Youth in Arts Mentor Artist and vocal musician Stevie Greenwell taught multiple classes for Arts Unite Us this Spring. She says of her experience: “As I reflect back on my time with both Vallecito and Grant Grover, I can’t help but smile. Working with these students has been a balance of thoughtful preparation, on-the-spot creative solutions, writing personalized and interactive songs, instrument creation, and true presence… It taught me how to slow down my pace, speak thoughtfully, and honor and acknowledge all the small components of engagement. Each time a student made eye contact, responded with their choice, shared their voice, played their instrument; it mattered. Every time a student stood in front of the class or lead a rhythm; it mattered. Every time a student responded and reacted to the sound of their name in a song; it mattered. And all these parts came together to create a lively and joyful classroom each week.”
In order to make her lessons accessible for each of her students, Stevie found herself creating songs specifically for those classrooms. She adds, “My Favorite song that came out of these sessions, I wrote on my way to Vallecito one morning. I was asking myself questions around how I could meet students where they are and inspire the next step. I was thinking about how much hearing their own names mattered and how much the lyrics of a song can reinforce thought. It is a simple song with sweet words that now often gets stuck in my head and always makes me smile and reminds me of how strong these students are. The lyrics are:
(Name subbed for each student) “Andrew is wonderful, Andrew is kind, Andrew is strong and has a great mind, but most of all Andrew, we like you just the way you are, yes most of all Andrew we like you just the way you are.”
During her time at Grant Grover with junior college students, they worked on various skills that are needed to make music together in addition to singing. Stevie explains, “My favorite activities that came out of these sessions was having students learn conducting gestures and take turns conducting the class. They would guide the class on when to start playing their instruments, lead dynamics and volume levels, show tempo changes, and then strongly cut off sections of the class or the whole class together.” At the end of the residency, Grant Grover students shared a heartfelt thank-you to Stevie for all they had learned together.
Stevie says of her experience: :The biggest gift I continue to receive is how I feel when I leave the classroom. No matter how I entered, what was happening in the classroom for the students, or any other outside factors, I could feel the room transform. I left filled with such joy, inspiration, and delight. It is a testament and reminder of the magic that happens when we come together, connect, and create.”
Lisa Summers, a teaching poet and artist, worked with two special day classes at San Marin High School through our Arts Unite Us program to create work representing “spirit animals.” In Brian Khoury’s class, students practiced observational drawing skills including gestural drawings, calligraphic imagery using handmade bamboo pens and inks, and learned to make patterns. After sewing lessons, students cut out spirit animals in felt, sewed and stuffed them, then displayed sketches, patterns, and sewn animals in the front office of the school.
Lisa explored the idea of a spirit animal with Steve Lamott’s class while they were reading Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. In the novel, the curandera Ultima arrives with her spirit animal, the owl. Students considered what their protective spirit animal might be through lessons that ranged from gestural drawing to pen and ink to a group portrait project. In the second half of the residency, students prepared sketches for a triptych that displayed their spirit animal and elements of their “interior world” including landscapes, colors, and symbols that hold meaning for each of them. Students prepared and mixed colors, used collage techniques, and learned to transfer elements of their original sketches to the panels.
Lisa says, “I learned so much from working with Brian and Steve’s students about process, and the relationship between creative exploration and identity development. Brian’s students especially loved sharing their work with teachers and other San Marin students.” Selected works will be on display at Youth In Arts during the July exhibition.
Through the California Department of Education’s Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant that the Marin County Office of Education received, Youth in Arts was in multiple Special Day Classes this spring.