Principal Reese uses watercolor to create her wish banner at the Principal's Fellowship dinner

Meet the Principal: Monique Reese

In January 2020, Bay Brook Elementary Middle School will move into a 21st Century school building! Monique B. Reese, Principal of Bay Brook told us that along with the move, her school is adopting an arts integration model. During her first three years at the school, she focused on reducing suspensions and building a positive school climate. Now, Mrs. Reese’s goal is to use the arts to assist with increasing student engagement and higher achievement. That’s what brings her to the Young Audiences Principal Fellowship Program.

Mrs. Reese began her career as an elementary school teacher in various urban school districts. During her time as a teacher, she found a passion for leading others in teaching and learning. This passion for leadership led her to serve for eight years as an Assistant Principal in the District of Columbia Public Schools, and then as a principal at Bay Brook Elementary Middle School. During her first three years at Bay Brook, she focused on reducing suspensions and building a positive school climate. “I am excited about being a part of the Young Audiences Principal Fellowship program because it directly connects to my new school model,” she said. “I can learn new ideas about arts integration that I can directly implement in my school as we begin our new vision.”

“We have seen first-hand the excitement the arts bring to our students.”

Over the course of the program, she’ll receive coaching from experienced educators who have already used arts integration as leverage for school change. “Our students learn in different ways and we need a path that reaches all learners,” Mrs. Reese said. “When given the choice between STEM, project-based learning, and arts integration for their new school model, the staff and community were confident that a larger focus on the arts would bring positive change.”

The school currently has a partnership with Arts Every Day which helps fund artist residencies for classrooms. Already, the school holds monthly arts integration days in which teachers engage students in an art project to teach literacy, math, or science. “We have seen first-hand the excitement the arts bring to our students,” she said. “The staff believe that the arts will give students the opportunity to be more engaged in the content, thus reducing class disruptions and increasing achievement.”

Mrs. Monique Reese, Principal of Bay Brook Elementary Middle School, 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!

SummerREADS: An Internship Like No Other

Written by Soni Kunwar,
2019 SummerREADS Intern

When I was looking for a summer internship during my spring semester at college, I came across an internship for the SummerREADS program at Young Audiences of Maryland. What caught my eye about this internship was that it offered a unique experience like no other. I was excited to work for an organization whose mission is to promote arts in education including through summer learning.

When I found out that I was offered the intern position for the SummerREADS program, I was very excited to get started. One of the main reasons why I joined the SummerREADS team is because of the opportunity to be an active member of my community. A library is a vital part of what makes a community so great. It is a place of learning and a hub for community activity for kids of all ages. Some of my favorite childhood memories took place in my school and community library. The joyful feeling of being in a brightly colored room with an endless supply of books is something all kids should be able to experience.

Soni Kunwar, 2019 SummerREADS Intern

From the very first day of the internship, everyone welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like part of the team. Right off the bat, I was working alongside the team in the enrollment/registration process. It was exciting to see how spaces were filling up at the different sites as we inched closer to the start of the program. In the weeks of preparations, there were lots of team meetings, phone calls made, supplies sorted, and lesson plans printed. Once the program began, I provided support at the eleven different sites.

The most rewarding part of the internship was seeing the students engage in arts-integrated literacy workshops with teaching artists and visitors. Every time I stepped into a Weinberg library, students were participating in activities that showed creativity and innovation. I loved seeing collaboration amongst students when they were building 3D kinetic creatures with Futuremakers or when they were writing and performing hip hop verses with Bomani. I was able to capture many moments like this and post them on the SummerREADS Facebook page. Managing the Facebook page allowed me share photos of all the learning that took place, whether a site was learning about music, dance, theater, or visual arts on a particular day.

It makes me proud to have been part of a team of hard-working and dedicated people. I was constantly surrounded by people that were truly passionate about their job and who did everything they could to make the program a success. Everyone I met, from the librarians and teachers to the staff at YAMD, helped me grow not only at my job, but also as a person. Throughout the whole experience, I was able to see how a summer program that promotes arts in education really changes lives. It gives a child an opportunity to elevate their learning and dream big.

SummerREADS is a free literacy initiative that provides weekly drop-in programming for Baltimore City students. Each host school and library offers a safe and welcoming space where students can participate in literacy workshops with teaching artists and enrichment activities with special guests. Students also earn incentives for reading, receive two free and well-balanced meals per day, take books home, and access other library resources.

Voices for a Relevant Future: 2019 Bloomberg Arts Internship

This week, 35 Bloomberg Arts Interns—all rising seniors in Baltimore high schools—will be winding down their travels in and out and through our city’s marvelous historic and contemporary art-filled spaces. We are lucky, here in Baltimore, to have such esteemed institutions that not only teach, but listen. They value our young people’s contributions and know that in order to ensure a vibrant future, they must consider voice in their collections, among their staff, and at the helm.

Baltimore is not alone in its work to become more inclusive and reflective of the community among leadership and staff. “In a city that prides itself on both the diversity of its population and its globally recognized cultural institutions, there is a lopsided reality: While about two-thirds of New Yorkers are people of color, two-thirds of the people who run its cultural institutions are white,” wrote Julia Jacobs for the New York Times.

On a tour of Peabody Institute, our interns gained valuable career insight from artists Zane Forshee, Wendel Patrick, and Jessica Satava.

“Our interns are high school students. They are growing up in a world where equity is important and know what it truly means for a space to be equitable for all,” said Philip Muriel, Bloomberg Arts Internship Lead Coordinator. “Our worksite partners are providing extensive opportunities for our interns to help make their institution more aware and inclusive.”

Twenty local arts facilities and museums are currently providing positions within their institutions to our interns that offer a wide range of dance, music, art, theatre, cultural, and curatorial opportunities. In 2017, our first cohort of interns visited the Baltimore Museum of Art and learned about the museum’s challenge of not just welcoming the community, but making sure the community feels welcomed in the space. There is a difference.

2018 Bloomberg Arts Intern Colin Snow Stokes spoke about his project at his worksite, the Reginald F Lewis Museum.

Less than a year later, acclaimed artist Amy Sherald joined their board. Christopher Bedford, the museum’s director, said in a statement, “As we develop a new strategic plan, it is important to have the voice of artists like Amy on the BMA’s Board of Trustees. Amy will bring a unique perspective to museum leadership, one that not only draws on her career as one of today’s most important artists, but also on her ties to the city of Baltimore itself.”

“Static, monolithic history must be supplanted with histories, plural—even as museums continue to safeguard the past in the objects they conserve and display. Directors and their staffs can enact bold forward-looking visions only when their boards support them in seeing museums as spaces to challenge, take creative risks and not simply conserve,” wrote Darren Walker in a New York Times op-ed earlier this summer.

Changing narratives to reflect our very diverse population—one that is youthful, justice-minded, and looking to connect with and build upon the treasures that fill our institutions—does not detract or devalue. On the contrary, relevance ensures community involvement and support. It ensures that a new generation will love and enjoy and support our city’s museums. Relevance shows an institution’s willingness to evolve. Relevance builds trust and confidence in communities’ willingness to grow and learn alongside institutions both now and in the future.

Step into 1 West Mount Vernon Place, the Walters Art Museum’s 19th-century mansion, and you are not just engulfed in the luxurious architectural details and pristinely preserved artifacts from distant cultures, you are drawn into stories. Works from ceramicist Roberto Lugo illuminate the life of Sibby Grant, as does the community art project, led by local ceramicist and educator Herb Massie and art program Jubilee Arts, which incorporates over 200 plates made by members of the Baltimore community.

On a visit to the Impact Hub in Baltimore, our 2019 interns learned about our city’s history of redlining and its impact on residents then and now.

Now wrapping up its third year in Baltimore, the Bloomberg Arts internship is ensuring that our students’ ideas and contributions are helping to shape and secure the future and relevance, as well as the inclusiveness, of arts organizations in Baltimore and beyond.

“Two of our interns, Connor and Isabelle, are working at the Walters Art Museum on a gallery guide aimed toward teenaged guests,” Philip said. “Another, Sonia, is interning at Wide Angle Youth Media where she is working as a journalist this summer investigating the dangers of heat-related illness in low-income communities.”

At all of our 2019 worksites, these students’ ideas are valued, their participation is appreciated, and their voices are heard. And while there is still plenty of hard work to do to achieve equity and representation within our arts and cultural institutions, we can at least know that these aren’t just places where community and student voices are welcomed, but places they are wanted.

The Bloomberg Arts Internship is managed by Young Audiences through the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies. It is a rigorous eight-week program providing 35 rising Baltimore high school seniors crucial college and career readiness preparation through hands-on, real-world workplace experiences and professional development. We are so proud of our interns and all they have accomplished this summer. Learn more about the program at yamd.org/bloomberg-arts-internship.

The Tangible Intangible: A Witness to the Power of the Arts

Written by Alan Hoff,
Young Audiences Board of Directors, Vice Chairman

The arts are not just nice, they’re critical to the development and well-being of our communities. I am both excited and proud that Baltimore County has continued to recognize the importance of funding for the Arts, particularly Arts in Education, in the current budget.

In addition to being a proud citizen of Baltimore County, I am also the Vice Chair of the board of Young Audiences/Arts for Learning, an arts-in-education organization that serves more than 12,000 Baltimore County students each year. I also serve as the president of the board of WTMD, Towson University’s radio station.

Alan Hoff (center) and Steve Himmelrich (right) in the audience for the Summer Arts & Learning Academy students’ 2019 Artscape performance.

I’ve seen the power of the arts and what the arts can do for our community here in Baltimore County. The fact that the County–even with budget challenges–has continued to support the arts is impressive and commendable.

From a pure cost-benefit analysis, the arts provide a strong return on investment to the County. For example, Young Audiences is grateful to have received $40,000 in funding from the Citizens of Baltimore County through the Baltimore County Commission on Arts & Sciences last year. At the same time, with that investment, we served more than 12,000 County students and provided nearly $770,000 in payments to teachers and to teaching artists who live in Baltimore County.

Beyond a cost-benefit analysis is what I call the tangible intangible: The power of the arts that I see every day. I see it in kids’ eyes, I see it when they look up to a teacher who they admire, I see it in the difference it makes in helping them learn, and I see the impact the arts have in programs like WTMD’s Saturday Morning Tunes where we’ve literally welcomed thousands of kids and their parents.

Alan Hoff (right) and John Brothers (left) joined Mama Rashida of WombWork Productions on stage for a performance celebrating virtues earlier this year at our annual Impact Breakfast.

At Young Audiences, I have seen students learn fractions by beatboxing, math from drumming, and grammar from a poet or a spoken word artist. Not only do the arts provide kids with opportunities to express themselves and build confidence, but they also support all those educational priorities we talk about–like math and reading skills.

I’m probably the biggest anomaly that there is to talk about the power of the arts. I’m a lawyer–and I’m a business lawyer at that. But I am making this case because I see every day the power of the arts and I see that it makes a difference in people’s lives.

Alan Hoff joined Young Audiences, Arts for Learning Maryland’s Board of Directors in July of 2014. In addition to volunteering on both the Executive and Bridging the Inspiration Gap Committees, he currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Board. Alan has volunteered countless hours of his time and is a passionate advocate for ensuring the artistic, emotional, and intellectual growth of the children in our community. We are thankful every day for his advocacy, for his voice, for his vision, and for his generous spirit.

Imagine the Connections…

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

“What does the artist do? He draws connections. He ties the invisible threads between things.”
—Anselm Kiefer, German painter and sculptor

A few weeks ago, Young Audiences hosted an event to celebrate the organization’s supporters and the arts and education experiences that, together, we were able to bring to Maryland students over the past year.

I imagine the connections. From teacher to student. From student to parent. From tap dancing to the nucleus of an atom. From all the “invisible threads between things.” That’s what Young Audiences does: Connects kids and imagination to education through the arts.

Having been to a number of YA’s events, I had a reasonable idea of what to expect. Inspiring statistics of successes achieved in area schools. Teaching artists demonstrating classroom arts techniques. Audience participation. Delicious hors d’oeuvres and delightful cocktails. Animated conversations that explore the arts and our connection to Young Audiences. And on this occasion, expansive views of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

It’s easy enough to write this basic list of how YA celebrates. What’s harder to capture is the excitement, inspiration, imagination, and connectedness that ensues.

For example, teaching demonstrations began with Khaleshia Thorpe-Price, who is involved with a program new to Young Audiences: Baby Artsplay. This program provides engaging activities designed for parents, caregivers, and early childhood educators to use the arts at home, daycare, and school to set our youngest learners on a path toward kindergarten readiness.

As she passed out small egg-shaped rattles (easy for small hands to hold), she explained how she uses simple songs and movement to engage the kids. Later she distributed scarves, which were used in a peek-a-boo song that encouraged creativity, imagination, and movement.

See, describing it doesn’t do it justice – but if you can just visualize for a moment (encouraging active imaginations here!) a roomful of slightly self-conscious professional people waving scarves up, down, and sideways while they “flew” or “sashayed” or “danced,” you begin to get an idea of how this reaches young kids who have no inhibitions about imaginative play. And better yet, these are techniques that can then be taken home and easily recreated to help children learn through play.

How about tap dancing? Quynn Johnson made music with her feet! Sliding, spinning, tapping toes, tapping heels–the rousing rhythms got and held our attention just as it does the K-8th-grade students she instructs.  Whether it’s math, science, or literacy, her feet teach the lesson. I asked her about that later, admitting that I understood how tap dancing could teach math. But I wondered how she connected this art form to science and English. I then learned how she taught different rhythms to illustrate the nucleus of an atom; or the life cycle of a hurricane; or the development of Pinnochio from a wooden puppet, to a wooden puppet with a long nose, to a little boy.

Last up was Regie Cabico, a slam poet and theatre artist who produces wonderful, thought-provoking performance art informed by his Filipino American identity. Working in theatre, he constantly struggled to secure roles, being labeled “not Asian enough” for some and “too Asian” for others. And so he connects with his students, who also grapple with not being or appearing “something” enough. Feeling “other” is a universal theme that connects us all.

So I imagine the connections. From teacher to student. From student to parent. From tap dancing to the nucleus of an atom. From all the “invisible threads between things.” That’s what Young Audiences does–connects kids and imagination to education through the arts.

Belonging

Written by Stacie Sanders Evans,
President and CEO of Young Audiences/Arts for Learning

Belonging. That’s the word that has been on my mind. Our founder, Nina Collier, understood belonging. She felt music belonged in schools, that artists belonged in a child’s education. In 1950 she inspired a movement of artists-in-schools. What started in Baltimore has now grown to 30 Young Audiences–the largest arts-in-education network in the US.

Today, Young Audiences artists like Femi the DriFish and Valerie Branch ignite a child’s desire to learn. Whatever our partner artists’ art form is–hip hop dance or improvisational theatre–they use it to draw kids into learning. We train our artists to integrate their art form with whatever is being taught in students’ literacy, math, social studies, and science classes.

We do that because when kids create something they get to make choices. They make meaningful connections. They express themselves. Choice and voice–that makes the learning matter.

When we, as a community, provide children with these kinds of opportunities, we are telling them, “You matter!” All of this, what we do, it nurtures the sense of belonging in our kids, artists, parents, and teachers. And it is belonging that I feel when I walk into one of our classrooms. Listen to how Tiffani, Dawn, and Valerie talk about our community in Together–we are their people–and we all belong.

Think back to when you were growing up. Who were YOUR people? What teacher or coach left their imprint. Who helped you become the person that you are today?  I bet that person made you feel visible. Known. That you belonged.

My moment was in ninth grade. I was struggling in many different ways and my drama teacher, Mrs. Howard, saw something in me. She knew how to draw that “something” out–just like the 200 artists (both YA roster artists and independent artists) we work with. In her class, I belonged. She cast me as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. And that moment was like rocket fuel for me.

Belonging is a strong human need, particularly in our children. I see belonging as the net below the trapeze. When kids have that net of belonging, they are more likely to lean into learning–kids like Josh Ajala, who in Together, spoke about moving from the back of the class to the front–and his sister Tiffani Ajala–who was brave enough to apply for Baltimore Design School (and got the highest possible score on her fashion portfolio!) These are the courageous risks we want our kids to take so that they can grow.

But public education for the last 17 years, after the birth of No Child Left Behind, hasn’t been focused on this. It has been about raising standards and increasing school accountability–measured through standardized testing. What do kids who are part of this system think about this? In Brenna’s poem, she says students feel like they are just inputs and outputs in one simple equation.

The outcomes we are seeing are heartbreaking and not sustainable as a society. Eight out of ten Baltimore City Schools students do not meet “proficiency” in math or reading. Nearly half of our children across the state entering Kindergarten are already behind. Four out of ten Maryland teachers leave teaching within five years because this isn’t the equation they want to be a part of.

A different way is needed. Young Audiences is a different way. Our movement is to make sure all kids–and the people who teach them–are not treated like inputs and outputs but as the whole beautiful human beings that they are.

Today, thanks to our 450 school partners, our Sunburst Society members, and our game-changing evidence, our movement is growing. Outreach has doubled in the last five years. We impact the education of 191,000 children EVERY year–children in EVERY Maryland county.

We are on a mission to close the opportunity gaps in this educational system. We have four strategies:

  • Preventing summer learning loss by operating 20 summer programs across our city
  • Increasing school readiness through early childhood programs in four counties
  • Improving student engagement in learning by providing professional development to 500 teachers every year
  • Increasing equity in access to opportunity–more than 30,000 of our children are in under-resourced communities, so we provide more to them

We have made tremendous progress over the last five years but we can take this to a new level. Five years from today, I think we can change the educational trajectory of 50,000 more kids. Here is how we can get there:

  • Expand our evidence-based Summer Arts & Learning Academy in and beyond Baltimore City. This is the program that Tiffani, Alice, and Josh participated in that continues to have a ripple effect in their life. To expand to just one more school district, we have to find and train 20 more artists.
  • This Academy is only 25 days of a kid’s life–and in that short time, we see lots of benefits. Imagine if kids had that kind of arts-integrated learning during the school year and school day? We want to launch year-round professional development and support for teachers and principals to make that happen. If we were able to add just one more person to our staff that focused on professional development, we could support 100 more teachers and principals every year.
  • To have the greatest impact on a child’s potential, we need to invest early. (Did you know that 80% of the brain’s synaptic connections are made by age 3?) In 2024, we want to bring our Baby Artsplay program to 5,000 infants and toddlers across Maryland and–to their very first teacher–their parents. This will require our artists to be trained in early childhood development.

Think back to your person–your Mrs. Howard. Think back to that feeling of belonging. Imagine if you could create that opportunity for someone else. For another Josh. Another Brenna. Take that opportunity and multiply it by 50,000. Fifty thousand children sitting in the front of the class, trying out for Baltimore Design School, reaching for that trapeze handle.

That is the opportunity in front of us. For Brenna, that is the equation she wants us to come together and solve.

Two high school interns playing Rock, Paper, Scissors on the sidewalk outside of Motor House on North Ave. in Baltimore. A larger group of high school students are gathered in the background.

Internships – A Crucial Stepping Stone for Success

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

Classes may be just about to wrap up, but for 33 Baltimore students who have accepted positions in the Bloomberg Arts Internship this summer, a different kind of learning experience is only beginning. Young Audiences, with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, established a now eight-week program three years ago to offer paid internships to rising high school seniors. Twenty local arts facilities and museums are currently providing jobs that offer a wide range of dance, music, art, theatre, cultural, and curatorial opportunities.

It’s no great secret that internships are often viewed (and rightfully so) as stepping stones to higher education opportunities and greater career possibilities. Internships offer high school and college students crucial job skills and mentorship relationships that help them stand out in an often crowded job market. But paid internships can be few and far between.

The Bloomberg Arts Internship aims to make paid internships in the arts and culture field more inclusive and available to students who otherwise may not have the opportunity to network and build skills in that professional setting. 

More than 30 high school students in the crosswalk with buildings along North Avenue in the distance behind them.

An article–How Internships Are Changing the Art World–from Artsy.net has this to say about how intertwined the relationships and skill building are. “It’s not only that your intern could be your successor, they might one day be your colleague,” said Selene Preciado, program assistant for the Getty Marrow Undergraduate Internships in Los Angeles.

Indeed, they might! But these Bloomberg Arts internships go far beyond job training and networking, as important as these are. These students will gain familiarity and comfort with workplace etiquette, improve verbal and written communication skills, explore cultural assets in our city, develop critical life and work skills, and prepare to apply and transition into college. In addition, the program aims to encourage a more equitable and diverse range of staff and audiences among cultural institutions, while instilling in the students an understanding and appreciation of the important civic contributions of arts and culture.

That’s a lot to learn in just eight weeks! And yet, these arts internships provide not just amazing arts education, the students also strengthen their:

  • computer capabilities (Center Stage – “how to use leading software for the industry”) 
  • research, interview, and publishing skills (Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts – “the student will research history, interview artists, and ultimately publish a youth-organized ‘tour’ of murals and sculptures”)
  • proficiencies in following a project to completion (Maryland Film Festival – by curating and promoting short films, the student will “be involved in every aspect, from curation to marketing to execution.”)  

Interns are gathered in a hallway. A teenage girl in the foreground is glancing to her right. Another girl in a baseball cap smiles brightly behind her.

In short, skills to last a lifetime. In the Artsy article, Maxwell Anderson, president of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta said, “Museums desperately need talent in all sorts of positions–curators represent a fraction of the staff of museums. We’d be thrilled if an accountant emerges from [our program] and finds their way into the museum profession, but they’re an accountant who has knowledge and experience in a particular cultural remit that otherwise they may not have.”

In the short bios that the students provided, I noticed one recurring theme: learning. These are students who have a passion for learning, who will make the most of their internship, and who will carry what they learn with them into the future. I have no doubt that they will take this small stepping stone and use it to build a solid foundation in the years to come.

Guests smiling and laughing as they gathered around tables set with a delicious breakfast of fruit, juice, biscuits, and candied bacon.

Preparing for Improvisation

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

The thing I like most about Young Audiences’ Impact Breakfast is that I never know what new insight I will take away from it. Sometimes I go home and think about the things I heard and saw, and something takes root and grows from my pondering. Other years it hits me immediately with, um, impact. This year’s Impact Breakfast was of the second variety.Artist Maura Dwyer turns a large scroll revealing a hand-drawn illustration of woman with her arms enveloping a younger woman's shoulders. Playing guitar beside the artist is folk musician Letitia VanSant.

It started with the music. Because the day began with rain, award-winning Folk singer and guitarist Letitia VanSant welcomed guests with her songs in the lobby of the Vollmer Center, and not outside, like planned. She played and sang softly, setting a mood of serenity. Ahh, yes, very pleasant as I sipped my coffee. And then as I started looking at Maura Dwyer‘s handmade crankie, a wooden box containing an illustrated scroll that reveals a moving picture story as it is slowly wound by the artist, a very different style of music was unleashed–ragtime! Now that gets the blood pumping!

The guitarist’s intimate melodies were quickly drowned out. Assessing the situation–and the weather, YA staff and board members moved the duo’s entire set-up where they belonged all along–just outside, at the entrance of the building. And that improvisation really worked, as Letitia’s musical style and the moving panorama that accompanied her songs connected naturally to the park-like setting surrounding the Vollmer Center. You can’t control the weather, but you can spring into action when it changes for the better!

Musicians play stringed and brass instruments in the sunlit atrium.
Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra

After listening to her a while, I wandered back into the building to take in some more ragtime and to look over the student works displayed downstairs. And that’s when one of the accompanying quotes struck me. Labeled “What Students Have to Say,” a 6th-grade improvisational theatre major stated, “My favorite major is improv because of how we can laugh and be silly. We can be anything because it is based on your imagination. In your imagination you can be anything and see anything.” Exactly!

Members of Wombwork Productions ensemble takes turns at the mic onstage.

More improvisation followed as Mama Rashida and WombWork Productions performed. With Virtues as the theme and a backdrop listing a huge variety of positive qualities, she prompted the audience to participate in a call-and-response activity, shouting out “gratitude” and “unity” and “creativity” as we swayed in our seats and responded, “yeah, yeah!”

When it was time to hear Femi “The Drifish” Lawal speak, I have to admit I was particularly happy to hear from him. That’s because I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to observe him in action in the classroom, at Art Crawl and at introductory “house” parties that showcase what YA does. In all of these settings, he’s a master at getting both kids and adults involved.

Femi the Drifish speaking at the mic.

So I was both surprised and amused to hear him admit to “winging it” before he began working with Young Audiences. But what did not surprise me was to learn how his involvement with Young Audiences helped him hone and master his teaching style. He knew he was already positively impacting young lives in the classroom, but with YA’s assistance, he learned techniques that extended what he could offer and bring out in the kids.

As a person who enjoys contradictions, I thought about the nature of improvisation. Yes, it is about doing things without previous preparation. Yes, it is about responding to whatever circumstance comes your way. And yes, it is about reacting to your imagination as the 6th grader said.

A collection of student artwork: A bright tissue paper flower, a painted portrait of two girls with long eye lashes dressed in pink, and two paintings of figures flying over the high rises of New York City and over a volcano.

But… it is also about the preparation, oddly enough. When you prepare fertile ground for your imagination to take you places, you become increasingly comfortable with the journey, and you find new and creative ways to respond to real-world situations. When you learn classroom techniques that allow children to explore their worlds in different ways, you discover the power of improv paired with preparation. How it helps them rap their way to mathematical formulas, dance their way to literature themes and draw their way to social justice.

So at this year’s Impact Breakfast, I learned that preparing for improvisation is not quite the oxymoron it appears to be. Because no matter how prepared you are, you need to be able to improvise when the moment calls for it. And no matter how stellar you are at winging it, preparation makes it easier to soar on those improv wings.

Visit our Flickr page to see more images from Young Audiences’ annual Impact Breakfast.

The heel of Quynn's red and black tap shoes strikes the floor in the foreground. In the background, kindergardeners' tennis shoes imitate the dance step.

I Am Ready: Early Learning and the Arts

When Quynn Johnson steps into the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms at Margaret Brent Elementary School in Baltimore City, she is met with hugs and big, bright smiles. The students love that they’ve been learning to tap with the artist and they’ve been waiting patiently for her to return. “What do I do?” the artist asks. “You make music with your feet and you keep a steady beat!” the students respond.

Quynn is a multi-award-winning performing artist, choreographer, author, and the co-director of SOLE Defined, a percussive dance company. Though she has performed tap dance for national and international audiences, on this morning, she is captivating our state’s youngest learners—not on a stage, but in a classroom—through rhythm, imagination, and dance. Already a professional teaching artist on the Young Audiences roster, Quynn is now training to also become a Maryland Wolf Trap Artist

A kindergarten student models a "heel-toe" tap movement by striking the heel of his sneaker to the floor. His classmates sit in a circle on the rug and watch carefully.

As the Maryland regional affiliate of Wolf Trap, Young Audiences is proud to be expanding access to the arts for Maryland’s youngest students during the critical early learning years. 

High-quality early childhood education is absolutely essential to giving children the best possible start in school and in life. Decades of practice and research prove that integrating the arts into classroom experiences contributes to greater academic achievement and social/emotional development for our youngest students. The creative collaboration between teachers and artists in the Wolf Trap residency builds foundations and fuels momentum in arts-integrated early learning classrooms.

Students and teachers sit in a circle on the floor, feet outstretched. Children imagine their colorful sneakers are transformed into tap shoes and are in position to stomp out beats.

The children sing along with the artist to the tune of Frère Jacques, “I am ready, You are, too, Eyes on the teacher, We’re going to learn.” Everyone knows the song and everyone is excited to sing it—first in English, then in Spanish.

Estoy listo
Estás tambien
Ojos en la profe
Vamos a aprender

Quynn made up the song while teaching in the Summer Arts & Learning Academy last summer, but now sings it with students in lower elementary grades at every school she visits. Mrs. Jager, the Kindergarten teacher, likes it, too. She uses “I am ready” as a transition song all the time—and her students will remind her if she forgets!

The artist is not only here to teach the young students how to tap, she is here to build the teachers’ skills and knowledge and demonstrate how to integrate the art form into their lessons throughout the year. This embedded professional development is something that distinguishes the Wolf Trap Early Learning Residency from other artist residencies.

As Quynn leads the students in an exercise stomping out beats, another skill is being fortified. They are identifying patterns and practicing word sounds like “Apple, apple, ah, ah, ah,” and “Bat, bat, buh, buh, buh.” The classroom teachers and the artist work together to tailor the residency to each particular classroomdeciding how refined the dance movements should be for each age group and which literacy skills to focus on.

“The process is pretty new and different to me but I like it,” said Quynn. The artist pays particular attention to teach the elements of her art form that educators will feel comfortable utilizing in the futureand not just off the cuff, but with some artistic integrity. “I think the embedded PD portion is a great way to keep the teachers involved and shows them how it doesn’t have to be its own lesson but can be incorporated within what they’re already doing. I never want them to feel like it’s unreachable.”

By the end of Quynn’s residency in the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, the students know how to keep a steady beat on their feet, and they remember a beat pattern and two basic tap steps. And the teachers can connect the art form to literacy—leading students to sound out words and sounds with their feet. “They both felt great and comfortable with everything we did in class and I could hear them using it after our time was over.” They were ready.

Eighty-five percent of brain development occurs during the first five years of a child’s life. Participation in the arts encourages positive growth in a child’s emotional, physical, intellectual, creative, and social development. As the Maryland affiliate of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, Young Audiences expands access to the arts for Maryland’s youngest students during the critical early learning years. Bring a Maryland Wolf Trap 16-Session Residency into your school.

The Power of Community: Professional Development in the Arts

An inaugural Arts Integration Conference held at the Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC) showcased the strength and excellence of the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI)‘s collective knowledge and resources. Over the course of the day, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) educators and CAC artists participated together in classes, learning to integrate three different art forms into other academic areas.

“This was actually the first time we brought these two groups together and—WOW—what amazing things happened!”

“CAC is a fantastic arts hub next door to all 12 AEMI schools, but there isn’t always time for teachers to experience all it has to offer,” said Hana Morford, YA Education Director, Statewide Initiatives. “Our goal for the day was to create synergy between the amazing CAC artists and AACPS teachers—giving them space to work together and learn from one another through the arts. This was actually the first time we brought these two groups together and—WOW—what amazing things happened!”

The teachers and artists rotated in groups throughout the workshops, spending equal time weaving and stitching with Katherine Dilworth, a Young Audiences fiber artist; learning the elements of dance with Lacey Sheppard, Arts Integration Teacher Specialist; and forming clay vessels with CAC artist Cami Ascher. Then, in the afternoon, the teachers worked in their school teams to write an arts-integrated lesson plan that connected to one of the three art forms. During this time, CAC artists were able to get a taste of arts integration and develop ideas on how they might integrate their art form with some of the teachers’ content areas.

Teachers learned weaving and different embroidery stitches with Young Audiences artist and Teaching Artist Fellow Katherine Dilworth.

As they engaged in the various art forms, ah-has and ideas filled the classrooms. Katherine Dilworth guided participants first in a weaving project using sturdy paper plates and colorful yarn, and later, in stitching. She shared finished samples with the teachers that focused on math and on literacy—incorporating felt and even beads into the designs. Her excitement was contagious. Working with burlap, needle, and thread, one history teacher imagined the possibility of students stitching constitutional amendments.

Chesapeake Arts Center artist Cami Ascher instructed participants in building with clay.

Teachers got their hands messy learning clay building techniques with Cami Ascher in the CAC’s ceramics studio. They rolled long snakes and coiled them into different shapes. They transformed balls of clay into pots and funny characters with big eyeballs. And they learned how to “scratch and attach” to create a strong bond between formed pieces of the material. Cami had lots of advice for the group: which clays to use if they have/don’t have access to a kiln, how to minimize mess, and how to preserve a project if more than a class period is needed to complete it.

Lacey Sheppard, Arts Integration Teacher Specialist in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, taught the elements of dance.

Lacey Sheppard divided participants into two groups for her workshop, each choreographing and performing an original dance for the other. They thought carefully about BEST: Body, Energy, Space, and Timethe elements of dance. Some stepped out of their comfort zones while others felt right at home in the limelight, but they all enjoyed the exercise in movement and the connections they could make through the art form to other classroom lessons.

One participant gained so much from the professional development workshops, she sent a note of appreciation the next day. “I just wanted to share that yesterday’s PD was by far the best PD I have ever been to,” she said. “I loved how you had us in groups that stayed together through the day. I am so excited to bring back new ideas to my school. Thank you so so much!”

Teachers traveled to different workshops in groups, allowing the educators to get to know each other as they learned and collaborated together.

Hana added, “It was so beautiful to see the AEMI community begin to take shape between teachers and artists!” And it is a community, we know, that will create so many opportunities in Northern Anne Arundel County. That is the power of the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative.

Learn more about the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, its collective impact partners and the community it serves by visiting artsempoweredminds.org.

Wring, Fling, Bling, and Sing

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

As a Young Audiences volunteer, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch a variety of artists at work in the classroom. And the results always amaze and humble me. Whether it’s rapping the multiplication tables, or acting out a storyline, or drawing to illustrate a book’s theme(s), I love how the arts grab kids’ attention and not only hold it, but draw them out, asking questions, trying out new ideas, and expanding their horizons.

But it dawned on me that I had never watched a class in its entirety–had never witnessed the full lesson plan. I finally got a chance to do so recently when I visited Ms. Bradley’s eighth-grade Honors English class at Chesapeake Science Point Charter School in Hanover, Maryland. Over the course of a week, Gayle Danley, an internationally recognized slam poet, was there to guide them in writing their own poems.

Full disclosure: Gayle is a personal friend of mine. I met her five years ago when she mentored my daughter, Colette, who had been asked to speak at Young Audiences’ annual Impact Breakfast. And over the years, I have watched her perform at YA events and in her own shows. But I had not yet witnessed her in action in the classroom.

And so, I found an inconspicuous spot from which to observe. Gayle quickly got to the heart of the lesson. She had started working with the class on Monday, so she now asked for volunteers to read the poems they had written since then. She instructed them to listen carefully and write down two things: 1) a sentence or phrase they really liked; that they could truly identify with and 2) a sentence or phrase they didn’t like or didn’t understand.

“So, who wants to go first?” After a predictable silence, Gayle encouraged them, “Poets have to be afraid sometimes. I know you’re afraid to share your work. But if you come up here, we’ll support you.”

After another quiet pause, one brave soul ventured forth. “Let’s hear it for the poet!” Gayle shouted, and led the class in applause. Even so, the first girl almost returned to her seat. But by then, her classmates were shouting their own encouragement, “You got this!” “Own it–you’re already up there!”  “You can do it!”

And so she read. Sometimes Gayle interrupted to ask her to slow down or to speak louder. Another time she stopped her to ask the class what they thought of one line, “how does that make you feel?” When the teenager had finished, Gayle again led the applause and praised her for being first.

Then she asked the class for their favorite and least favorite lines, and asked them to explain. At one point, Gayle focused on “f-a-i-t-h,” which the young woman had spelled out rather than saying the word. She asked if that bothered anyone, threw them out of the poem temporarily because that’s how Gayle had felt. And when there was no comment, she asked, “Ms. Barbara, what about you?”

And so, being honest, I answered that I had actually liked that because it made me truly pause on that word and think about it. Hopefully, that was a good teaching moment about how unique poetry is and that your own personal experience will guide your interpretation!

Back at the front of the classroom, Gayle pointed to words that were written on the board: Wring, Fling, Bling, Sing. “Let’s talk about these for a while.” And for the uninitiated (as I was), Gayle describes this as her writing process.

  • Wring: Wring the words out onto the paper like you’re wringing out a washcloth. Just write it down!
  • Fling: Once it’s on paper, fling out any words that aren’t needed.
  • Bling: Now, add words that will really make your meaning stand out.
  • Sing: Finally, read it aloud and see how it sounds. Fling or Bling as needed.

As she described this, I laughed internally because I recognized my own writing process. Except I had always described it (skip this part if you’re squeamish) as the vomit method. Throw it up on the paper and clean it up later. Leave it to a poet to be, well, more poetic about it!

And so it went. Kids coming to the front, reading their poems, a start-and-stop process to consider edits. “When you say ‘ancestors,’ I think it would be good to be more specific. What if you substituted ‘Rosa Parks’ for ancestors?”

“His color was dangerous,” Gayle repeated from another poet. “What is dangerous?” she asked the teens. “A knife!” “A gun!” “A wild animal!” And with those words, she suggested illustrating the danger more concretely with a visual image that would strike the listener/reader.

As the lesson wound down, I gathered my things to leave. Did I mention there are no observers in this classroom? At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher had explained what she was looking for in an assignment that talked about regional differences and dialects in language. Before I could exit, I found myself surrounded by a group of three girls who asked me where I was from (North Carolina), how did I pronounce “pecan” (accent on the second syllable), what word do I use that generally isn’t used in other parts of the country (y’all).

Signing off on their papers, I felt excited to be a part of their education even in such a small way, inspired to try this on my own, and happy to be a tiny part of Young Audiences’ mission to reach kids through arts-integrated education. With Gayle’s teaching style demonstrated, I am ready to Wring, Fling, Bling, and Sing on my own!

The Power of “What If?”: A National Residency Teaching Artist Credential

Written by Stacie Sanders Evans,
Chair, Young Audiences’ National Residency Teaching Artist Credential
President & CEO, Young Audiences of Maryland

One of the things I admire about many of the artists I encounter is their ability to envision and create without constraint. Most of the time, I feel my ability to dream is tethered to my day to day constraints. Fortunately, I have the rare board of directors at Young Audiences of Maryland (YAMD) that isn’t asking me why our copying budget is over by 10%. Instead, they are encouraging me to dream bigger dreams and actually discouraging me from worrying about how to pay for it. They want to help shoulder the burden of these constraints so I have enough moments to live in the delicious “what if” space.

“What if” moments have gotten Young Audiences to where it is today both locally and nationally. One “what if” moment just recently led to a successful pilot of the Young Audiences National Residency Teaching Artist Credential for exceptional teaching artists. Up until this pilot, unlike almost all other professions within education, there has been no nationally recognized credential for the field of teaching artistry. 

Twelve artists (featured below) from seven different states have completed a very rigorous application process and earned the National Residency Teaching Artist Credential to date. Let’s applaud these amazing artists who took a chance with us and contributed to the larger idea of “what if” in an effort to help us test and refine a credentialing system.

Young Audiences formed in 1950 in Baltimore because of our founder, Nina Collier’s, “what if” moment. Nina’s question, “What if we bring musicians into our schools to perform?” ultimately led to the movement that created 32 Young Audiences affiliates across the United States and now benefits five million students annually. She had no idea the impact that question would have on children and artists.

In the ’90s, YAMD’s first paid executive director, Patricia Thomas, had another important “what if” moment: “What if artists are no longer limited to the auditoriums of our schools? What if they go into classrooms to give kids a chance to create in an art form?” Today, artists in partnership with Young Audiences, impact 230,000 hours of classroom learning in the arts every year, creating powerful moments for Maryland’s young people. Thank goodness there were Nina Colliers in communities across our country who were creating the same kind of opportunities for more children.

Once Young Audiences saw the transformative power of our artists in classroom settings to inspire kids and we saw how high stakes testing was narrowing the curriculum and negatively impacting student engagement in the classroom, we asked another “what if.”

“What if Young Audiences played a larger role in education and in our communities to bridge the gap between what we know the best conditions are for learning and what children actually receive in school? I call this the inspiration gap.

This “what if” led us to invest heavily in artist training (far beyond even our own roster of artists) and to create many more opportunities for artists to partner with academic teachers to use their art form to draw kids into learning in literacy, math, social studies, and science classes. This is known as arts integration, which could be learning fractions through the steel drum or about figurative language through writing and performing their own poems, or about the scientific method by writing rap songs.

Using the arts helps students connect to the academic content in meaningful ways–so the learning “sticks.” Young Audiences’ arts integration approach also requires students to “show what they know” through the arts by either performing or exhibiting. Students become more visible in this kind of classroom and it nurtures the sense that they matter. When you make the learning matter and students know that they matter–that is the secret sauce to bridging the inspiration gap.

Now school districts and foundations see us in a broader light, as an organization that can help improve educational outcomes for kids. These groups are investing nearly three million dollars in YAMD this year so we can address stubborn problems in education: preventing summer learning loss, increasing school readiness, and improving teacher practice.

Across the country, we have artists who are ready to bridge the inspiration gap, and there are even more who, with the right training and support, will soon be ready to join them. We believe the National Residency Teaching Artist Credential, along with a network of coordinated, affordable professional development opportunities, could lead to kids in all communities having greater access to a quality education–one that includes arts education and opportunities to learn in, through, and about the arts from the best professional artists in their community (even where there is no local Young Audiences affiliate).

Imagine a society where teaching artists are recognized for the valuable role they play in breathing creativity and possibility into our schools. Work which, in turn, draws kids back into learning. Imagine how many more kids would benefit if artists were able to choose teaching artistry as a profession because it was treated like other professions.

Members of the National Residency Teaching Artist Credential effort Top row from left: Brian Scheller, David Dik, Marsha Dobrzynski, Jeni Siepierski, Julie Lister, Jenny James, Sheila Womble, Ivy Bennett, Dick Deasy, Hana Morford, Chris Sheard; Bottom row from left: Valerie Branch, JoEllen Florio Rossebo, Susan Oetgen, Stacie Sanders Evans

Many, many things are needed to realize this vision, and I believe a credentialing system–one that is developed in partnership with artists and educators with students at the center–is one important component in a larger ecosystem that needs attention. And I’m not alone. A national survey revealed that 94% of teaching artists want a credential like the one we are designing for the field. One reason artists support this idea is that, currently, since our field lacks a credential, there is no unified way for that expertise to be recognized or validated.

For example, dance and teaching artist Valerie Branch has performed with over 10 dance companies, choreographed over 100 dance works, has a Bachelors degree in Dance (Magna Cum Laude), and has led artist-in-residence programs in 150 schools. But as a teaching artist, she had no signifier of her expertise, excellence, or the value she brings to the classroom. The National Residency Teaching Artist Credential solves this problem.

We are still early in this “What if we created a National Residency Teaching Artist Credential?” moment. And we hope one day, after thoughtful adjustment and many discussions with different stakeholders (that includes you!), and in partnership with the many other national and local organizations that care about education, this credential could be something that the broader field will welcome.

Was there ever a time an artist closed the “inspiration gap” for you or a young person you love?  Let’s make more moments like that for our young people. Wanna “what if” with Young Audiences around this idea? Let me know because it will take all of us–you, me, our friends, and our friends’ friends–to turn this new“what if” into a reality.

2018 Young Audiences’ National Residency Teaching Artist Credential Recipients

Valerie Branch, Young Audiences of Maryland
Melli Hoppe, Arts for Learning, the Indiana Affiliate of Young Audiences
Molly Johnson, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania
Laura Marchese, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania
Ray McNiece, Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, the NE Ohio Affiliate of Young Audiences
Emma Parker, Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, the NE Ohio Affiliate of Young Audiences
Malke Rosenfeld, Arts for Learning, the Indiana Affiliate of Young Audiences
Chris Sheard, Young Audiences of Louisiana

2019 Young Audiences’ National Residency Teaching Artist Credential Recipients:

Carrie Sue Ayvar, Arts for Learning / Miami
Harlan Brownlee, Kansas City Young Audiences
Quynn Johnson, Young Audiences of Maryland
Brittany Roger, Young Audiences of Maryland