As schools scramble to find virtual ways to reach their students, Madera Elementary School stands out as a model for continuing to provide its students access to innovative arts programs.
Youth in Arts teaching artists had just started an 11-week music program at the El Cerrito elementary school when the coronavirus pandemic forced Madera to close temporarily.
That didn’t discourage Madera leaders. The Madera Elementary Foundation, comprised of school families, met with Youth in Arts staff and teachers via Zoom to work out the details of how to create a virtual program. Thanks to those efforts, music programs in nearly 20 classrooms resumed after Spring Break. Instead of being together in a classroom, students tune in online.
“Madera has really gone the extra mile to ensure their students continue to receive the arts they deserve,” said Youth in Arts Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal. “We’re not giving up and neither are they.”
Youth in Arts has three teaching artists at Madera. They are: Brian Dyer, who teaches vocal and beginning percussion in kindergarten and first grade; Aaron Kierbel, who teaches percussion and drum in second grade; and Antwan Davis, who teaches body percussion and rhythm in third through sixth grades.
Youth in Arts Program Director Kelsey Rieger, who coordinated the move to digital teaching, said she hopes more schools will follow Madera’s lead.
“This is really the way of the future,” Kelsey said. “When schools partner with us, we find innovative ways to provide meaningful programs. It’s more important than ever than students have healthy and creative ways to express themselves.”
Youth in Arts has another Madera connection as well. Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman attended the school in second and third grade.
“Madera was a great place to go to school,” Cathy said. “It’s nice to know that hasn’t changed.”
Once again our fabulous cast of Youth in Arts Mentor Artists created art, community and opportunities for students in the Bay Area. Students in 25 Special Day Classes, Pre-K to Post-Secondary, explored techniques in Visual Art, Music, Dance and Theater and shared their talents with the community through culminating events.
The Arts Unite Us program aims to make high quality arts opportunities accessible to students of all abilities and to build understanding and acceptance in our communities. This year students from Redwood High School, Harding Elementary and Mount Tamalpais High School participated in collaborative residencies in which students from Special Day Classes and General Education classes worked together to create art.
Teachers in the Special Day Classes we serve value the program and what YIA Mentor Artists bring to their classroom:
“I am always so blown away and impressed with all the skills learned by our students during the YIA sessions, but am especially impressed with the leadership skills, creative thinking, self-expression and artistic expression that our students learn. The YIA artists and lessons bring out skills in my students that I don’t always have the opportunity to bring out. Without the professional artists coming into our classes, we do not have the access to adults with these skills at our schools. Mainstream classes can be too impacted, and general education teachers are not always equipped to handle the needs of students with special needs in their classes. Having art activities that are tailored to meet our students needs enables all students to access curriculum and experiences that their general education peers receive.” SDC Teacher Rachel Hughes, Terra Linda High School
Under the guidance of YIA Mentor Artist William Rossel, students from Katie Peter’s Special Day class worked with students from the Band program and opened the music concert at Redwood High School with a percussion piece. YIA Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs worked with Tam High’s Julianna Rees to lead students from Michael Lovejoy’s Special Day Class and Advanced Theater students in writing and performing an original play. At Harding Elementary, YIA Mentor Artist Thomas Arndt lead a group of 40 students in writing, directing and performing a play that incorporated American Sign Language and featured students from Harding’s HOH (Hard of Hearing) program.
ASL Translator Paul says this about the program at Harding:
“I have truly enjoyed being a part of The Arts Unite Us program and watching HOH students as well as other students in the classroom where I work grow in confidence in their class room participation. Maya, the primary HOH student I work with rarely spoke up in class. This changed dramatically after she started participating in the program and after taking on a significant speaking part in the play. It is amazing to see how her and other students confidence begin to soar so quickly!”
Each of these experiences have left a lasting impact on the students involved. Many students from Special Day Classes and HOH programs performed in front of their peers for the first time. Many of the General Education students had their first experience interacting with their peers who have abilities that are different than their own, gaining understanding and empathy.
This is what a few General Education students had to say about that experience:
“I loved participating in this project. I thought it was a great way for me to learn about people who have different abilities. I learned that they have the ability to create great things.”
“It was really fun to meet and interact with the Special Ed class. They were so sweet and friendly. I learned that some things that are easy to me are difficult to other people.”
“I had fun! I really enjoyed spending time with the [Special Ed] kids and would do it again. I learned they often have interesting ways of thinking about things. It was interesting to hear their perspectives.”
“I learned that everyone is unique in their own way. Not everyone does the same moves or talks frequently. I feel like I’ve learned so much about interacting with other people.”
As the creator and director of the Arts Unite Us program, I am so proud of the work we have done over the years and I have witnessed first hand the impacts that this program has had on students, teachers, artists and families. This program has served as a catalyst for progress, acceptance, understanding and art making that will last a lifetime.
This year, as I step down as Program Director, I pass the torch over to my colleagues at Youth in Arts so that they may continue to promote accessible programming for everyone in our community. I would like to thank every artist, teacher, administrator and student who has participated in this program. And, thank you to those who have provided much needed funding for this program, including Thomas J Long Foundation, The Green Foundation, Marin Community Foundation, Green Foundation, Marin Charitable, and Italian Street Painting Marin.