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Vocal Music in Arts Unite Us Classrooms

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.” 

Finding Voice

Teaching artist, Ascha Drake, and language arts teacher, Tracee Zyla have been collaborating together at Willow Creek Academy.

The 8th grade class is reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

The book is about a group of boys who are stuck on a deserted island. As they try to govern themselves, their personalities surface and evolve.

Tracee wanted to focus on the character of Piggy, who is the most vulnerable of all of the characters.

He looks one way, but on the inside he is strong and scientifically-minded and capable.

The collaboration was about finding voice, and working with the essential question of,

“How does art and writing help us make sense of the world?”

Large paper sillhouettes were created in Tracee’s classroom.

And then students wrote Just Because poems expressing who they are to the world.

Through their writing, the students worked on breaking down stereotypes and finding strength and confidence through their written words.

These poems were mounted on the backs of the sillhouette panels and hung in the classroom.

Just because I’m mixed doesn’t mean I’m different.

Just because I have green eyes doesn’t mean they’re contacts.

Just because of where I’m from doesn’t mean I won’t go far.

Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t rap.

Just because I have light skin doesn’t mean I’m white.

Just because your grades are better doesn’t mean I’m not smart.

Just because you’re skinny doesn’t mean I’m fat.

Just because she can sing better doesn’t mean I can’t sing.

Just because of what you think won’t make me stop being me.

Just because I laugh in class doesn’t mean I’m not learning.

Just because I’m a model doesn’t mean I have to be skinny.

Just because you don’t like me doesn’t mean I have to feel bad.

Just because I’m pretty doesn’t mean you have to hate me.

Just because I talk fast doesn’t mean I have to talk slow for you.

Just because I’m on Face Book 24/7 can’t mean I have a problem.

Just because I don’t amuse you doesn’t mean I’m not funny.

Just because I’m not like you doesn’t mean I’m weird.

Just because I like to laugh hysterically doesn’t mean I’m crazy.

Just because I’m done with this poem doesn’t mean I’m finished.