917 "C" Street
San Rafael, California 94901
This year, in the Arts Unite Us After-School Playwriting and Performance Group, we created an immensely powerful show about the need to celebrate diversity. The story and themes were built over 15-weeks together of 2-hour sessions with a 38 member cast at Harding Elementary. Once we had picked a topic and a frame (Time Travel and the Future), the students created short skits, which we used as fodder for our playwriting.
Starting in the bleak future, where it’s the law that your favorite color is GRAY, “The Futuristas” soon find themselves chased by robot enforcers for admitting that they love BLUE. They are saved in the nick of time by “The Time Traveling Triplets,” (played, ironically, NOT by the actual triplets who are in the class), and soon find themselves traveling through time (and space?) to learn their forgotten history. Dinosaurs teach them lessons of bio-diversity, with the Spirits of the Really Past reminding The Futuristas “YOUR survival depends on YOUR diversity.” Then they are swept into an era of Social Justice Heroes, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks to Audre Lorde to I. King Jordan (the first deaf president of Gallaudet University). For the I. King Jordan piece, we had Paul, our interpreter, work with a hearing student who has a passion for American Sign Language. For her piece, Paul switched from interpreting in ASL to speaking out loud, and it was a joy to see some of the non-hearing kids in the front row of the audience light up as the actors began to speak their language. ”DEAF PRESIDENT NOW!”
In the end, by celebrating diversity, the Futuristas were able to get people in the Present to commit to getting off their phones and connecting with each other in more direct ways. When they finally returned to the future, April 1st (the day of our show) had become an international “Diversity Day!”
The process was one of community building and personal growth. Many students in the class do not see themselves as actors or performers, but stepped up in big ways and let their voices be loud and proud. After each performance, we had a “Talk-Back” session with the audience, inviting first the audience to give appreciations and then speak to what they learned from the show. The actors then responded with how it felt to hear their work celebrated and it was clear that they all felt deeply proud of themselves for the work they had done.
We are excited to keep this program going, as it serves so many purposes from artistic expression to social-emotional skill building to team work. I’m so proud of the Harding kids and wish them all a fabulous summer!
By YIA Mentor Artist Sophie Cooper
The final piece, inspired by Wassily Kandinsky’s Color Study: Squares With Concentric Circles, will be hung in the classroom to brighten the lives of the students and staff. Oil pastel and watercolor on canvas.
Written by YIA Mentor Artist, Marty Meade
VSA Braun High School
Braun High School changed the Clinical component this year, and the approach to working with these “At Risk” Students is different.
These are Junior and Senior High School students who suffer from emotional problems. Many have disruptive control issues, others suffer deep depression. My challenge, is how to connect with them as a group. Those students with control issues need to be ‘reeled’ in, so that they do not sabotage those who suffer depression.
I prepared a variety of art projects that would not only help them to express what they cannot talk about, but those that would provide them to new skills:
Upside Drawing Exercise using Watercolors: learning to see in a new way, and how to control a medium that is difficult. These pieces were matted in pre-cut mats.
Canvas/Acrylic paintings: using a medium that can be controlled. Some students used drafting tape to create straight lines and patterns.
Haunted House: a photograph of a classic haunted house evokes hidden feelings. In this exercise, a child revealed that he was carrying a secret that he was NEVER going to reveal, and that he hadn’t ‘gotten sick’ yet. Another student was able to use rainbow colors behind the house to communicate about being bisexual… In each incident, I shared this information with the Clinical staff
Sugar Skulls: We talk about Day of the Dead being a universal celebration at this time of year… Remembering loved ones, and also to be thankful for the harvests that we receive at this time. We used Royal Icing and Candied sugar for this project. This project always brings up discussions about families, their beliefs, and members that have died.
Glass Fusing/Jewelry and Small Plates: I decided to do this project for two days, as not all of the students were sure of the results. There was a particularly powerful breakthrough with a junior high school student named “Jerry”. He has been off the wall each week, unable to sit in my group with out disrupting. I met with the Director and Jerry before we began and told him that we were using material that would be potentially dangerous (cut glass), and asked if he thought he could control himself enough to participate. He shrugged his shoulder and the Director indicated that that meant “Yes.” When Jerry came in he joked a few minutes, but then asked me to show him how to cut glass. He watched closely, following the precise direction that he needed without cutting himself. A few minutes later, he was completely engaged, focused and creating two beautiful pieces. I called the Director to observe what was going on, as it had not happened all year, and suggested that he be given more hands-on experiences.
Moments like Jerry’s breakthrough, or moments when a student confides in me and accepts the fact that I have to report it because “they mean something to me,” is why I continue this work.
Thank you again for supporting me to do this valuable work.
by Mentor Artist Gabrielle Gamboa
The young artists I have been working with at Oak Hill, a school for students with Autism and other learning differences, have been learning weaving and printmaking techniques with our last few sessions of the year.
Student work in progress.
A finished student weaving.
Each student had a small personal loom. I brought a selection of richly textures yarn for students to chose from to weave bold patterns. We finished the weavings off with tassels we made, and mounted the weavings on sticks gathered on a walk. Weaving was just one option for the older group of students. Some chose to finish previous art projects.
One student weaves, another finishes a kaleidocycle, and a third sketches a personal logo.
A student draws a pattern on a kaleidocycle.
The next group of projects involved printmaking. First we rolled ink on sheets of acrylic to make monotypes. We drew on some of our paper with oil pastel before printing for a layered result. Next, we made simple block prints, drawing on foam scratch sheets to make printing plates. We printed on top of some of our monotypes for more texture. The final project for the younger students was to combine both types of printing into a monoprint. They had developed strong printmaking skills by this time, and made bold color choices! The older students branched out even more for their final project, silkscreen printing. They made abstract designs using tape stencils, and made runs of colorful prints on beautiful Japanese printmaking paper.
Student monotype prints.
Student monotypes and mono prints.
Student monotypes and monoprints.
Student pulling a screen print.
I had a great semester at Oak Hill, and I am going to miss these dynamic young artists very much!
Enjoy this blog written by YIA Mentor Artist William Rossel about his recent residency in Erin Muldoon’s class at Venetia Valley Elementary School:
I have been very lucky to work with the students in Erin Muldoon’s class for 3 years now. We have been using music and percussion to reach some important goals, including communication skills and fine motor control, and I am proud to say all of the students have made great gains. Some of the goals that we’ve been working towards have been being able to reach and touch the musical icons on a schedule, or to hold onto mallets for drum-play. Other goals include being able to verbalize wants, or when that’s not possible to communicate through other means. For example, I ask each student to help me come up with a rhythm by choosing long or short notes and they have to annunciate which notes they’d like. We’ve made huge progress on both of these fronts (fine motor and verbal communication) with all of the students. It’s been really exciting to see.
Our typical musical exercises include beat counting/playing, call-and-response (i.e. taking turns), making/playing basic long-short patterns, jamming, and playing to recorded music. This last exercise is one of the most fun. Each week, I ask one student to share with us a musical artist that they like (Erin and the staff have it all down, playlists and everything) and we play their music and accompany it with our drums. It is super fun and it gives the students a chance to try to verbalize their wants and to participate in making music with their favorite artists.
In this school we had a great culminating event where we invited parents and other students to come watch what we do. It was a huge success and I’m so grateful that one of the moms loved it so much and saw the value of what we are doing that she funded another 5 sessions herself. So cool!
I am also so grateful to Erin and all of her staff which have always been nothing less than amazing! Looking forward to more!
YIA Mentor Artist William Rossel
Marina Middle Schoolers ready for summer!
Spring is bouncing into summer and hundreds of young artists around the North Bay are finishing class projects and creating exhibits, performances and other artful events for family and friends with Youth in Arts.
Recent posts have highlighted Spring projects by K-Dub Williams’ students at Marina Middle School and Angela Baker’s students at Harding Elementary, in addition to the amazing work created by Suzanne Joyal’s kindergarteners at Loma Verde as part of the Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts program. Youth in Arts also produced a special “Passport Art Event” at Harding, and Nydia Gonzalez and Shawna Alapa’i concluding performing arts residencies at Ocean View Elementary in Albany and Sonoma Mountain Elementary.
Students of all abilities perform together at Tam High
In late May, Arts Unite Us “collaborative residency” projects at Harding and at Tam High School in Mill Valley wrapped up with terrific performances by all the students. Collaborative residencies bring together special education and general education students for shared arts experiences. At Harding, students wrote, directed and performed an original play “Lydia and the Land of Gee-Jo” around themes of Pollution, Bullying, Self Acceptance, New Beauty Standards and Taking Care of Each Other. At Tam High , the original pilot site for the collaborative residency program, students from the Special Day Class and advanced Conservatory Theatre Ensemble worked with Mentor Artists Suraya Keating and Melissa Briggs to write and perform their original play, “By my Side,” which opened the school’s popular One Acts Festival.
Hip Hop at Bahia Vista with Kaitlin
Tommy Shepherd’s students at Wade Thomas put an exclamation mark on their rap and beatboxing residency with a performance of their original rap for their peers at school, and Kaitlin McGaw’s kindergarteners at Bahia Vista will soon perform a vocal music and hip hop show for their fourth grade buddies.
At Laurel Dell in San Rafael, Djenane Saint-Juste has been teaching students Caribbean dance around the theme of Kanaval (Carnivale), using costume pieces the students created this Fall with visual artist Gabby Gamboa. The students will perform in a grand parade with family and friends at the school’s big Fiesta del Sol event this weekend. And at Mary Silveira, Mentor Artist Julia James finished a successful year with a big art show featuring work by all her K-4 students in the program.
Youth in Arts award-winning `Til Dawn a cappella ensemble performed their annual Spring Concert at San
`Til Dawn 2014 Graduating Seniors
Domenico Hall of the Arts this past weekend–a big congratulations to all the performers for a wonderful show and a special shout out to our graduating seniors. We will miss you!
Also at San Domenico, Youth in Arts workshopped a new performance of “Goodnight Gorilla” on May 23 with music by Dee Spencer performed by a terrific band of Bay Area music educators and musicians who are working with us to develop the work into an educational performance piece for youth jazz bands.
Workshopping Goodnight Gorilla at San Domenico
You can see it’s been a very busy Spring, full of fabulous art and fabulous young artists. Watch this blog for more detailed reports on many of these projects in the weeks ahead and get ready to celebrate summer with Youth in Arts! Come see `Til Dawn at Youth in Arts night with the Pacifics, visit our Everything Under the Sun YIA Gallery exhibit, sign up for a unique summer camp program, check out the Mountain Play and benefit Youth in Arts with your ticket purchase, or join us for our gala Summer Solstice celebration at Studio 333 on June 21. We’d love to see you in person and share our work with you. Happy summer!
Arts Unite Us Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin writes about her work with Rockne Beeman’s Special Day Class
I have been incredibly lucky to work with Rockne Beeman’s upper elementary special day class for the past seven years. It is the first time I have worked with a community for such a long period of time. These children and teachers have taught me more about teaching and being a mother than any book I ever read or class I have taken.
I started teaching music and dance in Rockne’s class when I was 6 months pregnant with my first child. I brought in songs and ideas that worked in other special day classes. Some worked and some….not so much. I remember Phyllis, one of the aides in the classroom guiding me along with a smile and advice like, “just move on. You’ll learn soon enough that you’ve just got to roll with it when kids don’t get it at first,” and, “It doesn’t have to be just right today. Sometimes it just takes time.” When I was stuck, Rockne always had advice and articles to share, and Betty, another classroom aide, always has a way of finding humor even in the most difficult of situations. They are also quick to help and understand when one of my children was sick, teething or just going through the terrible two’s.
The students have shown such growth over the years. The children who have been in the class for several years have started leading portions of the class and choose their favorite songs. For some, there are songs that have become the touchstone that pulls them out of tantrums, and other songs and games have filtered into many areas of the classroom day.
The experience is wonderful every year,and I hope I am lucky enough to have many more with them.
I walked into the special day class classroom I have visited for years, and “L” was having a fit. Yelling, rolling on the floor and spreading general unhappiness. The teachers and I tried numerous interventions, but nothing worked until we decided to pull out one of the “magic scarves.” This simple, oversized scarf works miracles in my classes. Once the scarf was over “L,” she immediately calmed down and even participated in that day’s music lesson.
This is just one of many times this scarf has come in handy. It is hard to say what makes it so engaging. Students of varying abilities find it fascinating. They follow it with their gaze, dance with it and will generally follow any direction as long as they get to interact with it.
There are a few specific ways I use this scarf. First, I use it to encourage eye tracking or to bring focus to an area of the room. It also helps to remind students to change levels in a dance and encourages a specific quality of movement, I also have students hold one end of the scarf while I move the other end. Using this technique, almost every student will match my movements.
Though I am not sure of the reason for my students’ fascination with my scarves, I am grateful for its effectiveness, and I plan to continue to use it in years to come.
Last year I wrote a blog suggesting that students’ behaviors should whenever possible be seen as an attempt to communicate. I encouraged my fellow teaching artists to:
1. Find the hidden messages in “behaviors” or “breakdowns”
Those of us that work with special needs students are very familiar with behaviors or breakdowns. Initially the crying, repetitive gestures and outbursts from these students may seem random, but they rarely are. These students have no way of saying “I don’t like this song,” or “The volume is too high.” Ask yourself:
What activity preceded the outburst?
Has this happened before?
What did you or the classroom staff do that calmed the student?
When does this student seem most content?
Sometimes there are even messages in the sounds and words said while in the midst of a tantrum. One of my students “J” threw a tantrum in one of my classes, and after close listening, I realized that he was yelling, “e-i-e-i-o.” He wanted to sing Old MacDonald but didn’t have the vocabulary to express it. So we sang Old MacDonald and he was immediately calmed.
2. “Read” your audience.
A great many skills we develop as performers are transferable to teaching special needs students. One such skill is being able to “read” your audience. After a while we instinctively know when to slow down, speed up or drop a section completely. The same goes for working with students.
If you find your students engaged in a song, repeat it. This populations thrives on repetition, and those with language processing delays will have an opportunity to learn your material. On the other hand, if the class is losing focus or individuals are starting to show behaviors, find a quick stopping place and move on. It takes patience and flexibility to work with special needs kids, and sometimes no matter how wonderful your lesson plan is, you may have to make a quick change.
3. Your greatest resource: The classroom teacher
The special day class teachers are an amazing group of individuals who know their students extremely well. Ask them for advice and listen to them when they make suggestions.
This year I have been considering the difficult situation when I realize what a student is trying to communicate and I have to decide to honor the request or continue with the class. For instance, if a student breaks down in the middle of a song, is it best to stop the song or continue in the hopes that ignoring the behavior will not reinforce it. The simplest answer I have come up with is to look to the classroom teacher for advice, but I am realizing that being a teaching artist with the same children over several years and sometimes through several classrooms can help in this situation. We are in the unique situation of knowing students on a very deep level and can plan and react accordingly sometimes even surprising the classroom teachers. There was a specific instance where we were singing a song, and one fo the students was obviously not enjoying the experience. The classroom teacher and I looked at each other considering what to do. I shared that in the past if I get to the next verse, this child usually calmed down. We tried it, and it worked!
YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin