Written by Barbara Krebs,
Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member
A few weeks ago, I was happy to attend Young Audiences’ third Art Crawl, held this year at the Single Carrot Theatre adjacent to YA’s offices.
For those of you who have not attended this annual event, I highly encourage you to do so. First of all, you’ll get to party with a group of fun, interesting, entertaining and dedicated folks. Secondly, you’ll get to enjoy the learning environment presented to the kids who attend YA’s Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA). And by that, I mean you’ll act, play music and create artwork, which helps you understand your reading assignment or your math homework. And finally, you get to nosh on great hors-d’oeuvres and sip handcrafted cocktails created by some of YA’s board members!
As always, I find myself splitting my time between talking to people I’ve met in the past, and meeting new folks who have interesting stories to tell. This time was no different. Balancing a plate of delicious appetizers from Copper Kitchen and a glass of wine provided by North Charles Fine Wine & Spirits, my husband and I soon found an empty spot at a table and introduced ourselves to Cori Daniel and Carlotta Williams. Turns out they were actually a teaching artist/teacher team who would later explore the book, Tar Beach, a story by artist Faith Ringgold recalling the dream adventure of a young girl flying high above her neighborhood in 1939 Harlem.
No matter the genre, the goal is making sure the children stay focused on the subject matter, sneakily presented as a lot of fun.
But I didn’t know this yet. What I did find out though was how long they had been teaching, what they taught, and I got to observe their obvious enthusiasm for the children and learning. Their animated conversation about their SALA classroom was fascinating, as were their fond memories of inspiring kids to learn while the children used their imaginations to improve their reading scores.
Oh, did I just use inspire, imagine and improve in one sentence? Yes, I did, and that is, of course, no accident. Having witnessed teachers and children in action in several of SALA’s classrooms this summer, and getting a chance to actually engage in it myself during Art Crawl is to truly understand how those three words create an arts-integrated learning environment that SALA uses to stem summer learning loss and bridge the Inspiration Gap.
In SALA’s five-week summer classrooms, kids use a wide variety of art techniques to help them master core subjects – whether it’s textile art to illustrate a story they are studying or rapping their multiplication tables or dancing to show character development. No matter the genre, the goal is making sure the children stay focused on the subject matter, sneakily presented as a lot of fun.
And so it was. In the segment taught by the second-grade teacher and teaching artist I had just met, we warmed up with some dance movements to highlight acting concepts. Then we looked at the pictures in the book and explained what we saw in them. Finally, we paired off and used our imaginations to explore a special place for us – one that made us feel warm and welcomed.
Next up was a math segment, guided by teaching artist Nadia Rea Morales and teacher Jose Hernandez. With a chart in the room illustrating ones as yellow, tens as red, and hundreds as blue, I created a Piet Mondrian “masterpiece.” The focus was to teach second-graders their ones, tens, and hundreds places and the relationships between digits and their place value. My own memory of learning such things was of boring, rote exercises that left me cold. Here, I hadn’t had so much fun with scissors and construction paper in ages. And to think – I was learning math!
I ended the evening with teaching artist Christina Cook, who was surrounded by a variety of percussion instruments. As she demonstrated how these were used to sound out the syllables in words, I noticed how she was combining both math and vocabulary – a certain number of syllables to express a phrase, as she beat the rhythm on her drum. She then handed out instruments and instructed us to follow along.
In addition, she said she used this technique to help the pre-K kids she taught to express their emotions. At first, she told us that the students mostly stuck to “happy” or “sad,” but soon she noticed that, as the kids gained confidence with the percussion pieces, their emotional range expanded, too. Now they were “curious” and “frustrated” and “ecstatic.” She admitted that she was impressed with the varying emotions the kids conveyed as well as the fact that they already had the vocabulary to communicate it. They had only needed the little nudge the music gave them to open up and express themselves more fully.
I have to admit – Inspire, Imagine, Improve is a mantra I can really get behind. Because each time I’ve attended Art Crawl, I come away inspired by all the people who donate time, expertise and/or money to make SALA a reality for 2,100 elementary school-age kids. I can only imagine how much harder it would be for the children and their teachers if this summer program didn’t exist. And I know that Young Audiences’ aim to improve test scores and access to arts-integrated learning is something I’m behind 100 percent.
Wouldn’t you like a little Inspire, Imagine, Improve in your life? Come join us next year and I think you’ll find your own stories of imagination that inspire you to improve. Until then, Happy Holidays!
Written by Barbara Krebs,
Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member
On Friday, November 17, Young Audiences hosted its second annual Art Crawl at City Neighbors High School, an arts-integrated public charter school in Baltimore City. Approximately 75 attendees filled the school’s stylish café, mingling among lush booths, comfy couches, ambient lighting, and in the glow of neon signs. As the group noshed on delicious hors-d’oeuvres and drinks provided by Flavor, Union, and Noble Vintners, Young Audiences President & CEO Stacie Sanders Evans welcomed the crowd, “Every person in this room played a role in closing the inspiration gap this summer.” The inspiration gap, she explained, is the difference between what we know the best conditions are for learning and what kids actually get these days in school. “Thanks to you, we reached 825 MORE young people last summer and expanded our summer programs to include middle and high school students.”
She presented a short video highlighting Young Audiences’ Summer Arts & Learning Academy, talked about the impact on the students that it serves, and shared the organization’s plans for the future. This year, Young Audiences brought their Summer Arts & Learning Academy to four Baltimore-area schools, serving more than 1,100 students over a 5-week period. Next year, the goal is to double this achievement by expanding to eight academies with an enrollment of 2,200 students.
You couldn’t help but feel proud of what Young Audiences has accomplished in stemming summer learning loss. With the help of dedicated artists and academic teachers, children who regularly attended the Academy not only avoided summer learning loss in reading and math, but in many cases made significant gains over their national peers in standardized testing. The findings showed potentially groundbreaking progress in tackling summer learning loss, a chronic challenge facing public schools.
That sense of pride was especially felt among the attendees who, either through corporate or private donorship, provided funding to bridge the gap between the City School system’s budget and the actual cost of the Academy. I had been fortunate enough to observe one Summer Arts & Learning Academy over the summer and was delighted by how many guests shared their own stories of Academy site visits. And on this evening, we had the pleasure of experiencing the Academy not just as observers, but from the perspective of students.
We were divided into groups before departing on our journey to experience learning with Young Audiences. At three arts-integrated learning stations set up throughout the school, artist-teacher partners invited attendees to step into the shoes of students and learn academic content through the use of various art forms. Of course, since it was an art crawl for adults, there were cocktails to enjoy as well!
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
Lemonade, vodka, and Blue Curaçao garnished with a Swedish fish
Concocted by Board Chairman and Sunburst Society Member Randy Osteen and Stephanie Felix
We took our seats in the library where paper, markers, glue sticks and googly eyes had been set out on tables. Fiber artist Kathrine Dilworth and her teacher-partner, Jaime Clough, explained they had worked with first graders in the Summer Arts & Learning Academy to reinforce math skills.
We were instructed to draw a monster, name it, and then partner with someone to create a mathematical word problem, as this is a difficult skill for six-year-olds. So after Pink Plush (my furry pink monster) was completed, the gentleman across the table handed me his monster, Curley, and I wrote the following, “If you subtract Curley’s eyes (3) from Pink Plush’s (4), you are left with one eye.” The teacher smiled and encouraged me with a cheery, “Perfect!” I can picture her having done that many times this summer.
Belgian-style amber ale and Grand Marnier
Concocted by Board Secretary and Sunburst Society Member Tea and Kevin Carnell
You’ve heard of STEM, haven’t you – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math? Well, when you add the Arts, you get STEAM! In the music room, after grabbing our next cocktail, we met percussionist Jason Armstrong Baker who taught us the basics of beatboxing. After demonstrating how to get Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, to beatbox for you – one incredulous person asked, “Seriously?” to which another wit deadpanned, “No, Siri!” (you gotta love this crowd) – we went through a couple of patterns to master the skill.
Convinced we were ready (really?), he turned the floor over to classroom teacher Shana Smith who had assisted third graders with their multiplication tables. After picking a card (the 5 of hearts), which was our factor (in this case, rhythm size), and after a roll of the die (3), which determined our group size (in this case, the number of times the rhythm was repeated), we had our multiplication problem, 5 x 3. Thus prepared, we broke into a stuttering chorus of BttKt, BttKt, BttKt – our answer, 15!
Dark Rum, lime, bitters, mint, and a splash of Prosecco
Concocted byVice Chairman of the Board and Sunburst Society Member Alan Hoff and Trisha Frick
Moving back into the room in which we had begun the evening, we grabbed our cocktail and gathered around tables as Femi the DriFish, a slam poet, and his teacher-partner, Erin Inouye, explained how they used the book Seedfolks as a basis for their lessons.
Using the example of “Through My Window,” we were asked to write our own poems to illustrate what we see through our window. Just as the pair had done with the fourth and fifth graders they led this summer, they offered several ways to accomplish this. A green sheet provided partial sentences with blanks left for the author to fill (think Mad Libs). Some participants were handed blank pink sheets of paper on which to pen a poem from scratch (a few brave souls chose this). For those feeling intimidated by the written word, colored markers and a blank white sheet were provided on which we could draw our window scenes.
After completing our poems, we were invited into a circle to share them. And folks from each group (pink, green and white) did so. Particularly sweet was a gentleman who drew his poem, explaining that the trees were still green, not because they hadn’t changed colors yet, but because he left for work before the sun rose and got home after it set. So the last time he saw his trees, they were still leafy and green – a detail he might have felt hesitant to explain in writing, but that came flowing from him through his artwork!
At the end of the evening the groups reunited for a few more snacks and conversation. And what struck me as I talked with these people was their shared passion for both the arts and education. One woman, Sharon Button, had actually been the Executive Director of a Young Audiences affiliate in Buffalo, NY in the 1970s. At the time she was a workforce of only one, but toiled tirelessly to secure funding for arts-integrated programs long before the term was in fashion.
Another gentleman who had worked with Young Audiences affiliates in other states had this to say, “Young Audiences in Maryland is one of the most highly respected groups, both in this city and among its peers.”
I can believe it. The energy, passion, creativity, imagination, and sheer fun that Young Audiences exhibits makes me very proud to be associated with it. I have been fortunate to meet teachers and artists who blend academic subjects and art to reach school children. And I have been doubly blessed by being able to contribute monetarily to this amazing organization as a Sunburst Society member.
If you believe, as Young Audiences does, that the arts transform lives, and that every student should have the opportunity to imagine, create, and realize their full potential through the arts, then I urge you to join us in supporting this amazing organization. And then next year, join us at the Art Crawl and discover the magic that happens when arts, education, and handcrafted cocktails are combined.
Find more photos from Young Audiences’ 2nd annual Art Crawl can be found on our Flickr page.