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Julia Chigamba and the Chinyakare Ensemble at Dance Palace

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. 

 

Fourth Graders as Architects and Designers

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.

Engaging Students through Movement: Why I teach the brain dance

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:

Mixing Skin Tones

How do I make brown? How many different shades of brown can I make? Second graders at Short and Laurel Dell elementary schools practiced mixing colors using only the primaries red, yellow and blue plus white.

We worked with tempera paint, waxy black markers and mat board. First we traced our own hands and the hands of our table mates, overlapping to create interesting shapes. We mixed different browns carefully and painted in each area. It was fun to see how purple and yellow make a brown that is different from the brown that blue and orange makes. We used donated mat board instead of paper to give students a velvety and durable service on which to work. Mat board is especially helpful with children with learning differences as it offers a strong sensory response, and won’t crumple with lots of paint.

Working with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, we have been exploring identity and our role in our communities and neighborhoods. The lesson followed a multi-week project in which students created richly detailed murals using collage papers, pastels and glue. In each class, we designed and envisioned our dream neighborhood after looking at artists Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold and others.

Thank you to Lo Forti Fine Prints in San Anselmo for the generous donation of mat board.

STEAM Field Trip to the YIA Gallery: Circles are Systems!

We love to connect with students in the Youth in Arts Gallery! The YIA Gallery is one of the few in the nation devoted solely to showcasing art by children.

Olive Elementary School kindergarten and first grade students visited the YIA Gallery recently for a field trip that explored shapes, systems and machines. Their teacher Emma Donovan had participated in this summer’s STEAM institute with Youth in Arts, the Marin County Office of Education and other experts. She wanted her students to have an experience connected to what she learned in the STEAM Institute.

“Our free field trips are a wonderful opportunity to tie classroom curriculum to arts learning,” said Youth in Arts’ Development Director Kelsey Rieger. “This experience was focused on STEAM with embodied learning teaching.”

Kelsey was joined by Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal and Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. We took the students on a gallery walk to look at the child-created works in the gallery, followed by the Brain Dance to warm up. We talked about circles we could make sitting down, and circles we could see in the art. We made circles with our elbows and noses. In the YIA Studio, we sat in a big circle and learned about systems and machines, first by pushing a giant purple ball back and forth at different speeds. We noticed that a ball can’t move by itself. While holding hands, we also sent energy around the room with a silent squeeze. It took concentration and practice to not lose the squeeze.

The final exercise was a fun way to talk about machines. Students were proud to show what they knew about different kinds of machines, and what those machines could do. Suzanne started the exercise by making a machine motion and sound.  As she continued, the next volunteer joined her to make a sound and motion that connected to hers. More students joined in, each making a different sound and motion. In the end, we had a large human-made machine with noises and motions working together.

We talked about where our machines lived and what they could do. One group made a machine that made snowflakes and lived in the ocean; another imaginary machine  handled climate change in the desert.  We concluded the field trip by creating a machine which included everyone and was made of familiar sounds and motions: a train.

Field trips are 45 minutes and always feature an age-appropriate hands-on arts activity. Children also learn techniques for looking at and talking about art. For more information, contact Youth in Arts’ Program Director, Kelsey Rieger: kelsey@youthinarts.org or at (415) 457-4878 x110.

2nd Graders Build Thriving Neighborhoods

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.

Laurel Dell Students Create Word Mural

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.”

Social Emotional Learning with the Oklahoma Arts Institute

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 Miko Lee and Kelsey Rieger 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:

  1. Self Awareness: Who Am I?
  2. Social Awareness: Who am I in relation to the world around me?
  3. Self Management: How do I fit in to the world around me?
  4. Relationship Skills: How do I connect, listen and communicate with diverse people?
  5. Responsible Decision-Making: How do I make informed choices while considering how this will affect me and those around me?

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. 

Resources

Painting Sculptures and Exploring Color

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.

STEAM Summer Learning at Lu Sutton

 

Exploring the local creek and designing their own natural playgrounds, creating songs about protecting the world, discovering the details in individual leaves and creating posters, learning vocabulary through dance games, using sculptures to explore science. These are some of the new experiences that teachers led summer school students through at the University Prep Summer School.

Teachers attended the Marin County Office of Education and Youth in Arts’ recent STEAM workshop and put their learning into practice to make their own art-infused program at Lu Sutton Elementary School in Novato.

Earlier this month, Youth in Arts joined the Marin County Office of Education and a team of educators and experts to conduct a workshop on STEAM learning.  K-12 teachers were asked to rethink how they could teach the California Environmental Principles and Concepts.

Lisa Heslip, principal of the summer school program at Lu Sutton,  said students were happy, well behaved and engaged. Students made a giant “Making Learning Visible” paper wall documenting their learning that was posted in the courtyard of the school. The 1st through 5th grade students focused on the environment, looking at everything from how animals and people interact to their own carbon footprint.

Among other things, students considered the eyeball of a cow, putting the contents in a plastic bag, labeling the optic nerve, cornea and other parts, and taping the ball to the wall. “I wonder where tears come from?” pondered a student. Lower grade levels looked at creating sustainable playgrounds.

Heslip took photos and posted them on the wall, and students added their own drawings and Post It notes with questions and observations.

“They stop at it all the time,” Heslip said. “It represents them. It’s not teacher created at all.”

Summer schools teachers also had intensive coaching by members of Agency By Design Oakland, who helped them with curriculum planning and were present during classroom teaching, Heslip said.

“When you think of English Language (Learners), it’s getting them to talk and express their ideas … giving them the opportunity to use academic language,” Heslip said. “What better way to do it than with a hands on activity?”

Preliminary research shows an increase in student summer school attendance (100% this year!) Teachers say they felt “inspired” and “reinvigorated” to go back into the classroom with these new tools.

 

Thank you to the California Department of Education’s Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant, Marin County Office of Education and Marin Community Foundation for helping to make this work possible.

 

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