Students Need Arts Education Now More than Ever

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

The arts shape who we are. When we’re exposed to an art form–when we’re diving in and really experiencing it–we’re seeing life through a different lens. This means that we’re accessing information that might otherwise have been out of reach and making connections that may not have been evident. And when these experiences happen in the classroom, students are empowered to make decisions, to collaborate and build with their peers, and to understand lessons in a way that is accessible to them. In celebration of National Arts in Education Week, we want to amplify the message that now more than ever, the arts are an essential part of every child’s education.

I remember the steel drums from my first assembly in second grade, the ballet performance of my first field trip at the Columbia Coliseum in South Carolina, and music class in the trailer. My first artist-in-residence experience introduced me to Batik in fourth grade. We had arts integration before anyone thought we needed to define what that was: In fifth grade, our teachers gave us a camcorder, and we produced a music video using Cyndi Lauper’s lyrics to True Colors as part of ELA curriculum.

This was all before I turned 12 years old. These moments made a mark on me. #BecauseOfArtsEd, I knew that life existed beyond my neighborhood, that history expanded beyond what I knew, and that those who “got” Cyndi Lauper “got” me at a time when I needed to feel understood. Three decades later, these moments from school resonate with me more than anything else.

It turns out my robust arts education back in the 80’s is now deemed a privilege. In the years since I was in elementary school, the facts show that kids today have fewer artists and arts teachers in their lives and as part of their public education.

This is not the only privilege that I benefit from and, when you are a person carrying privilege, it’s easier to look at the world through a window instead of raising the mirror to the world you are a part of. The mirror reveals a City where the police receive a budget of half a billion dollars–a sixth of the overall city budget–while our school system receives a mere fraction of that. The mirror shows that Black and Brown children in our state are less likely to have visual arts, dance, music, and theatre as part of their education. Imagine all of the moments of discovery, expression, connection, and cohesion that are eliminated by not having those kinds of teachers in their life?

The disinvestment grows. With the economic fallout of COVID, “belt-tightening” is already happening in school budgets; arts positions for the current school year in my kids’ public school have been cut, and I’ve heard that other arts teachers have either lost their positions or have been asked to not teach their art forms (i.e. an “elective”) but in a “core” subject. How is this ok when children are experiencing the trauma of a global pandemic and the murdering of Black people, including George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery? How is this ok when the arts could help build the sanctuary our kids need and fuel the empowerment and self-actualization needed for the next generation to create a more racially just world?

At Young Audiences, we see that when we integrate the arts into instruction–beyond the art room or dance studio, and into literacy and math–you get high levels of engagement and, in turn, higher levels of achievement, particularly for kids who are identified as below grade level. This is because different things motivate and speak to different learners. For many kids, the arts may just be that thing. Each child has their own light switch that they sometimes need help turning on. The arts, teaching artists, and arts teachers in my life flipped that switch for me.

We at Young Audiences have come to realize that it can play a more intentional role in disrupting systems, like public education, when we see that system oppressing Black and Brown children instead of uplifting them. We are starting by getting our own classrooms in order, so that the faculty who teach in our Summer Arts & Learning Academy can construct anti-racist classrooms where all children are celebrated, honored, and affirmed. We asked this faculty to step into their roles as change agents within the current system. We understand that, in order to transform systems, we need to lift up an alternative model for what a new just system could look like. Artists, arts teachers, and arts organizations are essential to dismantling and rebuilding.

YA, in community with teaching artists, is on a course to re-envision how the arts can be used to transform the learning environment in school settings and at a systemic level. We know that #BecauseOfArtsEd, children start Kindergarten better prepared and ready to learn; that #BecauseOfArtsEd, students experience less summer learning loss, leading to more instruction time devoted to learning new material; and that #BecauseOfArtsEd, school communities see positive academic achievement and social and emotional development among students. The new system undoubtedly includes the arts. And we know that students absolutely deserve the arts as part of a well-rounded education. But, in this society, if we want to see a different reflection when looking in the mirror, we need them.

This post originally was written for AEMS and their #WeAllDeserveArts campaign. To learn more about the important work AEMS does to support and advance quality arts education in Maryland, visit their website at aems-edu.org.

Young Audiences of Maryland Wins NSLA 2020 New York Life Excellence in Summer Learning Award

BALTIMORE – Young Audiences of Maryland, the Baltimore-based nonprofit delivering arts-integrated learning experiences to Maryland students and educators, has won the National Summer Learning Association’s 2020 New York Life Foundation Excellence in Summer Learning Award for its Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA). Young Audiences was selected out of more than 350 applying organizations from across the country.

The 2020 New York Life Foundation Excellence in Summer Learning Award award honors Young Audiences’ Summer Arts & Learning Academy – operated in partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools – for curbing summer learning loss. While most children lose up to two months of math skills over the summer, the cumulative effects of summer learning loss are most detrimental to students living in under-resourced communities. Young Audiences has also been recognized for demonstrating excellence in accelerating academic achievement, promoting healthy development for children and youth, supporting educator professional development and enhancing family and community engagement. The award included a $10,000 donation to Young Audiences. Past award winners have included West Virginia University, Hasbro, Ohio State, and the YMCA.

“Our teaching artists, educators, and staff do incredible work every year to provide excellent arts and educational experiences to students in Title1 Baltimore City Public Schools through the Summer Arts & Learning Academy,” said Stacie Sanders Evans, Young Audiences President & CEO. “We are proud and thankful to be honored with this award, which validates what we’ve known all along: the arts transform learning for students.”

SALA is a free, five-week, summer program typically engaging more than 2,000 Baltimore students a year in hands-on, arts-based learning guided by professional teaching artists and educators. The seven year old program has been shown by multiple independent studies to reduce summer learning loss, increase student confidence and engagement, and transform how teachers teach. For example, SALA students may use beat boxing to support math instruction, paint their favorite scenes from stories they are reading, or explore the art of photography to learn about the nature all around them. This kind of programming is designed to make learning more accessible for students, and to influence traditional educational systems to empower all students to express their voices and experiences.

The awards are presented annually by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), the only national nonprofit exclusively focused on closing the achievement gap by increasing access to high-quality summer learning opportunities.

“Our teaching artists, educators, and staff do incredible work every year to provide excellent arts and educational experiences to students in Title1 Baltimore City Public Schools through the Summer Arts & Learning Academy,” said Stacie Sanders Evans, Young Audiences President & CEO. “We are proud and thankful to be honored with this award, which validates what we’ve known all along: the arts transform learning for students.”

“This award validates the creative approach of Baltimore City Public Schools and Young Audiences to using the summer months to address the opportunity gaps in our city,” said Dr. Sonia Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools. “When we bring artists into our classrooms in the summer they spark curiosity, creativity, and a desire to learn that fuels our students’ academic growth.”

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 nearly 10,000 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.

About the National Summer Learning Association
The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) is the only national nonprofit exclusively focused on closing the achievement gap by increasing access to high-quality summer learning opportunities. NSLA recognizes and disseminates what works in summer learning, develops and delivers community capacity-building offerings and convenes and empowers key actors to embrace summer learning as a solution for equity and excellence in education. For more information, visit www.summerlearning.org/.

Lessons from Summer: Preparing for a Virtual Fall

By now, Maryland students will have started their new school year. We know they have been missed terribly by their teachers and by their friends. And while they might not be reuniting in the ways that they had hoped, we know that they can still feel the love, the excitement, and support they would normally get in person. We know this because this summer, we were able to build and maintain the community and connections that students and families have come to expect from our programseven though the circumstances were different.

Just as in years prior, students practiced their math and literacy skills each day with educators and professional teaching artists in our Virtual Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA). Besides the traditional benefits of summer learning, our students had the additional experience of getting adjusted to online learning in the fall. One parent said, “I really appreciated the fact that students were able to be in a virtual camp and prepare themselves for the upcoming virtual school year.”

“I really appreciated the fact that students were able to be in a virtual camp and prepare themselves for the upcoming virtual school year.”

And because they were learning through the arts, students were engaged, they had fun, and they were driven to learn and succeed. We saw puppet theatre performances and were treated to kitchen instrument concerts. We heard all about new passions ranging from embroidery to engineering. And we saw students and their families and caregivers having fun while learning and engaged in the arts together.

Teaching artist Marian McLaughlin’s class made a collaborative crankie—a moving illustrated story—after reading the book “City Green”. The crankie shows everyone’s garden plots in their imaginary community garden.

We discovered that our Virtual SALA students RULE Zoom! At this year’s program culmination, students presented collaborative class projects and Creative Challenges and we were absolutely blown away by their creativity and hard work. And it’s not just the time and effort that was apparent in their presentationsyou can feel their joy and pride, their camaraderie and excitementeven through the screen!

Students in this year’s Virtual Summer Arts & Learning Academy worked with teaching artist Femi the Drifish and educator Mrs. Cassin to create “Our Changing World News”.

We also had the honor of congratulating 19 incredible students on their completion of the Bloomberg Arts Internship, the college and career readiness program for rising high school seniors. Like our SALA students, the 2020 interns completed the entirety of the program virtually. All summer long, these students honed their writing skills, prepared applications for college, attended virtual workshops on financial literacy and college preparedness, and met over Zoom with professional artists working across a multitude of disciplines.

Writing samples created by students during the internship were presented at the culminating ceremony.
Interns were presented with messages of gratitude from their peers.

At their worksites, interns completed projects that required extensive research and the development of new skills. They engaged in lively and thoughtful discussion; they showed up and challenged themselves and inspired each other to aim high; and they cared for and supported one another daily.

This video, created by Gyasi Mitchell, BAI class of 2019, offers a glimpse into week four of our virtual Bloomberg Arts Internship.

We learned so much about reaching and inspiring students virtually and about connecting talented and committed teaching artists and educators with families in all new ways this summer. This was not the summer any of us expected when we started planning for it last yearin what now feels like a very different time. But summer is a magical season at Young Audiences, pandemic or not, and we are so thankful to be able to take this experience and all the lessons we learned and apply it to the new school year.

We are truly excited to now offer a diverse array or synchronous and asynchronous programing to help schools engage students this school year. We know that creating content that changes the pace of remote learning can be a daunting challenge for educators. Young Audiences’ remote learning programs provide the tone and flow that makes learning interesting and fun. Our standards-based resources motivate students to stay engaged and provide busy educators with high-quality, fully customizable options for delivering content. Visit yamd.org/remote-learning to learn more about how our professional teaching artists bring excitement and joy into your virtual classrooms!

Children performing their own version of Little Red Riding Hood

Young Audiences’ Free Summer Arts & Learning Academy to Expand to Nearly 2,600 Children After Study Shows it Reduces Summer Learning Loss

Arts-integrated program for City Schools students expanding to nine sites in 2020 after program successfully reduced summer learning loss in math

BALTIMORE – Young Audiences’ Summer Arts & Learning Academy–the free, five-week arts integration program for Baltimore City Public School students–will expand in 2020 after new research showed the program successfully reduces summer learning loss in math while supporting writing and social-emotional growth. In 2020, the program will grow to nine sites, reaching nearly 2600 students across Baltimore.

The 2019 Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) was held from July 6 to August 7 at eight sites. Through hands-on activities co-taught by teaching artists and teachers, more than 2,300 Pre K-5th grade students engaged in painting, songwriting, poetry, dance, music, photography, and playwriting while learning math, writing, and literacy.

“Arts education is a vital component of instruction in City Schools because its concepts infuse other key instructional areas such as language arts and mathematics. That combination creates a well-rounded education for our students,” said Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, CEO of City Schools. “We are pleased to partner with Young Audiences/Arts for Learning as it enhances its contribution to the arts education of our students. Its work is invaluable in expanding the minds and skillsets of our students.”

Research from Baltimore City Public Schools and evaluation firm WolfBrown showed that the infusion of the arts into traditional learning content transformed the classroom experience, resulting in academic gains for students. Baltimore City Public Schools analyzes student performance on the i-Ready math assessment, taken at the end and beginning of each school year to gauge summer learning loss. Results showed that SALA attendees had significantly less summer learning loss in i-Ready math compared to BCPSS students who did not attend the program. The district evaluation also highlighted YA as the most cost-efficient elementary program with the highest rates of enrollment and attendance.

WolfBrown, a national leader in research on arts education and children’s development, partnered with Young Audiences to analyze the 2019 SALA results and reported significant academic gains–an average of 20% growth–in third-fifth grade writing scores on pre-and-post program testing. WolfBrown also found that students attending SALA for two years showed no summer learning loss in math. Rather, these students experienced academic gains when returning to school, growing their i-Ready scores by nearly three percentile ranks.

WolfBrown’s findings showed that while all kids can benefit from the program, students who are furthest behind academically can benefit the most. Students (grades 3-5) entering the program two grade levels below grade level saw no summer learning loss in reading as measured by i-Ready. In fact, these students grew by two percentile ranks when returning to school in the Fall. 

With Baltimore City Public Schools prioritizing whole child education, Young Audiences (YA) partnered with WolfBrown to develop and pilot an observation tool last summer that spans from emotional support and social climate to academic knowledge and arts integration. The framework is based on what research shows matters in a learning environment–and it may ultimately help YA and City Schools better understand why this program works. Observers scored SALA particularly high in classroom climate, teacher sensitivity, ability to develop math skills in students, co-teaching, and differentiated literacy instruction.  

“Arts education is a vital component of instruction in City Schools because its concepts infuse other key instructional areas such as language arts and mathematics. That combination creates a well-rounded education for our students,” said Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, CEO of City Schools. “We are pleased to partner with Young Audiences/Arts for Learning as it enhances its contribution to the arts education of our students. Its work is invaluable in expanding the minds and skillsets of our students.”

“We are thrilled that City Schools is choosing to partner with Young Audiences to expand this program to more children in summer 2020,” said Stacie Sanders Evans, Young Audiences President & CEO. “We also love that City Schools is committed to the whole child, making sure kids have opportunities to develop personally, creatively, and academically over the summer.”

Registration for the 2020 Summer Arts & Learning Academy will open on Tuesday, March 3, with the program running from July 6 to August 7. Host sites include Arundel Elementary Middle School, Elmer A. Henderson-Hopkins, Dorothy I. Height Elementary School, Gardenville Elementary School, Beechfield Elementary Middle School, James McHenry Elementary School, Pimlico Elementary/Middle School, Wildwood Elementary/Middle School, and Graceland Park-O’Donnell Heights Elementary School. Find registration and more information at yamd.org/programs/summer-arts-academy.

View the full Baltimore City Public Schools Summer Evaluation
View the full WolfBrown SALA Evaluation

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 nearly 10,000 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.

Artists and Staff tasing for a group photo in the courtyard of a renovated industrial building

#GivingArts4Learning: Micaela’s Story

Our staff at Young Audiences do not just come to work. We come to support a mission: to transform the lives and education of our youth through the arts by connecting educators, professional artists, and communities. And we come with our hearts and minds and bodies ready to go above and beyond to realize this mission.

Micaela wrote, “When I started at Young Audiences six years ago, I thought we needed the arts to help students be more engaged in school and make learning more accessible. I had just been a teacher, and I saw changes in my students when they worked in the artsnew leaders emerged when we did a class talent show, and huge smiles appeared on kids’ faces when they got “their own” recorders to take home from music class.

We need young people who not only have the skills needed to build a better world, but can imagine what that might look like. Artists in schools seems like one of our best shots at giving kids the space and community to become the wild, imaginative thinkers and doers that we all need.

These things are still truethe arts are awesome at engaging kids in school, providing an opportunity for students to do hands on work that is meaningful, visible, and matters. And, they spark joy in kids!

Today, though, I think there is more that I didn’t realize a few years ago. I think we need imagination in volume and degrees beyond what I understand. We need young people who not only have the skills needed to build a better world, but can imagine what that might look like. Artists in schools seems like one of our best shots at giving kids the space and community to become the wild, imaginative thinkers and doers that we all need.”

Spoken word artist Femi the Drifish stands at a table where students are seated looking over their work.

#GivingArts4Learning: Femi’s Story

Our artists know how to use their art form to draw kids into the work, to get students to challenge and surprise themselves and proudly show off their achievements. They see how arts integration engages and motivates even the most reluctant students.

Spoken Word Artist Femi the Drifish told us, ”I was working with 7th graders at Commodore John Rodgers Elementary/Middle doing an arts integration math program using rhythm, rhyme, and poetry. Going through what is common in a classroom, I challenged the students to use their algebra vocabulary to describe the city of Baltimore using the terms in creative ways—metaphorically, but in correct context.

There was one student, clearly the “too cool for school” type, who just wasn’t participating in any activity that led up to the final writing exercise. Once the scaffolding was completed and students were set to complete their assigned writing prompt, I witnessed that one kid scribbling on paper in the corner by his lonesome, away from tables where students where gathered.

Upon completion, students shared their work trying to impress each other with the cleverness of their vocabulary usage in the Baltimore City descriptive poems, when he asked if he could share his poem.

I was surprised—just like his teacher and his class peers—and quickly encouraged him to step up to the front of the class to present before he decided to retreat into the disinterested facade he used during all the warmups. As he delivered the poem I realized that he didn’t stick to the theme given, but instead described his love for the game of football using the math terms.

The class roared on cheers upon his completion and the teacher grabbed the poem from him to share with other teachers who wandered into the class to congratulate him.”

The Pre-K class sitting together on a rug depicting the solar system, posing with Alice, a student volunteer.

#GivingArts4Learning: Shannon’s Story

Alice’s year at Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) meant so much to her. The program helped bring clarity to math concepts my daughter was struggling with through an art form she loves, she felt confident, and she felt like she was part of something larger than herself. It made her feel proud of herself and proud of her community.

She wrote, “A lot of people think of Baltimore as how the news shows and talks about it. The news tends to only show the little bad things about us. I wish people could just see what SALA is like. It’s a perfect representation of Baltimore’s youth! It shows that we are creative, compassionate, caring, and loyal.” Now Rosario, my youngest daughter, looks forward to SALA every summer. And even though Alice is too old to attend, she volunteers in the program. “I can help and watch other children get the same great experience that I did.”

As I’ve seen with my own children, arts integration is not just fun in the moment. These are experiences that shape students’ mindsets, their education, their goals—experiences that students carry with them and inform their decisions for years to come. Please give today.

Stacie Sanders Evans posing for a photo with Colette, a high school student and Impact Breakfast speaker

#GivingArts4Learning: Barbara’s Story

I have been a volunteer for Young Audiences for seven years now, ever since discovering them when Colette was in 10th grade, and was asked to speak at their Impact Breakfast. I learned then how much YA had already impacted her, as Colette was part of the PVA (Performing and Visual Arts) magnet at school. Teaching artists from YA were very active, and still are, with the PVA in Anne Arundel County.

But what really impressed me was YA’s involvement at all grade levels and in so many schools across Maryland. By integrating the arts into core curriculum, kids learn in a way that helps them retain the information. Whether it’s rapping their multiplication tables, dancing to showcase literature themes or creating mosaics to depict basic biology, the kids are learning because they’re HAVING FUN!

As for Colette, she’s finishing her senior year at East Carolina University, as an electrical engineer.  And she still benefits from the arts-integrated education she has received.  For example, although I may not comprehend the mathematical formulas in the papers I proofread for her, her PowerPoint presentations are so visually pleasing that I don’t mind reading what I don’t understand!  Seriously, I hope you’ll consider donating today so that other kids can have the great experiences and training that she received as part of YA’s arts-integrated education techniques.

#GivingArts4Learning: Alex’s Story

Young Audiences has played a pivotal role in Alex’s life, both past and present. As a child, he discovered his love of writing during a YA artist residency in his public elementary school. Nearly two decades later he works as a staff member with Young Audiences of Maryland.

He wrote “As an adult who was diagnosed with a learning disorder later in life, I can look back and say that my experience with YA was a turning point in my journey to know and love myself. When I had the chance to demonstrate my understanding by creating, rather than just consuming information, I found myself not only participating in class but thriving! I want to stress how much even a single experience can expand a young person’s horizons of possibility, both for their education and their future.”

Now, Alex coordinates YA’s programming with schools in Prince George’s, St. Mary’s and Calvert County and writes fiction and poetry as well. “It brings me great joy to step into a school and know that a student will find a lifelong sense of meaning and passion because of our work.”

Alex is an example of the power of arts integration in the life of our students, especially those who struggle to learn through traditional means. He is proud to “pay it forward” as a staff member and encourages you to support our work across the state of Maryland. Please give today.

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. 

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.

Step by Step: The Power of the Arts

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

As a pair of dancers performed, a group of elementary school children sat, crisscross applesauce, watching their every move. Valerie Branch, a dancer and choreographer with Young Audiences had been working with the Belle Grove Elementary students in an artist residency made possible through the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI). When the last notes faded away, Valerie asked the children what they had observed.

“They love each other,” one child offered.

“They share,” another chimed in.

Valerie Branch and a student from Belle Grove Elementary School demonstrating a “weight bearing” dance technique for the audience.

Then she asked the kids to explain what dancing techniques they had witnessed. “Negative space,” “weight sharing,” and “weight bearing” were some of the answers shouted out.

Next, she gathered a group of her second-grade students to pair off with each other to demonstrate some of those concepts. Once the children had done so, half of the students were instructed to use a frozen pose in a high, medium, or low position. The rest were to react to whatever their partner had created. With the new poses in place, she asked the other children in the assembly to discuss what they saw and how the partners had related to one another.

And, in true arts integration form, this exercise was not just about learning dance terminology and positions, but was tied to lessons at the school. This particular one was used in conjunction with a poetry-writing assignment in which the children described themselves through the creation of “I am” poems. Later, choreography was added to illustrate their autobiographical poetry.

Such was the back-and-forth learning that observers witnessed at the Arts Empowered Minds Announcement Event and Celebration on Friday, March 8. The group of educators, politicians, state and local arts administrators, and volunteers gathered at the school was celebrating a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which will be used to expand arts integration and teacher professional development in Northern Anne Arundel County.

Pictured counter-clockwise from top left: YA President & CEO Stacie Sanders Evans, Matt Barinholtz of FutureMakers, AEMI Teacher Liaison Betsy Brininger, and Lacey Sheppard, AACPS Arts Integration Teacher Specialist

This is the third time that the NEA has awarded Young Audiences, the program’s managing partner, a grant for AEMI. This collaborative partnership between a wide array of arts and education organizations throughout Anne Arundel County seeks to “address the disparity in arts access–and associated gaps in student achievement–between students in Northern Anne Arundel County and the rest of the county.”

Arts Integration Teacher Mika Nakano (left) and Brittany Roger (right)

Now in its third year, AEMI has already racked up an impressive set of statistics. But even better than the numbers are the inspiring stories that teachers and administrators had to share during the event. Brittany Roger, a teaching artist with a scientific illustration background, spoke of bringing exotic animals (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, iguanas, corn snakes) to the classroom and allowing children to explore the creatures through sight, sound, touch, and smell. Afterward, the students draw and sketch the animals based on their observations.

Amy Goodman, who heads the math department at North County High School, told of her department’s initial skepticism about linking arts and math together. But as the teachers learned arts integration techniques and applied them in the classroom, they began to see students who had been turned off or struggling with math begin to make connections that helped them grasp the concepts they needed to learn.

Dr. Maureen McMahon,  Deputy Superintendent for Academics & Strategic Initiatives for Anne Arundel County Public Schools

And so, step by step, AEMI partners create opportunities for children to learn through the arts. Step by step, the Initiative changes minds about the importance of integrating the arts with reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. And, step by step, it makes converts of those who witness how the arts engage young minds and help them stay, not only focused on their education, but truly inspired to learn.

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