In Memoriam: Beth Braden

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By Jason A. Dykstra, Director of Accountability & Testing, Instructional Data Division, Anne Arundel County Public Schools, and Former Principal of Southern Middle School

On April 30, 2014, Beth Braden, an outstanding educator, champion of arts integration, mentor to teaching artists, and great friend to Young Audiences, passed away. Thank you, Beth, for your passion, energy, and commitment to providing an arts-rich education to all students. Your legacy will continue through the many teachers, artists, and students you have influenced. You will be greatly missed.

“Hi Boss!” That was the typical greeting I would get at any given moment by Beth Braden during my five years as principal of Southern Middle School. She would have a smile on her face, a spring in her step, and she would simply move on with whatever she was busy doing at the time. That greeting, as it turned out, was more than a “Hi.” It was a sign of confidence that we are going to have a good day—that we are getting the job done—and that we are making a difference today. All in that one little phrase: “Hi Boss.” I think it was the way she said it that made me understand.

Of course, I am not sure that I realized that until after I had been working with Ms. Braden for a year and learned how special she was. For those who have had the amazing pleasure of working with Ms. Braden, we saw first-hand her passion for teaching, her love of students, and her dedication to making a difference every day. It would be unforgivable to forget her unwavering advocacy of arts integration. It was actually hard to have a conversation with Ms. Braden where she would not find a way to mention how the arts could help students. Even discussing eighth grade discipline referrals, she would remind us that more exposure to the arts would help those students. That’s it—we need more assemblies and experiences!

How do we possibly measure Ms. Braden’s contributions and importance to Southern Middle? Not only can it not be measured, her influence will live on at Southern Middle School for years to come. Her school spirit and commitment to the cultural arts will be remembered by all. Did I really have a choice but to agree to a slam poetry assembly? Ms. Braden reassured me that not only would the assembly go well, but our students would really benefit from the experience. It was no surprise that she was right on both points.

We all have very special memories with Beth Braden—whether it is amazing improv performances by the Drama Club & Zip Zap Zop, steel drums, African dance, field trips, dressing up for spirit days and Halloween, celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday and Emily Dickinson, lively classroom debates, Artful Thinking activities, cool projects, and, most importantly, seeing all of the arts showcased at the largest and best cultural arts event at the middle school level—The Arts Are Everywhere Gala. Those traditions will no doubt continue and we can thank Beth Braden for teaching us the value of the arts and how new and different experiences enhance our lives.

What makes Beth Braden truly special and unique, however, was her work in the classroom. Every day was 100%. Every day was an opportunity to reach a student. Every day was a chance to make a connection. Every day was designed to be a success. The result? Every day was the epitome of trying to make a difference. At times it could seem unconventional, but she never lost hope and was always willing to give a student another chance to be successful and they respected Ms. Braden for it. The biggest compliment I could possibly give is that I would have loved for both of my children to have had Beth Braden as their teacher. The great news is that thousands of students did have the opportunity to benefit from her passion, creativity, knowledge, and many talents. In addition, we got to work side-by-side with a fantastic educator. We were all very fortunate and we know it!

Both in and out of the classroom, Ms. Braden really just wanted her students to think outside of their box, to explore themselves through reading, writing, and the arts, and to communicate well-thought-out ideas and opinions. What would Ms. Braden want from us today? For us to think out of the box about the potential of our amazing profession, to explore more ways to create positive change in school, and to communicate all of our great ideas and opinions with each other. That is an easy and wonderful way to honor Beth Braden and her many contributions to education and our lives.

Sometimes we don’t have to say much to make a difference in a person’s life—“Hi Boss”—it was just the way she said it that made me understand. So thanks to you Ms. Braden—we are going to have many good days, we are going to get the job done, and there is no doubt that we are going to make a difference! “You Rock!”

Watch a short video that features Beth explaining why the arts are critical in every classroom.

Working to bring the arts to every student

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By Dr. Sherrie Norwitz, Instrumental String Music Teacher, Thomas Jefferson Elementary Middle

Art and aesthetics are crucial to the foundation of society. Arts education provides children the opportunity to be exposed to–and develop their own–appreciation of beauty in their world. Art is a way to transmit the values of the society. Through the arts, children learn about their community, helping to provide them with a context for their lives within their communities, and become active participants in helping to create their communities. Arts experiences open doors to children, allowing them to say, “I am touched by this. I am a part of this beauty. I created this. I shared my creation. This has meaning to me.”

Sequential education in the arts is a crucial component in a child’s education. Learning about and through the arts gives students ownership of skills and knowledge to become active participants in society through creative expression and communication.

It is important to me for students to experience the integration of the arts across the curriculum and the varying natural connections that are inherent between the arts and their core curriculum subjects. This arts integration approach supports the learning of core curriculum subjects, reaches a wide-range of learners, provides authentic real world experiences that directly involve students in the act of creating, provides opportunities for collaboration, and supports the development of 21st Century Skills through the Common Core and Career Ready Standards.

Through our partnerships with Arts Every Day and Young Audiences, our school community is finding its way in creating a comprehensive arts integration program. With the support of our principal, Ms. Henry, we feel that we have a very strong foundation for our program’s growth and development.

This year we began by extending the arts-integrated approach to learning beyond the artist-in-residence program which we had previously brought to our students. Working with Young Audiences, we created a Resident Teaching Artist position for the year to allow for the continued presence of a teaching artist within our school. Our Resident Teaching Artist, Young Audiences artist Kwame Opare, performed with his ensemble, DishiBem G.R.O.W. during school-wide assemblies, and provided workshops to fifth- through eighth-grade students. Kwame also provided our teachers professional development in arts integration to help answer their questions, provide guidance, calm apprehensions, and worked with teachers during collaborative teaching days to bring arts integration directly to the students in their classrooms.

Partnering with Young Audiences to provide such a variety of programs throughout the year ensured that we incorporated arts integration best practices and included all of our grade levels–preschool to grade 8–in these art experiences. Being an International Baccalaureate School (IB) also helped support our way forward in the interdisciplinary learning of arts integration.

Arts integration and arts-enhanced learning is happening in many ways in different classes. Among our activities, students have drawn Grecian vases as part of their Ancient Civilizations unit, they have dramatized stories through dance, applied music notation to learning fractions, used music to help understand number columns, made connections between literature and music while dancing “The Nutcracker,” and created a paper Freedom Quilt.

We have developed a rhythm of arts integration at Thomas Jefferson. We are working to create an environment where everywhere you look, the arts are happening, where the arts are for everyone at the school and where connections with the arts can be made throughout a student’s day. Having a sense of continuity of arts experiences helps create a feeling of expectation of such experiences for both students and teachers. There is a developing sense school-wide that the arts and arts integration “is what we do.” We look to have the arts not as “special” but as a continuing presence in our daily school life, where learning can take place through the arts. There is something for everyone–for students in all grades covering a variety of subjects, and for teachers to feel supported with our teaching artists and our partnerships with Arts Every Day and Young Audiences.

Artistic energy invigorates the school environment, developing our professional skills as teachers and invigorating learning for students.

Thomas Jefferson Elementary Middle School is an IB World School, an Arts Every Day School, and a Maryland Green School. Learn more online here. 

The Intersection of Art and Science

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Young Audiences’ artist roster includes professional teaching artists who are both highly skilled in their art form and passionate about engaging students in learning through their art. Our artists are experts at highlighting the natural connections between their art and the curriculum, including everything from world history to math to literature. Every Young Audiences program both shares skills specific to dance, music, theatre, or visual arts and offers students the opportunity to learn about other curricular subjects in a new way.

For Young Audiences artist Kevin Martin, art links directly to science. Kevin is an artist who specializes in building and playing the steel drum, an instrument that requires a vast amount of scientific knowledge in its production. Kevin was recently interviewed in Trumpf Express, a magazine dedicated to sheet metal processing, for his scientific expertise. In the article, Kevin points to studying the carbon content and thickness of the metal as well as balancing strength and flexibility as some of the essential aspects of creating a drum.

Kevin brings steel drum music into schools through assembly performances and hands-on workshops with students and educators. During residency programs like the Steel Drum Experience and professional development programs for educators, such as Steel Drums in the Classroom and The Physics of Steel Drums, Kevin brings dozens of steel drums into the classroom so students and teachers can try their hand at playing the instrument and experience how physics concepts play a role in the sound of the drum. As Trumpf Express notes, “last year, he visited 100 schools with up to 100 students at a time, and thanks [Young Audiences], Kevin is able to provide many with drums of their own.”

Though Kevin is accomplished in both the science side of production and the artistic side of playing, when asked what he loves to do most, Kevin responded, “I love all of it.”

Read the full article by clicking on the image below.

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Watch Kevin speak about his passion for steel drums at TEDxChesterRiver here.

Read more blog posts about Kevin Martin here.

Donor Spotlight: Blaustein Philanthropic Group

Young Audiences programs teach students about teamwork, tap into their creativity and imagination, and increase their understanding of other cultures through performances and artist-in-residence programs. We believe it is critical to share these opportunities with all students in Maryland.

In 2012-2013, Young Audiences reserved $102,847 of contributed funds to provide deeply-discounted programs for special needs and Title I schools in Baltimore City and rural Maryland counties through the Access for All Initiative.

To expand access in the city, public and private funds were matched with funds from the Baltimore City school district and the Maryland State Arts Council, which allowed us to serve more than 14,500 youth in 53 high-need schools, where on average 87.5 percent of the student body is eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

Blaustein Philanthropic Group, one of the contributors to this initiative, has significantly increased its support of Young Audiences to help lower the financial barrier to the arts.

Lara Hall, Blaustein Philanthropic Group program officer, said that supporting Young Audiences and Access for All allows the group to meet their goals of increasing their support of educational arts experiences in Baltimore City.

“The Blaustein family has a long history as patrons of the arts,” Lara said. “As the younger generation has come into leadership roles at the foundation, they have posed the question: How do we use the arts as a spark to make sure kids have the best educational experience in Baltimore?”

Blaustein chose Young Audiences as the strongest nonprofit candidate to accomplish this work.

“Supporting Young Audiences’ Access for All Initiative is the most efficient way for Blaustein Philanthropic Group to support more arts education in the city,” Lara said.

Learn more about the Access for All Initiative.

Read about the work Young Audiences supporters have helped make possible in our 2013 Annual Report.

Donor Spotlight: Jen and Michael Sachs

As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, Jen Sachs often used music and theatre to engage her students. Although Jen lacked formal training in the arts or arts integration, she sang and used costumes and characters to encourage her students to participate in lessons. These small changes made a big impact.

“The benefits for my students were amazing,” Jen said. “They learned and obtained concepts quicker. They were able to express themselves better. They loved coming to school and appreciated new experiences.”

Seeing the impact of the arts on students is one of the reasons Jen was drawn to Young Audiences and became a Sunburst Society member in 2010.

Jen is particularly excited that Young Audiences has expanded into early learning classrooms as the Maryland sponsor of the Wolf Trap Institute’s Early Learning Through the Arts.

“The arts programs that include music, visual arts, and theatre are extremely important for developing minds,” Jen said. “Children are learning as they are doing. Whether they are building vocabulary through music and theatre or demonstrating the acquisition of knowledge through dance and movement—they are gaining vital skills for life and learning.”

Using Wolf Trap’s respected residency model, Young Audiences is bringing programs to Baltimore City preschool and kindergarten classrooms by off-setting the cost with community support.

“Low-income students often have limited opportunities to experience the arts in school,” Jen said. “Young Audiences’ programs fill this void and do more than teach students how to sing, act, dance, or play an instrument—they teach them to believe in themselves.”

Read about the work Young Audiences supporters have helped make possible in our 2013 Annual Report.

Donor Spotlight: Amanda Pellerin

“Wow, this is the first time I have ever felt artistic!”

Young Audiences ceramic artist Amanda Pellerin overheard this proclamation from a student during an artist-in-residence program. The student made this statement to no one in particular, but Amanda asked him to explain.

“He said he never thought he could do art, so he had never opted to take an arts class before,” Amanda said.

Instances like these, when the arts change how a student thinks of him or herself, are the reason why Amanda is committed to sharing her art and skills with students. “I work for those moments when kids exclaim to the world: I get it. I’m special. This is making me see myself in a different way,” Amanda said.

Amanda partners with Young Audiences to bring arts experiences to Maryland students—regardless of the school’s budget limitations. Young Audiences’ Access for All Initiative was created to lower the financial barrier for Title I Baltimore City Public Schools interested in bringing a Young Audiences program to their students.

“I live in Baltimore and personally feel really good when I’m working on a residency that is funded by Access for All,” Amanda said. “I’m directly affecting my community—I feel a special pride.”

This pride has propelled Amanda to donate to Young Audiences and join the many community members who invest in our work.

“I believe in the mission,” Amanda said. “As I’ve watched Young Audiences grow, my work has grown exponentially. I’ve realized that it’s very satisfying for me to share my skills and my knowledge with someone—to see the light go on inside of someone’s head as they turn an idea into a clay project.”

Learn more about Amanda and her artist-in-residence and teacher professional development workshop offerings.

Read about the work Young Audiences supporters have helped make possible in our 2013 Annual Report.