an award-winning Bay Area vocalist and songwriter. She plans to release a full album collaboration with her soul band OTIS, as well as more of her original music. She also teaches private voice and chorus at San Domenico school and co-founded Own the Mic, a camp for middle and high school students.
“The SING OUT! offers such a wonderfully unique experience,” shares Development Associate, Morgan Schauffler who organized the event. “You get to marvel at the talent of our current ‘Til Dawn-ers, and hear them harmonize with former group members, many of whom have gone on to become professional musicians. This year’s headliners brought such beautiful honesty and soul to the concert. What a great night!”
The SING OUT! is more than just a scholarship fundraiser – It truly is a family event. Past and present members came from across the country to attend, and most had family members in tow.
Thank you to our food and beverage sponsors: Trader Joe’s San Rafael and Iron Springs Pub & Brewery , as well as our raffle prize donors: Bananas At Large, Salon Ciera, Johnny’s Doughnuts, and State Room Brewery.
Finally, thank you to our wonderful volunteer photographer Garrett Low!
At this month’s Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area (AEABA) education policy roundtable Youth in Arts Executive Director Kristen Jacobson, who serves on the Board of Directors for the alliance, joined other arts leaders from the Bay Area to present on and discuss strategies for bringing more arts education to students throughout the Bay Area.
The convening was an opportunity for arts leaders from Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco, Contra Costa and Alameda counties to share their work on developing arts education master plans to improve accessibility for arts learning. Youth in Arts has been a leader in the development of Marin County’s Arts Education Plan. Its purpose is to provide a road map to ensure that every student in the county has access to a quality arts program. Other partners involved in the development of the plan include public schools, the county Office of Education, the Marin Community Foundation and community based organizations.
“After my long history as an arts educator and as well as recent experience as part of San Francisco Unified School District’s Arts Education Master Plan Advisory Committee, it’s been exciting as a Novato parent to join the team at Youth in Arts and dig into the momentum behind Marin County’s arts education plan, initiatives and partnerships, ” Kristen said. “An opportunity to have arts leaders from across the Bay Area in the same room to discuss successes, challenges and questions is an immense gift in my new leadership role.”
Kristen said the perception of Marin is that it is a place filled with resources and progressive policies. In reality, she said, there is a great inequality among its 18 school districts. Although she is glad the county has an arts plan, it does not include a timeline for implementation or accountability.
The Arts Education Alliance, which meets bimonthly to collectively address issues in arts education, is important because educators can discuss the challenges they face in light of budget cuts and changing policies. In discussing her work with the alliance, Kristen also stressed the importance that all arts advocates have a seat at the table. She adds, “Asking tough questions and pushing difficult discussions are both important to the process. Though I’m new in my role I am thankful for my seat at the table; a fresh perspective can often bring to light new solutions and ideas,” she said.” I am looking forward to working in collaboration with the Marin Arts Education Plan team to continue to move the needle on arts provision for ALL of Marin’s students.”
Julia Chigamba and the Chinyakare Ensemble, a family of musicians, dancers and teachers committed to preserving and sharing traditional Zimbabwean culture and promoting community building and education through art, put on an incredible performance at Dance Palace Community & Cultural Center. Sharing an electrifying display of the traditional dance, music, and culture of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, ensemble members Kanukai Chigamba, Julia Chigamba, and Augusten Basa performed three traditional dances for students from across West Marin. The first dance was a welcome dance called Mauya in the Shona language.
Next, Julia wowed audience members with a dance that is a celebration of the vital source of water. Students gasped and cheered as Julia danced with a full ceramic jug of water balanced on her head. Occasionally, the water would jump over the edges of the container – “the water is excited and wants to dance too!” Julia shares with students after the conclusion fo the song.
In a performance meant to rejoice in harvest, Julia and Kanukai performed with baskets containing various seeds and beans. As many of the dances are about weaving a colorful story of everyday life while teaching important life lessons such as goal-setting, perseverance, and thankfulness, students were encouraged to think about the celebratory and community aspects of music and dance for cultures around the world.
The Chinyakare Ensemble then encouraged everyone in the room to stand up and learn the narrative movements of a warrior’s dance while Augusten and Kanukai played marimbas and sang. When asked what the dance was about, one young students raised her hand and shared “I think it’s a dance about planting and growing things, and telling the story of our every day lives”. Together, we celebrated while Julia encouraged students to engage with items that the ensemble had brought with them from Zimbabwe, including mbiras and other instruments, as well as sculptures and wearable accessories. Students handled everything with care and respect, and we left the shared space of the performance feeling the joy of new connections being made!
Youth in Arts extends a special thank you to the California Arts Council, who’s support makes this program possible.
What do we need to play? How can we make it? How can we work together? Kindergarteners at Laurel Dell Elementary School in San Rafael spent a wonderful day building imaginary playgrounds.
Using large pieces of black foam core board at each table, students applied skills they had previously learned about shaping paper. Twisting long strips around pencils made spirals; making feet with folds allowed them to make swings. Folding accordion style made the stairs they needed to climb to a slide.
The young artists also explored pattern but using paper with patterns and creating their own patterns on plain paper with pastels. Working with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, we talked about other patterns we saw in the classroom and what connections we could make. How could we work together? How could we connect our ideas to make one playground?
The project offered rich opportunities for Social Emotional Learning through collaboration and sharing. When one little boy wanted shiny paper, several of his classmates offered him some. In another class, a student happily translated the instructions for her table mate, an English Language Learner. Teacher Alejandra Vazquez helped students connect the project to their real world experience by pointing to the blacktop outside their temporary classroom. If you could design the playground of your dreams, she asked, what would it look like? If you needed shade from the hot sun, how would you find it?
At Youth in Arts, we work hard to scaffold projects, building each week on skills learned earlier in the residency. The project was the second time students created playgrounds. Two weeks earlier. they made smaller, individual playgrounds; the following week they drew their own and a friend’s playground on paper, figuring out how they could connect them.
At the end of class, students went on a gallery walk with their hands behind their back to look at each other’s art. We had a rich discussion about similarities we saw in color, shape and line and all the ways we can make connections.
The program is part of the Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Fund created by Youth in Arts and the Rezaian family and generously supported by the Rezaians. It celebrates Walker’s life and love of the arts and is built around friendship and social emotional learning. How do we make and keep friends? What happens if we both want to build a slide in the same place? It gives children a chance to explore those and other questions in a safe, artistic place.
How do we build a tower? What makes us powerful? How can we build a bridge to connect our current and future selves? Fourth graders at Laurel Dell Elementary School considered these and other questions as they practiced design and build skills through Youth in Arts’ Architects in Schools program.
Through a 12-week residency with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, students measured, designed, built, and drew. They began the residency by coming up with five words to describe themselves and building “towers of power.” Each student received a four-inch square base and had to build within the constraints of that size. After building individual towers, they formed pairs and brainstormed ways to connect the towers as a single bridge.
The residency ended with the creation of tiny bridges within a wooden box, connecting their current and future selves. Students spent time brainstorming about what they wanted to be, any obstacles they needed to overcome, and what career they wish to pursue. They looked at bridges from around the world and considered how they were designed, taking into account strength and aesthetics. They developed visual images for each, such as books for a career as a librarian and a camera and globe for a future world traveler. The building materials were simple: toothpicks, buttons, Q-tips, paper scraps and other found objects.
“It was really exciting to see students improve from week to week, tackling each project with curiosity,” Cathy said. “It’s important to find as many ways as possible to support young people as they try to find out who they are and who they want to become.”
With the pilot project now in its fourth year, Youth in Arts placed mentor artists or teaching architects in K-5th grade classes at Laurel Dell Elementary School in San Rafael. Each grade’s curriculum builds on the previous year’s skills. As with all our programs, we strive to foster confidence, creativity and compassion in all learners by offering innovative programs and teaching multiple ways. The Architects in Schools program was launched in 2016 with Youth in Arts in collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Y-PLAN/Center for Cities + Schools .
We hope to expand this program to more sites in the future.
By Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman
This year, I decided to start all of my art classes with a Brain Dance, a series of movements developed by dance educator and author Anne Green Gilbert to wake up the brain and improve focus. Often I see students at the end or beginning of the day, when they are restless or tired. My five-minute version of the Brain Dance helps reinvigorate them while focusing on re-mapping of brain-body connections.
Inevitably it’s the wiggly students, the ones who need it the most, who are the most resistant. As an introduction activity, the Brain Dance acts as a daily assessment tool for my students. Who is having trouble calming their body or mind? Who has trouble with cross lateral movements? Who confuses left and right? Even, how is their sense of self today? Watching them move gives me valuable information about what skills they may find challenging when it comes to art making or the level of engagement I may need to address.
The dance includes eight patterns of movement, starting and ending with the breath. Deep breathing is essential for all healthy bodies. When children are stressed, it’s no coincidence that they take short, shallow breaths. Starting and ending with belly breaths means more oxygen for young brains. From breath, the Brain Dance moves through the developmental patterns of movement (the movements we take in our first year after birth) to the most integrated pattern, cross-lateral connectivity. Cross-lateral is the pattern that crosses the four quadrants of the body (upper, lower, right, left) which supports higher thinking and even eye tracking used for reading and reading-readiness.
Recently I had a kindergartener who always wore a serious expression. Adrian solemnly watched his classmates do the Brain Dance, week after week, without joining in. On the seventh week, he spontaneously started participating in the warm up with a big smile on his face. Instead of saying “good job” or “well done” (vague) I looked for something specific in Adrian’s movements that I could point out, and others could follow. He found confidence in his kinesthetic learning that day; and my acknowledgement of his effort (by name) reinforced his effort and ability. He became a positive role model for the rest of the class.
When I started doing the Brain Dance it felt uncomfortable for me, since I see myself as a visual artist rather than a dancer. But as we learn more about how children learn and absorb information in multiple ways, integrating different art forms makes sense. When Laurel Dell 2nd graders visited the YIA Gallery recently, they learned an extended version of the Brain Dance from Youth in Arts’ Executive Director Kristen Jacobson. I picked up some tips as well.
The Brain Dance also helps teachers stay centered and focused. Who doesn’t need a belly breath during the day? You can learn more about the Brain Dance by viewing this video, Brain Dance, which is a part of Youth in Arts Digital Tool Kit.
Thank you to our very generous donors, sponsors and partners:
We are excited to announce that architect Shirl Buss, who has helped develop Youth in Arts’ Architects in Schools program for elementary school children in Marin, has won the 2019 Pamela Levine award!
The Pamela Levine Arts Education Leadership Award was presented at the opening of the Inspire art exhibit at the YIA Gallery. Now in its fifth year, the Inspire exhibit showcases the personal work of teaching artists that was inspired by their work with students. Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal presented the award to Shirl on behalf of the Youth in Arts board and staff. The award is given to individuals for exceptional accomplishments in arts education in memory of Youth in Arts’ former Executive Director Pamela Levine.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Shirl for the past four years, when she began teaching architecture at Laurel Dell. I have learned so much from her,” Suzanne said in an address to Shirl. “She clearly embodies Youth in Arts’ goals for learners: Creativity, Compassion and Confidence through arts learning. It is clear to all who work with you, Shirl, that you love what you do, and you love your students.” Suzanne continued. “The respect you have for creatives of all sizes is clear in every interaction you have with people.”
Shirl is a designer, planner and educator whose work focuses on children, youth and the built environment. She holds a masters in Early Childhood Development and an M.Arch and Ph.D from the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Shirl is the Y-PLAN Elementary Director at the Center for Cities + Schools at UC Berkeley. At Laurel Dell Elementary School in San Rafael, she is a key member of a team of Youth in Arts Mentor Artists teaching design and build skills to 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.
More than 60 people turned out for the celebration, many of them friends and colleagues who work with Buss in the East Bay. Also in attendance was Youth in Arts Executive Director Kristen Jacobson and Pepe Gonzalez, principal of Laurel Dell and Short elementary schools.
“If you guys saw the artwork that these kids have created – 3 Dimensional, to scale, not to scale … it’s everything that the Common Core was supposed to be,” Pepe said. “These kids are living it and breathing it and doing it every day.”
Suzanne also read comments from Laurel Dell students who have studied with Shirl:
“Dear Ms. Buss, you taught me and my class how to speak in public, also how to be a creative scholar. You gave me the opportunity to think about my future chances,” wrote one student.
Another wrote: “Dear Ms. Buss, you taught me to never give up. You make me happy.”
Some students talked about how much Ms.Buss inspired them when they made model tree houses.
“Dear Ms. Buss, thank you for teaching me to be creative and bringing my imagination to another level,” one student wrote. “You are like a bird in the sky teaching kids to use their imagination.”
The Inspire exhibit is on display through Jan. 17 at the YIA Gallery, located at 917 C St. in the beautiful Downtown San Rafael Arts District. Regular gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 11 am. to 4 p.m. The Art Lab is always open when we are: children and grown-ups can come in and make art for free.