Arts Empowered Minds Inititative

STEM Cells? Nah, STEAM Sells!

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

Excited. Proud. Love. These are the three words that I heard repeatedly as I attended the unveiling of the mural that sixth-grade students from Brooklyn Park Middle School created. Though these are not words typically linked with a middle school science project, they help illustrate the magic that is produced when you combine science education with an arts-integrated approach to learning.

The collaboration between their science class and a professional teaching artist from Young Audiences, in partnership with Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI), resulted in a 10-foot science-themed mural, titled “Brooklyn Park Middle Students Research Cells and Viruses.” As explained in the program, the mural “illustrates the dynamic, multifaceted interactions occurring thousands of times a day between cells, viruses, and living things.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I entered MedStar Harbor Hospital‘s Baum Auditorium in South Baltimore, but I immediately felt welcomed as a saxophone quartet from Brooklyn Park Middle played classical music. Their melodies formed a soothing backdrop to the animated conversations between medical personnel, artists, educators, politicians, parents, students, and others who had gathered for the event. A delightful spread of food – chicken satay, veggie trays, fruit and cheese platters, and even cupcakes for the kids – provided by the catering arm of the hospital, Morrison Healthcare, ensured that no one would walk away without all their senses satisfied.

But I digress.  As the reception wound to a close, the formal program began. First up, Stacie Sanders Evans, the President and CEO of Young Audiences. Reaching for a hospital analogy, she spoke of Young Audiences’ facilitating role behind the scenes as the “spinal cord” or “backbone” that makes the arts-integrated learning possible in area schools. She described how Young Audiences partners with schools and other organizations like AEMI and the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County (who helped fund this project) to pair core curriculum teachers with professional teaching artists to enhance learning experiences in Maryland classrooms. Rather than rote learning, students explore academic subjects in any number of hands-on, arts-oriented ways.

From left: Jill Johnson, Vice President of Operations for MedStar Harbor Hospital; Stacie Sanders Evans, President and CEO of Young Audiences; Dr. Stuart Levine, President and Chief Medical Officer of MedStar Harbor Hospital; and Ryan Moran, MedStar Health’s Director of Community Health

Next was Dr. Stuart Levine, President and Chief Medical Officer of MedStar Harbor Hospital. He told the young student artists just how meaningful their creation would be to the hospital, saying that it would be proudly displayed in MedStar’s Emergency Department lobby. He talked about the VIPs in the room – the sixth graders – who had created this mural. He told them, “When community members come in for care, when they’re sick, when they are at their moment of need, they’re going to come into a place that has this incredibly hopeful work on the wall that’s made with love by the kids of their community.”

Then Dr. George Arlotto, Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, spoke, stressing, “People who don’t even know you love you; people who don’t know you are proud of you.” This was the legacy that, even as young tweens, they were creating for their community.

Dr. George Arlotto, Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools and teaching artist Amanda Pellerin

Following Dr. Arlotto, the two teachers who guided the kids through the process spoke. Lisa Radike, the Brooklyn Park Middle school science teacher, recalled that this process helped the kids learn more than just the science of cells, it also helped them “learn how to get along, how to work together.” Amanda Pellerin is the Young Audiences artist who taught them to mold clay, shape it into the cells and viruses they were studying, and then assemble an entire mural from all the different parts they had imagined and created. As she looked proudly onto the students, she made sure they understood the significance of what they had done. “You now have artwork that is on permanent display– and you’re not even out of sixth-grade yet!”

Finally, it was time for the unveiling of the mural. As the students and their teachers surrounded the mural, people leaned forward in their seats, many creeping to the front with cell phones to capture the much-anticipated moment. After a few more remarks from one of the students who reiterated the theme of how creating the artwork had required them to put aside differences and work together, the veil was cast off and everyone could finally see the finished artwork.  

Brightly colored cells wiggled and squirmed their way across the surface. And like a visiting rock star, the mural sat “patiently” as a host of people came up to be photographed with it.

As the event wound down, I finally managed to talk to one of the students, asking simply, “How long did it take all of you to create this?” His answer pulled me out of my adult world of man-hours and Outlook schedules. “About 10 classes.”

There it is simply. It’s about the classes. It’s about what you learn in the classes. It’s about how the classes are taught. It’s about the knowledge you retain from the classes. And though my own knowledge of sixth-grade biology is but a dim memory, it didn’t take a Jonas Salk knowledge of cells to clearly see how wonderful this evening was. That these kids were excited about science. That the folks in attendance were proud of what the middle schoolers had learned and created. And that everyone loved the intersection of science and art.

MedStar Harbor Hospital Mural Unveiling

The National Endowment for the Arts: a Sound Investment

Co-authored by Barbara Krebs, a Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member.

We grow up in the United States hearing that we get what we pay for. Such is the case with investments in the greater good. That’s one of the many reasons we’re so passionate about teaching in and through the arts. From our country’s youngest students to our aging seniors, the entire population benefits in both the short- and long-term from the arts, whether it be emotionally, socially, or intellectually.

Non-profit arts organizations like us work hard to both generate sustainable programming and seek support from private and corporate funders so that we may fulfill our mission to positively impact the greatest number of Maryland children with the highest quality arts-integrated educational programming. Federal funding may only be a piece of our funding picture, but it is an important one.

We are excited and proud that the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Young Audiences of Maryland $90,000– one of only seven total Collective Impact Grants awarded nationwide– for the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI) in Northern Anne Arundel County! The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative utilizes arts integration programming to boost achievement, parental involvement, student engagement, and empathy. Programming includes in-school arts integration, out-of-school arts programming, and professional development for teachers. In addition, the program will partner with community organizations to create family engagement opportunities, such as providing family passes to the new Maker Space at Chesapeake Arts Center.

The program is the culmination of the work of many groups and individuals seeking to build a movement for increased equity through the arts in their community. With funding from the NEA in 2016, we built partnerships with Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC), Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS), Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, and University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC). Together, we have already provided professional development to over 100 teachers, and delivered high-quality arts-in-education programs to nearly 2,500 students at six schools.

“This second grant from the NEA will allow us to both deepen and expand our reach and maximize existing resources to ultimately bring the impact of arts integration to almost every student in Northern Anne Arundel County,” Stacie Sanders Evans, Executive Director of Young Audiences explained. The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative will expand from six schools to all 12 public schools in Northern Anne Arundel County and impact more than 7,000 students in grades pre-k through 12.

To be clear, it’s not the NEA’s budget that is proposed to be cut; it’s the NEA itself that is on the line. It’s important to think about this as it impacts local communities and groups. And, should the NEA be eliminated, it will impact our community. When vital, far-reaching, and life-altering programs are at risk, we must speak up. And it’s surprisingly simple and quick to let your voice be heard.  Identify your legislators. Email your senator. Call your representative. Write a letter.

Take 2 minutes now to contact your members of Congress and join the #SAVEtheNEA campaign. Involved citizens can and do make a difference.  Please, join us in the fight to keep the arts alive and accessible in our nation, state, and community. We get what we pay for. And, when we invest wisely, what we get is more than we could have ever even hoped for.