Innovative Program Brings Arts Integration to Early Childhood Education in Baltimore

Baby Artsplay!™ provides multi-sensory learning at Judy Centers with funding from Saul Zaentz Foundation

BALTIMORE – Beginning this month, hundreds of Baltimore’s youngest children, their families, care providers, and educators will engage in hands-on, arts-integrated programs at five Baltimore City Public School Judy Centers that support early childhood education and expand kindergarten readiness. This innovative new initiative is being offered by the local nonprofit, Young Audiences of Maryland.

Baby Artsplay!™, a nationally-renowned program developed by the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, serves infants and toddlers from birth to age three and the family members and educators who play a critical role in their development. Wolf Trap is a nationally respected leader in early childhood education research and programming and is supported by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Research shows that early childhood programs are critical to school readiness and that the arts foster language development as well as social and emotional development, creativity, and self-expression—all of which contribute to school readiness and the long-term success of kids.”

The program’s creative caregiver/child workshops, classroom programs, and professional development for caregivers are led by teaching artists—professional artists who have been trained by Wolf Trap to integrate their art forms into more traditional learning settings.

The launch of Baby Artsplay!™ in Baltimore is funded through a $360,000 grant from the Saul Zaentz Foundation. The program is now offered in several cities including Indianapolis, New Orleans, Fairfax, and Pittsburgh.

Through Young Audiences, Baby Artsplay!™ programming began in October at five Baltimore City Public School Judy Centers and their care provider affiliates. The Judy Centers include: Liberty Judy Center, Moravia Judy Center, Harford Heights Judy Center, Lakeland Judy Center, and the DRU Judy Center at Dorothy I Height Elementary. Judy Centers throughout Maryland provide wrap-around services for early childhood development and parenting support.

Baby Artsplay!™ programming includes:

● Caregiver/Child Workshops: Caregivers and their children work with teaching artists in the performing arts to enhance parenting and playtime techniques by incorporating singing, dancing, drama, and multi-sensory experiences. Teaching Artists guide caregivers as they engage with their children, encouraging mindfulness and intentionality in common parenting practices such as rocking children, singing to them, and more. These free, drop-in workshops also provide tips to continue the approach at home.

● Teaching Artist Residencies: Teaching artists work with teachers and care providers to create arts-integrated experiences in their classrooms that provide social and emotional, empathy-filled learning to children. Teaching Artists guide teachers and care providers in research-based techniques similar to those in parent workshops, all with the goal of aligning joyful learning with children’s developmental needs.

● Professional Development: Pre-K teachers, kindergarten teachers, and care providers convene at Judy Centers for an immersive, three-hour professional development experience to build skills in creative childhood development using research-based arts-integrated approaches.

“Research shows that early childhood programs are critical to school readiness and that the arts foster language development as well as social and emotional development, creativity, and self-expression—all of which contribute to school readiness and the long-term success of kids,” said Stacie Sanders Evans, Young Audiences President & CEO. “We are thrilled that, thanks to the Saul Zaentz Foundation, we can infuse the arts into the development of children in the first years of their lives.”

“Baby Artsplay is an engaging program with a great teacher and is a big draw for our Judy Center families with babies and toddlers,” said Crystal Francis, Director of Early Learning at Baltimore City Public Schools. “Thank you to Young Audiences and the Saul Zaentz Foundation for helping to make this program possible.”

Young Audiences Arts for Learning Maryland

About Young Audiences/Arts for Learning:
Started in Baltimore in 1950, Young Audiences is the nation’s largest arts-in-education provider. As the Maryland affiliate, Young Audiences/Arts for Learning (YA) is devoted to enriching the lives and education of Maryland’s youth through educational and culturally diverse arts programs. Through Young Audiences, professional artists from all disciplines partner with leaders and schools for over 7,000 hands-on arts learning experiences that reach more than 190,000 Maryland students. Young Audiences envisions a Maryland where the arts are valued for their capacity to transform lives, and where every student is immersed in opportunities to imagine, to create, and to realize their full potential.

Passion Is Contagious

Written by Barbara Krebs,
Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member

Recently I toured Ireland, circumnavigating this gorgeous island from the Republic of Ireland, to Northern Ireland before returning to Dublin. If you have half a day, I’ll be happy to tell you about everything I learned there, from Irish history to Irish dancing to Irish food to (ahh) Irish whiskey. But if you have only a few moments, then I’ll just tell you about my biggest takeaway from this trip–passion.

So now you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with Young Audiences?” In the great tradition of Irish storytelling, I will let you know how one starts in Ireland and ends up in Baltimore with passion as the theme.

My story starts with a tour guide in Northern Ireland named Garvin, who told us about his wonderful city, Derry. Following the itinerary map, I had been puzzled since I couldn’t find it. This mystery was quickly cleared up as Garvin explained that Derry is the town’s traditional Irish name but it had become Londonderry during British rule. But he was also quick to explain with a broad grin that what his city actually is, is Legen-Derry (Get it? “Legendary!”).

And thus began his tour of a city that he was obviously totally devoted to and passionate about. Today Derry is a wonderful city, with much to offer tourists–historic 17th fortification walls (the most intact in Ireland), Gothic-style cathedrals, a vibrant waterfront restaurant/bar scene and fascinating museums. But if, like me, you think of Derry during The Troubles, your memories will be very different, with scenes of bombed-out buses and civilian and British troop deaths.

But Garvin used that very history to make his point about his city being a wonderful place. He took us to Bogside, scene of infamous clashes between citizens and British military police, and said, matter-of-factly, “You would not be on a bus going here in the ‘70s, because it would be hijacked, turned on its side and burned out to use as a barricade to block the street against the British.” This, while we looked out the bus windows at calm, clean streets.

I loved the beauty of Derry, its rich and troubled history, and yes, the passion of Garvin. And what struck me most forcefully was how many times he repeated, “I thank you for coming to visit my beautiful city. Please tell your friends and relatives what a wonderful place it is.” And I knew then how deep his passion was for his flawed and scarred, yet fascinating city. And through him, I fell in love with it, too.

So now here’s the connect with Young Audiences. I have witnessed the passion of Young Audiences artists like Femi the DriFish and their teacher partners who, despite challenging situations, work tirelessly to promote learning in their classrooms, using the innovative arts techniques taught by YA. I have seen deep passion in our principals who set aside hard-fought funds to bring the arts into the classrooms when others are choosing to cut these opportunities. I see this passion in the YA board, who includes my husband, who donate their limited time outside of work and family to ensure that more kids have opportunities. It is through them that I fell in love with Young Audiences, too.

I am pleased to announce that Garvin’s passion for his birth city is contagious. With his example, I am happy to tell all who will listen that I am passionate about Young Audiences. I will tell folks about how fantastic Young Audiences is–and that includes you!

Wanna know more? Consider joining CEO Stacie Sanders Evans and a Young Audiences teaching artist on Thursday, December 5, 5:30-6:30 pm for a free, one-hour Meet YA Event. To register, please contact Erin Nolder via email or phone – erin@yamd.org or (410) 837-7577 ext. 105. All I ask is that afterward, like Garvin, you tell all your friends and relatives about the wonderful work that YA does.

Kindergarten students use crayon to draw stalk of broccoli from real life.

Sowing a Big Idea: Growing Up Green

Some big ideas are meant to be shared. It is through partnership and collaboration that the big ideas grow roots and become an integral part of something even bigger. In 2015, Pat Cruz, YA’s then-chief innovation officer, and educator Mary Kate Bransford had a dream. What if every kindergarten classroom in Prince Georges County Public Schools (PGCPS) had an arts-integrated environmental literacy program?

Their big idea brought together twenty teachers and five teaching artists to write a five-day lesson plan that both met environmental literacy and visual art criteria and explored themes like habitat restoration, local ecosystems, the life cycle of plants, and the lifecycle of animals for a brand new program: Growing Up Green. The program, a partnership between Young Audiences and the Prince Georges County Office of Environmental Literacy, would be piloted in 17 schools in the district in the 2015-16 school year.

Teaching artist Bomani guided students in writing poetry about worm composting!

That first year resulted in the creation of five separate 5-day arts-integrated environmental literacy lessons. Teaching artists worked side by side with kindergarten teachers all five days of the program with the goal of handing off that role to each individual school’s art teacher in future years. To prepare teachers, Kristina Berdan, Young Audiences Education Director, trained teacher ambassadors, kindergarten lead teachers, and art/music teachers to use the arts as a teaching tool in their classrooms. “I used to think art was a product of a lesson,” said one kindergarten teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools after being trained in arts integration through Growing Up Green. “Now I think art is the process to achieve the objective.”

The team constantly listened, assessed, reflected, and revised, resulting in a comprehensive catalog of resources for teachers and the refinement of, in the second year, four unique residencies instead of the initial five, and then in its third year, one: Fiber artist Pam Negrin‘s The Lifecycle of Plants. Kindergarteners and their teachers explored nature with their real-life senses—looking, smelling, touching—to not just learn about our natural world, but experience it. Classrooms across the district were outfitted with custom-made embroidery tables where students could gather and stitch their observations, building with and learning from one another. “We think with our hands and when students are immersed in a lesson together, they begin to make their own connections,” said Pam. From sharing what they learned during the school day at home to internalizing and remembering more information, the effects on learning were so profound that once-resistant teachers embraced learning through arts integration and extended it into other content areas.

Embroidered tapestry illustrating the life cycle of plants

Growing Up Green combines the arts and time outdoors with making connections between humans and the environment and brainstorming solutions. “The program gets kids outside and thinking about the bigger picture and the combination of all the elements of the program supports the district’s goals,” said James Roberson, PGCPS Instructional Specialist for Environmental Literacy. And after the lessons have ended, classes are left with beautiful embroidered tapestries they can share with the school community. “The tapestries are a great way to showcase what they’ve learned.”

Our state was the first in the nation to approve an environmental graduation requirement for all Maryland students. In 2011, the school board created Environmental Literacy Standards that would support the growth of the planet’s next generation of stewards. Prince George’s County Public Schools is intentionally integrating these standards into the PreK-12 curriculum, and through Growing Up Green, they are successfully reaching the county’s youngest students. This is the first year that PGCPS is running Growing Up Green without Young Audiences’ support. “Young Audiences has been an outstanding partner over the last four years,” said Roberson. 

A child assembling a laser-cut, wooden birdhouse
FutureMakers helped kindergarteners make custom birdhouses!

“I’m really impressed by how different teachers have taken what they learned and run with it,” said Jhanna Levin, PGCPS Environmental Literacy Outreach Teacher. As a result of Growing Up Green, teachers in the district’s Autism Program, for instance, have embraced the art of embroidery, the fine motor skills it develops, and the calm it inspires. “It soothes the kids in a way they weren’t expecting.” Levin, new to the department, has taken the reigns of Growing Up Green and nurtured the development of teachers new to the program as well as veteran educators. She is constantly checking in and helping the teachers to do what works best for them.

She is holding a training session this coming January for lead kindergarten teachers to explore additional arts integration techniques for classrooms and it’s not just new teachers who are looking forward to it. “We’re talking about turning T-shirts into yarn and using dance for the observational piece,” said Levin. James Roberson added, “We’re really excited about what Jhanna brings to the program.”

Growing Up Green was a tiny seed that with research and tremendous effort and love, Young Audiences was able to sow. Through the amazing partnership we’ve had with PGCPS, we’ve seen the program evolve and take shape in a way that both works best for the district and stays true to the vision of Growing Up Green at its conception. We are extremely proud to see the district take charge and continue nurturing and developing this incredible program. Levin said, “There are teachers who have done this for three years now and they say, ‘Just give us the materials. We’ve got this.'”

Children kneeling on stage around a microphone and taking turns singing into it with musician Scott Paynter accompanying them on guitar.

Hear Scott Paynter on smARTbeats!

smARTbeats returns to WTMD on Saturday, October 19 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart! On this month’s segment, host Lisa Mathews talks with Scott Paynter, or Scotty P as he’s known around town, one of our talented teaching artists from Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA). He embodies fun and warmth in his classroom and on stage as a solo performer and as a lead vocalist with the world-renowned reggae band Jah Works

“Jah Works is a true grassroots success story that emerged from Baltimore’s reggae scene over 20 years ago. This is music made by and for lovers of real, authentic reggae music. Consistently performing hundreds of shows a year worldwide, they have forged their sound in clubs, festivals and on the sun drenched beaches of Negril. Their sound is firmly planted in the roots of Jamaican music and culture, encompassing rock steady, reggae, and elements of dancehall and dub. What Jah Works does best is introduce the novice music listener to the fullness of reggae music and culture.” —from jahworks.com

Scott’s classroom in SALA is a creative and joyful place where music and children go hand in hand. Perhaps it’s because he got his own start in music as a young child with a guitar he built from plywood and yarn. How awesome that every summer he helps more young musicians discover their passion for music and songwriting!

Scott doesn’t just share his art form with students, he teaches them to demonstrate what they’ve learned through music. By writing songs about the books and stories they’ve read, children are able to dive deep into the different characters and their personalities—bringing them to life. Take this video, for instance, of Scott’s students performing a song they wrote with the artist about a book they read together called City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan.

It should come as no surprise that kids love coming to his class to sing and learn! Mr. P makes learning fun—and even though his time with them is relatively short, his patience and commitment to the students can be seen in the strengthening of their academic abilities, their understanding, and the genuine smiles on their faces.

Listen online now to the smARTbeats interview with Scott Paynter at WTMD.org

Young At Heart airs weekly on 89.7 WTMD from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others. 

Portrait of Cecil Elementary Principal Aleesha Manning

Meet the Principal: Aleesha Manning

Mrs. Aleesha Manning, Principal of Cecil Elementary, began her teaching career in Baltimore City in 2003 as a Kindergarten teacher at Lakewood Elementary. The following year, she joined the Cecil family/community and served as a teacher and assistant principal. She is a graduate of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania with a degree in Early Childhood Education and earned her Master’s Degree in Instructional Leadership from Towson University. “Arts Integration has always been an important part of my teaching philosophy. As a teacher, and now as a principal, I am always seeking out ways for my students to participate in the arts,” she said. “We have applied for grants, created in-house programs, and work tirelessly to keep arts in our academic programming.”

“I have a teacher who has had experience with arts integration and she has explained that student outcomes are much higher,” Mrs. Manning said. “I want my students to be able to take their learning to the next level and experience academics in a new way that is highly effective and long-lasting.”

Knowing the value arts education and arts integration brings to her school and students’ education, Mrs. Manning applied for Young Audiences’ Principal Fellowship Program. The 11-session program began this summer and brought together ten outstanding Baltimore City Public Schools Principals, including Mrs. Manning, who are all committed to using the arts to build a positive school climate that advances student wholeness and/or to improve academic instruction. 

Through the fellowship, she hopes to inspire teachers school-wide to intentionally integrate the arts into their lessons⁠—even when an artist is not present in the classroom. “I have a teacher who has had experience with arts integration and she has explained that student outcomes are much higher,” Mrs. Manning said. “I want my students to be able to take their learning to the next level and experience academics in a new way that is highly effective and long-lasting.”

Mrs. Aleesha Manning, Principal of Cecil Elementary, is one of ten Baltimore City Public Schools principals selected to participate in the Principal Fellowship Program. The year-long fellowship provides principals with the guidance and framework to develop an arts-based action plan in their schools and we are thrilled to have her in the inaugural cohort!