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Going Virtual: Madera School Embraces the Arts

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.”

Cathy had fun at Madera!

VSA Percussion at Venetia Valley

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

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Haitian and Caribbean Dance

Mentor Artist Djenane Saint Juste worked with children from kindergarten through grade 8 this year:

Dance is a powerful art form that allows the true self to shine and be happy. It is a way of communication that transcends any kind of barriers that our ancestors have used for many generations.  It is a way to bring the community together.

After each residency at a school I discover new artists aware of their body and learning to translate their emotion through movements. I saw happy children and teachers who feel safe and confident to share their new dance moves.  I saw respectful middle school students who learned to enjoy partner dancing with their classmates.  And I spent a year working with the Cascade Canyon community who enjoyed traveling and learning about Haiti and other remarkable Caribbean cultures.

I am very thankful that I had the chance to grow up with a mother who is an amazing artist who taught me the passion for dance. And I am so happy to bring my family with me to each residency. My mother Fofo is a singer and dancer, my brother Jeff is a percussionist and my son Hassen is a dancer.  I think it is very important for children to see four generations of family working together as artists, and to understand that dance is for everyone and is the true language of love.