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Hip Hop with Common Core at Bahia Vista

by Mentor Artist Kaitlin McGaw

In my first teaching artist residency with Youth in Arts, I customized a Common Core/Hip Hop series for four kindergarten classes at Bahia Vista Elementary School in San Rafael’s Canal area.

Dynamite-BahiaVista Alphabet Rockers

Since my songs and curriculum can cross over various topics [shapes, coins, letters, letter sounds, writing, fitness, nutrition, math, etc.], it was a joy to work with our partner educators to focus the workshops on the needs of the students as they closed their first year of school.
As many of the students were learning English as a central part of their school experience, the objectives for the artist residency were to include language proficiency in the ability to retell a story, and a performance of understanding of math terms (less/more). We also wanted to support and augment student opportunities in self-expression.

I used several of the songs from my curriculum to meet these goals, which are outlined at the bottom. In the first week, the students were perhaps a bit shy, learning many new words, formats, and dances with me. By week two, our progress was underway. Our name game “Do Your Thing” gives each student the opportunity to say their name with a dance movement, rhythm or gesture: “I’m Kaitlin… I do my thing!” and hear the class say the name and mirror the movement: “She’s Kaitlin… she does her thing!”

For kindergarteners, learning he/she and do/does are elements of language acquisition. But more interestingly was watching some of the students really come out of their shell over the weeks together, saying their name louder each time. We always give students the option to “pass” – but oftentimes the “pass” I found was merely to provide the student just a few more seconds to think about the gesture or dance move they wanted to share with the class.

Food Calculator Dance Prep












The Food Calculator is an original song we wrote in my group Alphabet Rockers. The song includes learning the b-boy move “the wave” along with learning less/more and healthy food choices. For the purposes of this residency, I added a story about the rockstar who brings 1 food each day to share with her friends. (Monday is 1 apple, Tuesday is 2 grapes)  The students fill in the blanks for what the foods are. At the end of the story, there is a number sense element played out as they bite 1 apple, pick 2 grapes and retell the order of the foods to the teaching artist. We then use a food calculator to decide which snacks were healthy before going into the actual song as a dance. The kids absolutely adored this song and loved performing it and singing it with me.

At the end of the residency, the students performed for one another, learning terms for “audience” and “performers” as well as expected behavior for both within the arts world. The boys performed “Dynamite” for the girls, and vice versa. They then shared compliments with one another with what they noticed in the performance. It was an opportunity to celebrate the students’ strengths while also reinforcing the ability to say a complete sentence, such as “Josue – I like the way you danced.”

I look forward to working with additional schools to customize curriculum for music/movement with Common Core goals, including adding in beatboxing and rhythm and making letters with our bodies as a way to reinforce early literacy.

Here are the songs I used for the residency:

  • Good Morning Song [Listen here: http://www.alphabetrockers.com/music]
  • Do Your Thing [watch teachers do it here: http://vimeo.com/85632098]
  • Dynamite [Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jepxZWR3EH0]
  • Food Calculator [Listen here: http://www.alphabetrockers.com/music]
  • Shape Rap [Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zxwLSjCfaI]
  • Rhythm Games through “Can I Kick It” by A Tribe Called Quest

Renaissance Drawing at Davidson Middle School

By Mentor Artist Gabrielle Gamboa

As part of the Travel the World program, I conducted a fun and challenging Renaissance Drawing workshop for the 7th Grade History students of Davidson Middle School in San Rafael. This two day workshop was a hands-on lesson in Renaissance artists and their unique innovations. After a discussion of the apprenticeship system of the era, students chose a Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci master drawing to copy on tinted charcoal paper. I talked about how copying a master drawing was an important exercise in an apprentice’s studio education!

Each master drawing came with a transparent grid that we then copied on the charcoal paper. Next, we discussed the types of drawing tools used during the Renaissance era, and students practiced using vine and compressed charcoal, and sanguine and umber Conte crayons (soft, earth toned colored pencils.)

I then demonstrated the technique of making a more accurate copy by drawing only one small grid square at a time, copying the contours of shapes and lines, and then adding shading. I demonstrated how turning an image upside-down can sometimes make it easier to copy clearly. Some students chose to start in pencil and then switch to charcoal or conte, others chose to draw entirely in charcoal and/or conte.

rendraw4 rendraw3 rendraw2 rendraw1

This lesson directly connected to their history studies, and the students were impressed at how well the old grid drawing technique worked to make more accurate drawings!

5th Grade Science Cards: A Cumulative Reflection

by YIA Mentor Artist Katy Bernheim

What would be a fun, creative way to reflect on topics covered throughout the year in Science class?  This May in the 5th grade at Hall Middle School, the Science teacher, Ted Stoeckley, the students, and I put together greeting cards using a variety of techniques to summarize and reflect on the ideas and concepts of 5th grade science.

IMG_3164_2We started with printmaking.  This would be the image for the front of the card.  Before I came to the class, the students had drawn 4 thumbnail sketches depicting their favorite Science topic, experiment or concept.  There were clouds, the water cycle, bottle rockets, crystals, pendulums.  We talked about block printing and the scratch foam we would be using as a printing plate, and what kinds of images would work best for that medium.  The students then transferred their drawings to the foam.

Next we explored some simple pop-up paper engineering techniques.  We cut first- and second-generation folds into cardstock to make stairsteps; we cut second folds into first generation folds to create an in-and-out look.  The students helped each other trouble shoot what they did to get a result they didn’t expect.  Why wasn’t it popping out?  Why didn’t it stair step?  The kids kept these cards as a warm up to their final piece.

Next we printed our foam plates.  Listening for the just the right sound that told us we had enough, but not too much, ink on the brayer, the students inked up their plates and printed images on four pieces of paper.  They had four colors to choose from, in any combination.  Everyone had at least one good print to choose from for the cover of their card.

During our last meeting we put it all together.  The students chose their favorite image, and chose one of four colors of card stock.  Building on the structures they had learned previously, the kids made a new card with added shapes, extensions and drawings to illustrate the concept they had chosen.  They finished off the cards with some research and text to explain their idea in more detail.


A Playground For The Imagination

Mentor Artist Sophie Cooper writes about her work with first grade students at San Ramon elementary

This Spring I had the joy of collaborating with over 70 enthusiastic first-grade artists at San Ramon elementary school in Novato for a Ceramics and 3-Dimensional Sculpting residency. Tying into the first-grade curriculum on habitats, each student chose an animal and sculpted their animal out of clay and finally designed a diorama habitat for their clay creature to live within.

One class session was spent building paper playgrounds in preparation for creating the habitat dioramas. Students were given strips of colored paper, a few basic construction techniques and the invitation to create structures that they could explore and play on. The entire session was a flurry of excitement as students created the playgrounds of their wildest imaginations. A simple strip of paper became a slide, a ladder, a tunnel, a swing – anything they could think of. Walking around the room, I asked students how they would play on their structures and they eagerly explained how every line and shape could be interacted with, suddenly taking on a texture, a function and a purpose.


Imagination is a precious thing. It is a delicate quality and one that is not always nurtured or encouraged in our fast-paced, goal-driven society. Not unlike an animal of the wild, it requires a space where it can be, explore, nourish and express itself. The imagination cannot exist without a habitat. That day in the classroom, I began to realize that while the students’ imagination was creating the physical playground, the colorful swooping lines of color became the space that invited the imagination out from hiding, a space for it to breathe and play and explore.

DSCN6313    DSCN6305    DSCN6323

Students brought this same level of active imagination to every stage of the project, from sculpting and glazing their ceramic animals, to painting their backgrounds in oil pastels and watercolor and constructing the trees, grasses, mountains and caves for their animals to live within.

IMG_0851  DSCN6382 IMG_0853

During my final discussion with one of the classes on the last day of the residency, I asked the students a basic but often elusive question: “What does it mean to be an artist?” One student raised her hand, sitting up onto her knees and bouncing enthusiastically. When I called on her, she spoke: “It’s when you have your imagination and you just go with it.”

I smiled, speechless and grateful for the wisdom of youth.

img_9943_0026  img_9951_0034  img_9952_0035img_9948_0031  img_9949_0032  DSCN6399  img_9929_0012  img_9946_0029  img_9961_0044img_9954_0037  img_9958_0041  img_9963_0046

Marina Middle Schoolers Design Snap Backs with K-Dub

Mentor Artist Keith “K-Dub” Williams worked with young artists in Ms. Mankus’s art classes at Marina Middle School in San Francisco to create unique, personal Snap-backs. Students learned to design, prep, and paint their custom hats in this six-week project.

“I like the whole hat because I created it myself. It is not the best hat at all, but I am quite proud.” – Jennifer, grade 7

Step One: working on paper with colored pencils, Students design their message.

Step One: working on paper with colored pencils, Students design their message.










Students were asked: What is important to you? What do you want people to know about you?

“My design makes me feel calm and peaceful. It doesn’t show any signs of sadness or anger. I guess it all screams HAPPY.” – Valentin, grade 7

“What I like best about my work is that it says I love music.” – Kelly, grade 8

Hat drawings were cut out, and self-portraits were added.

Hat drawings were cut out, and self-portraits were added.













Next, Students chose a hat color and primed it with gesso to create a “canvas” for their message.

“I was thoughtful and careful when I painted the hat, keeping constantly in mind that my hands had to be very stable while holding the brush and cap.” – Malia, grade 8

K-Dub with student trying on his primed hat.

K-Dub with student trying on his primed hat.









And then students added COLOR: Lots and Lots of COLOR!

“Creating this hat was very fun. I think that this project was the best one yet. I felt that the hat was talking to me in colors.” – Jonas, grade 7

hat jacintha

Adding Fine details












“While I was painting, I kept thinking , will this hat come out as good as I planned? I was feeling determined because everyone was finishing their hats. What I like best about my hat is the mouth, because it too so long (to finish).” – Kai, grade 8


group donna and kid

Ms. Mankus offering fine art advice










“I think we are really lucky because we get to create this artwork, because most people don’t have the chance to.” – Melissa, grade 8

girl arctic monkeys

Eacg design was so unique and personal












“(This project) took a long time, and I liked how if you mess up you can paint over (the mistake). I had a feeling I would fail, but then in the end it looked awesome.” – Aidin, grade 6

boy diamonds hat

Adding contrasting colors to Purple hat













boy batman hat


The finished pieces are spectacular!





kdub girl  hat

“The thing I like most about my hat is the nickname Mr. K-Dub wrote for me! (It’s like an autograph with my nickname). I would like you to know…this is the best project we have done so far.” – Winnie, grade 8

hats flower power

Collaboration and teamwork










group 6 girls



Seven Years Good Luck!

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.


Hello My Friends from Ocean View Elementary!

Show it to a friend!

Show it to a friend!

Over the past 4 months I had the pleasure of making music with the amazing students and teachers at Ocean View Elementary and Albany Children’s Center in the T-K, K and K-1 classrooms.  I had such a wonderful time working with the students and exploring so many beautiful ways to make music together!  It has been such a pleasure learning with them and I am very grateful for their ideas and enthusiasm for making music!

During our 10 weeks together we explored how to make sounds with our bodies, voices and instruments.  We learned about musical elements including: tempo, volume, pitch, steady beat, rhythm and melody.  We also explored important themes such as friendship and appreciating all of our differences.

Ms. Haltiner's class dances and sings "Flying Man"

Ms. Haltiner’s class dances and sings “Flying Man”

We had a wonderful musical celebration and invited our families to join us with all 7 classrooms coming together for a Sing-Along.  Students showcased their knowledge of pitch, volume, melody and rhythm with our “Fireworks” vocal warm up, Kodaly solfége hand signals and a selection of songs.

Students taught me over 20 ways to say hello in their home languages and we celebrated the diversity of our community by singing our hello song in many of those languages.  Students also utilized their great rhyming skills to help write a song appreciating our differences.  Together, classes came up with 4 verses to our song:

We are peach, and tan and brown

Hello my friend!

Hello my friend!

We were born here, and out of town

Some have black hair, some have white

Some like to read, some like to write!


Some are short and some are tall

Some like spring, and some like fall

Some are from here, some from afar

That’s OK that’s who we are!


We are different and that’s OK

Because we’re different in different ways!

Exploring melody on the glockenspiel.

Exploring melody on the glockenspiel.

As our amazing Kindergarten teachers can tell you, these types of activities are not just fun, but enrich and support the students’ development as individuals and as a group.  Please advocate for continuous and sequential music and arts education for all children grades Pre-K through 3rd, as it is so beneficial to their development during this time when they are developing language, motor and social skills!

Click here to read a recent study discussing the benefits of teaching music in early elementary and links between music & language development. “When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen.

Keep On Singing!

YIA Mentor Artist and Program Director, Nydia Algazzali Gonzalez

Imagining Friendship’s Extraordinary Exhibit Opening!

WRLogoForBLOGOn Friday, April 11 the YIA Gallery opened “Imagining Friendship” the culminating exhibit to three months of work at Loma Verde Elementary School as the first recipient of the Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Fund.

Over two hundred people experienced the hands on cardboard gallery. Children from 2 to 52 were crawling inside the giant boxes to view the art which explored the meaning of friendship through the lens of visual arts. Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal helped show families where their kindergarten child’s artwork could be found. Squeals of delight could be heard as students spotted their self portrait and then added images to the 10 foot tall recreation of a classmates depiction of friendship.

People clustered around small buttons to listen to the voices of young artists talking about their creative process. Making Learning Visible books showing photos and children’s quotes during the intensive residency were also widely viewed.  Mentor Artist Suzanne said, “The take away is – the more opportunity you give children to share ideas and materials the more ingrained it becomes in them.  I loved seeing them grow over the course of the sessions.”  One teacher commented, “Today is Friday the day Suzanne usually comes into the classroom, all the kids were asking, “Where is Ms. Suzanne? Luckily I could say, we will see her at the Art Opening tonight!”

A special presentation was made to the Rezaian family on behalf of the school site. Principal Eileen Smith remarked, “Friday evening was one of the most gratifying experiences of my year.  Seeing the pride on the students’ faces as they stood in front of their artwork was a beautiful moment.  Parents had an opportunity to celebrate publicly with their children and the joyful emotions in the gallery created an unforgettable experience for all in attendance.  This culminating event brought our Loma Verde Community together in a celebration of art.  It was also very rewarding to observe the donors and know that their generosity is making a difference.  This grant brought families together and symbolized the importance of art within a community.”

Applications for next year’s Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Fund recipient are being accepted until May 17, 2014. For more information, click here.

Special thanks to Peter Rodgers for capturing the photographs and joy of the evening.

“Imagining Friendship” Celebrating The Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Fund


Novato School Celebrates Friendship with Arts Program

Youth in Arts will open the first annual Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Fund exhibit, on Friday, April 11, at YIA Gallery on C Street in downtown San Rafael. Entitled “Imagining Friendship,” the exhibit will feature work by kindergarteners from Loma Verde Elementary School in Novato who have been exploring friendship through visual art as part of the Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Kindergarten Arts Program, celebrating 5-year-old Walker Rezaian’s life and love for the arts.

YIA Gallery is the only art gallery in the Bay Area, and one of only a few in the nation, dedicated to exhibiting children’s art. “Imagining Friendship” will feature children’s drawings, paintings and sculpture displayed on, around and inside large cardboard structures that visitors of all ages can explore from outside and within. Young visitors can crawl through cardboard tunnels and caves and even stand inside a nine-foot periscope to view the gallery. The interactive exhibit will run through May 30, 2014, and admission is free.

sometimes touches of color are enough

sometimes touches of color are enough

Loma Verde School was selected as the first recipient of the Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Kindergarten Arts Program through a competitive application process. The program’s curriculum focuses on the theme of “Friendship,” an appropriate tribute to Walker, who touched so many lives in his Mill Valley community with his loving and outgoing personality. Youth in Arts developed the program in collaboration with Walker’s family.

For three months Youth in Arts Director of Artists in Schools Suzanne Joyal has been coming to Loma Verde kindergarten classrooms to teach visual art lessons around ideas like “Sharing” “Empathy” “Envisioning” and “Appreciating Differences.” At the same time as the children have been exploring these powerful ideas through their creativity, they have been learning basic fundamentals in line, color and form. Teachers and parents also received special trainings from Youth in Arts.

Principal Eileen Smith, reflected on the program, “The impact of arts on learning cannot necessarily be measured by a standardized test, however the personal and cognitive development of the kindergarten students was greatly increased through the art projects they were involved in this year at Loma Verde.  Our students benefited immensely through the generous funding of the Walker Program and Youth in Arts.  Students explored friendship through the patterns of playground adventures. The kinder students were able to express themselves in a nonverbal form increasing the cognitive processes used in geometry and furthering their personal development in learning about the patterns of friendship.  Watching the students express their thoughts and feelings through art was a beautiful experience and Loma Verde is grateful that our students had this opportunity.’

Joyal described the process as joyful, “I was delighted by how willing the children were to take a risk. I loved how unique every child’s work was. They were so willing to express themselves in their own way. After lessons, teachers would sometimes express that a child was having difficulty and the only way they could share their emotions was through the artistic process. I couldn’t tell which child it was since they all responded so positively to the art.”

Loma Verde serves a diverse student population, including a significant percentage of students from low-income families. Says Principal Eileen Smith, “We have never had funds available to support a formal visual arts program such as this,” adding that the program helped English Language Learners and economically disadvantaged students “express themselves more deeply and feel more an integral part of our school community.”

At the end of the residency Joyal created individualized miniature works of art to give to each of the students. She explained, “The entire school, teachers, parents, kids gave me so much, tried so hard and came to each class with a positive attitude, I felt I wanted to give a going away present.”

Loma Verde Kindergarten Teacher Beth Kraft said, “Suzanne makes art accessible to all students by creating a very safe and accepting place for them to be unique in their expression of art and creativity.”

Youth in Arts WRLogoForBLOGExecutive Director Miko Lee has announced that applications are open for the 2014-15 Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Kindergarten Arts Program. “We are very honored to continue this program,” said Lee. “Walker’s family was directly involved in designing the program, and it was important to all of us that we create something with a lasting impact. It’s not just something for these children in their kindergarten year. It’s setting them on the path towards always having the arts in their lives, and having that supported by their teachers and families.”

Interested Title I schools in Marin County should apply by May 17. Apply here.

The Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Fund is a project of the Walker Rezaian Memorial Fund. Youth in Arts is a nonprofit established in 1970. The leading arts education nonprofit in the North Bay, Youth in Arts offers students experiences and instruction in the visual and performing arts, and enriches the community with cultural events.

Observational Drawing: Playgrounds and Flowers

WRLogoForBLOGThrough the Walker Rezaian Creative HeARTS Fund, Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal has been teaching friendship through visual art with all the kindergarteners at Loma Verde Elementary School.

Learning to draw what your eye SEES, not what your mind REMEMBERS. Children practiced looking closely, and allowing our eyes to guide our pencils. This helped children to better remember their work, and to better appreciate their efforts.

Children used their own sculptures as models for their drawing. They practiced looking closely, defining the types of lines they could see, and even made choices about what they might do next.

Playground drawings using colored pencils in our art journals

Flower drawings using pencil, Sharpie…

… and tempera cakes for lots of color.

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