Bringing photographer Christina Delgado to Cross Country Elementary Middle School in Baltimore City this spring for a self portrait residency was supposed to be one of the highlights of the school year. Last year, when Kristine Buls, the lead science teacher at the school, responded to a call to work with the artist, she knew the opportunity would be just right for her students. In her previous life, Ms. Buls worked as a photographer, so the thought of getting cameras into her students’ hands was irresistible. It had to happen! At the time, of course, no one imagined that by spring, working together in a classroom would not be possible.
As it did around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic sent the Cross Country students into a starkly different way of living and learning. “I was really upset when I realized we weren’t coming back to school,” said Ms. Buls. The artist residency that had been planned was special. Exelon, the energy provider and parent company of BGE, commissioned the project and would display the finished Cross Country student photographs and mixed media pieces as a permanent installation within their Chicago headquarters. It was a big deal—one that the school faculty and staff, Christina Delgado, and the students and their families had all been looking forward to.
Could the adults in our students’ lives be resourceful and creative, proactive, and flexible–not just to ensure that children’s basic needs are met, but that their whole selves are nurtured—even in times of crisis? The answer is yes. Ms. Buls said that she was met universally and enthusiastically with support. “It means so much that they’re using actual cameras instead of cell phones. It’s a very different experience and most of them haven’t had that. And the fact that we could morph this experience from in-person to virtual… I think it’s gonna be different, but I think it’s gonna be great!”
The public health crisis could have halted any dreams of working on the project, but this was an opportunity too special to let slip away. With so much already being taken from students because of COVID-19, Principal Stanfield and Young Audiences thought it was more important than ever to create this work during this unique moment in history. “This has been a big undertaking and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the efforts and guidance of Katherine Dilworth from Young Audiences and Kristine Buls—there have been many successes along with many moments of learning and adjusting,” said Christina Delgado. “This experience has played a pivotal role in my teaching/teaching artist career.”
Christina reworked her in-person lessons so that they could be delivered virtually and the school district got the students the equipment they needed to complete the project. “I was elated that through this experience, Cross Country was able to purchase 50 cameras for their school,” said the artist. “It has always been a dream of mine to leave cameras for students and teachers so that the work can continue.”
“Parents have been really, really excited about participating,” said Ms. Buls. “I think the school closures and social distancing has been really difficult on the kids. They feel special—they’re getting a camera! And I think it’s gonna be special, too, because of the time they’re doing this in. They’re recording history.”
What does learning look like in June? It’s hot, kids are getting restless, and classes don’t typically get any easier academically. Quite the opposite, in fact, for Algebra 1 students and teachers at North County High School in Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) who, in their final weeks of 9th grade, worked on teaching and understanding one of the class’ most difficult concepts: Graphing Piecewise Functions.
In the past, through the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, the Math department at North County High has enlisted a slam poet, a storyteller, and a steel drum musician to help teach Algebra 1 concepts. This year, they invited YA roster artist Christina Delgado to guide the 9th-grade students and teachers through the art of photography to produce images that symbolize points on a Piecewise Graph.
Piecewise functions have multiple equations that define different sections of a graph. One section may look like a straight line, the adjoining section may look like a parabola. Rather than having one equation that defines the graph, there are multiple equations that define the function for specific sections.
To bring this concept to life, Christina and the mathematics team took the complex math idea and made it personal. Students were asked to tell the story of their freshman year of high school and translate that story to a graph with the X-axis representing time and the Y-axis, happiness. As with life itself, happiness over time does not always look like a straight line or a steady curve—sometimes there are sharp turns and big ups and downs in short periods of time. Students started with the story they wanted to tell—the story of their school year, then worked backward to graph these stories over time and layered them over a photograph of their creation and choosing.
The students took the art form very seriously and paid close attention to Christina’s advice and direction—and because the teachers participated along beside them, they were able to experience the pleasure and resonance of learning through photography. They were able to relay this experience while leading a professional development course for the rest of the math department, giving them a small taste of how integrating the arts not only helps students grasp difficult concepts in math, but helps build community and understanding in the classroom.
“It’s a great way to learn how your students learn,” Christina told the teachers. Mr. Kellermann and Ms. Russell recounted how much their students enjoyed working on the projects—projects that were meaningful to them. “I learned a lot about the kids I didn’t know—it was cool sitting and talking with them and talking about their stories.” In preplanning sessions, students wrote stories about their lives, highlighting events that had an impact on them. Teachers helped students identify symbols that could represent critical points in these stories.
The Algebra 1 teachers walked the rest of the math department faculty through the same initial exercises their students completed on the first day of the residency. Just like their students, the teachers learned to operate and care for their tools and to use them respectfully. After reviewing some of the children’s final projects, talking about the choices their students made, and what elements were included to make their photographs visually interesting, the teachers set off on a scavenger hunt of sorts. They were to collect three images on their digital cameras: One of a colorful circle, one of a triangle, and the last one, showing pattern.
When their students were first handed cameras, they immediately wanted to take pictures of themselves and their friends. They quickly shifted their focus to the environment around them, however. They became observant and attentive. Now faculty members were able to see that being behind the lens requires them to look around and take note of what they are seeing—to be purposeful of what they are capturing in the frame. “I was trying to take a picture of this flower,” one teacher commented, “but a person blocked the way. It was like we partnered on it. It was kind of cool.”
That kind of partnership is something Christina fosters in her classroom residencies. “Actually, one of our rules is to cooperate,” the artist told educators. You have to share equipment, so students have to remind each other of how to handle cameras safely and carefully, but they will also share ideas and photo-taking techniques like perspective.
The faculty returned to the classroom to share their images. Their excitement and level of anticipation while waiting for the photos to upload matched their young students. One teacher, upon seeing a colleague’s photo of a circle, exclaimed, “It looks like Saturn!” As they clicked through the images together, Ms. Russell reminded them that in the classroom, reviewing the work does not signal the end of the lesson. This, too, was an opportunity to engage. “Alright guys, this is a great picture. Now how can we make it better?”
Day One: Camera Basics and Color, Line, and Pattern
The classes learned to operate and care for their tools and to use them respectfully. They then learned to identify visual art elements through the lens of a digital camera. After reviewing examples of Christina’s own work, talking about the choices an artist makes in capturing images, and what makes a photograph visually interesting, students and teachers set off on a scavenger hunt of sorts. They were to collect three images: One of a colorful circle, one of a triangle, and the last one, showing pattern.
Days Two and Three: Composition, Symbolism, and a Final Image
Christina arrived with bags overflowing with curious objects, colorful mementos, magazines, and flags. Everyone was excited to sort through the treasures to find the perfect piece to symbolize a moment in their story. Their task on this day was to put that object into a specific environment and use their cameras to capture it from a point of view that would support its meaning. “People were really mindful about how they were holding their cameras and the colors they used,” said the artist about students’ final photos.
Day Four: Visual Stories—Graphed
Students and teachers plotted timelines using a piecewise graph, then transferred the graph directly onto their final images. From yet another bag of goodies, the class added multimedia collage elements—stickers, multicolored transparency film, pipe cleaners, yarn—the works! “I encouraged the students to try and be creative about how they wanted to draw their line or how they wanted to tell their story a little bit deeper—maybe add some words and some embellishments to make their pictures stand out a little bit more.” They were able to create some really interesting and compelling multimedia pieces. “You’re seeing the graph, but you’re also seeing the visual representation of the graph or the story.”
Looking to the Future
Is it any wonder that positive energy and the excitement of big ideas in teaching will ripple through a school community and spark even more minds and imaginations? The math teachers at North County High School (NCHS) brainstormed many additional concepts they’d like to teach through digital photography. And the art department was so excited to see the Algebra 1 students’ finished pieces that they plan to replicate this exact lesson for their art students.
As even further evidence of their commitment to arts integration, NCHS just received a $40,000 STEM + Arts Integration grant from the National Office of Young Audiences Arts for Learning to support a year-long arts integration program with their 9th-grade Algebra students and YAMD teaching artists. Christina Delgado will be traveling to Kansas City, MO this August with Lacey Sheppard, AACPS Arts Integration Teacher Specialist, and Hana Morford, YAMD Education Director of Statewide Initiatives, to take part in a Professional Learning Institute to develop the program’s curriculum. We cannot wait to see the lesson plans that will emerge.
Learn more about the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, its collective impact partners, and the community it serves by visiting artsempoweredminds.org.
All summer long, kids and families made their way to one of seven city school libraries, each one beautifully renovated as part of The Weinberg Foundation’s Library Project to take part in SummerREADS, a free literacy initiative that provides six weeks of drop-in programming for Baltimore City students, grades K through 8.
The host schools and libraries offered safe and welcoming spaces where students participated in literacy workshops and arts enrichment with teaching artists as well as enrichment activities with special guests including Art with a Heart, Maryland SPCA, The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and The National Aquarium.
Every week, YA teaching artists introduced students to new experiences. Some learned to make music using their bodies with beatboxer Max Bent while others used lines, shapes, and shading to draw bunnies, snakes, and slugs with Brittany Roger of The Drawing Zoo. From jazz vocalist Renèe Georges, they learned about braille and how the late, great Ray Charles overcame adversity. They stitched colorful portraits of home with textile artist Pam Negrin and used what they learned about composition and digital photography from artist Christina Delgado to capture images of their library, teachers, and classmates. Actor Katherine Lyons gave students the tools, space, and permission to pretend, allowing even older children to travel wherever their imaginations would take them.
And through all of these art activities, young students strengthened their literacy skills, their vocabularies, and even their math skills. As they wrote songs, they considered the division of time when deciding how beats would fill their measures. Students explored new adjectives to best describe the textures and patterns they set out to draw, and they learned many many new ways of communicating- through art, through song, through dance, and through touch by learning the braille alphabet.
Perhaps most of all, students in SummerREADS learned that the library is a space for them. The library is open for them to use, to learn in, to explore, and to grow in. It’s a place where magic happens, not only in books, but in minds and hearts. It’s a place that challenges your ideas and is as good at surprising you with facts as it is at mesmerizing you with fiction. They learned that the library is a place where they want to be and even in summer, its doors are open.
Registration for SummerREADS 2018 is now open! This year, the program will expand to nine school library sites and operate Monday through Friday. SummerREADS programs are geared toward students in grades K-3 and their families, although the library is open to all Baltimore City School students in current Pre-K-8th grades. Learn more and register today at yamd.org/summerreads.
By Christina Delgado, Young Audiences photographer and visual artist
Digital photography is an art form that provides instant gratification. You can see your progress faster than you would with painting, drawing, or ceramics. Because of the age we live in, people are multimedia-driven and our society works efficiently with cell phones, computers, and the internet. I find that digital photography is yet another way technology has changed our approach to a task, and I believe it integrates well into education. Technology can give relevance to the art of photography, while also lowering a barrier. Easy-to-use digital cameras allow students to see themselves as artists and to express themselves creatively. This is something I wanted to teach my second- to fifth-grade students at Moravia Park Elementary when I began my residency with teacher partner and good friend, Cicely Jones, at the school in January.
I worked with students who were a part of the school’s P.R.I.D.E. program, which supports students with social and emotional learning differences. I started by giving students an overview of cameras and portrait photography. I wanted to teach them how to effectively take pictures and understand a photo’s ability to communicate feelings and ideas. Children aren’t always aware of how they are surrounded by photography every day. When they are looking at magazines or billboards, those are photographs! Getting them to understand how this art form is relevant to their everyday lives was important to their development throughout this residency.
The project I assigned students was based on a book of famous portraits that I found in a local bookstore. It showed all kinds of unique examples of portraiture, including Oprah, President Obama, and Billie Holiday. These pieces not only showed portraits of the individuals, but it also mapped out a collage of drawings, symbols, and words explaining what was important to each subject.
I had students build something similar so that they could share their own perspectives. Collaging items from magazines with their own photographs helped them define their sense of identity as they pieced the parts together. Their collages focused upon various aspects of their worlds, including interests, hobbies, and what makes them feel safe.
Some students really connected with each other through this project. One student, Trevor*, took the initiative to help another student who was having trouble focusing by sitting down with him, helping him cut out images, and discussing the project. Together, they were able to complete the work on the project for that day.
With Cicely and our faculty team, we came up with an idea that would give the students some independence. We provided disposable cameras to each of the students so that they could create images on their own time. This allowed the students to share a more well-rounded view of who they were. Giving them that responsibility really made a difference. Students felt important because they were expected to do something at a higher level–it was a very special moment.
Ultimately, the whole experience was wonderful and I appreciated the fact that Cicely brought me in to be a part of their team. During the final residency meeting, I got emotional after hearing what Cicely had to say about the improvement she had seen in her students during the residency. There were less behavioral issues and attendance was up. Hearing that positive change validated what I do. Sometimes it’s easy for artists to feel like the things they do go unseen, but this experience had an enormous impact upon the students I met. They were coming to school and they were staying positive and being productive. As children grow up, there are moments in their lives that they will never forget. I think these memories will go far.
*Student names have been changed to protect their privacy.
On a Monday afternoon in late June, students filled the Goodnow Community Center for the Summer Showcase, a vibrant display of visual and performing arts. The art shown was created by students, families, and community members through programs with Young Audiences teaching artists. Young Audiences has partnered with Goodnow since 2008 to bring a combination of arts assembly and residency programs to students attending the spring afterschool and summer programs at the center, which are made possible through generous funding from the Macht Fund of THE ASSOCIATED.
“We’re very fortunate that we have been able to have Young Audiences work with the Goodnow Community Center for the past six years,” said Gloria Jenkins, director of the center. “Our children have grown through their help.”
Those who stopped by the Summer Showcase got a taste of Young Audiences’ programs immediately when walking through the door, as students’ photographs taken with artist Christina Delgado were displayed by the entrance. These stunning images varied from full portraits to up-close snapshots.
First to perform at the showcase was Young Audiences roster ensemble Illstyle and Peace Productions, a dance company whose work focuses on the movement and spirit of Hip Hop. In her introduction for the group, Gloria noted, “When we’re planning events, the students always remind me to ‘get those boys that dance.’”
Illstyle and Peace Productions’ performance, titled NO Bullying, STOP Bullying: Let’s Be Friends, incorporated contemporary and old school dance moves with the positive message of acceptance. Throughout the show, cheers could be heard from all corners of the packed room. The program’s message was clear: when asked why they shouldn’t bully others, students passionately replied that they should treat others the way they want to be treated.
Acting as a backdrop for Illstyle and Peace Productions’ performance was a mural students created with the help of Young Audiences visual artist Danyett Tucker. “We came together and thought of a positive message we wanted to share with the community,” Danyett explained. The students decided on a quote from Harriet Tubman about following your dreams:
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
“We’re hoping that it will be used in performances for years to come,” said Danyett of the final product.
Coming together as a village and a community was the theme of the afternoon. It was especially prevalent during the unveiling of the “Mural Without Borders” artwork adorning the Goodnow Community Center’s facade. A sixth-month-long project, the work was created by members of the community with ceramic artist Herb Massie. It depicts the community’s past and present.
“The mural involved different aspects of the community to help put it together,” Rev. Kevin Bacon, Baltimore City Fire Dept. Chaplain said. “Police officers, the church, and schools all got involved.”
Retired Baltimore City Police Officer Craig Singleterry added, “People always say it takes a village. Well, this is our village.”
Though the project brought together all members of the community, it seemed to especially impact students. Rita Crews, a teacher at Hazelwood Elementary who helped students with the mural, shared, “The students were always eager to come in, even on Saturdays. They were the ones reminding me that we had to get to work.”
Barbara Combs, artist and art educator, believes that this interest in art has a practical application, noting that there “isn’t any career that art doesn’t touch.”
For Officer Singleterry, it’s also about showing students that they can do more. “Programs like these give students a new outlook on what they can do, from poetry to dance to music,” he said. “Young Audiences has brought more into their view.”
During the past few weeks, nearly 150 middle school students have dived into math and science concepts through the arts at the Young Audiences and Baltimore City Public Schools 22nd Century Pioneers Arts-Based Summer Camp. Students have learned how ratios are used in photography and how the physics of sound affect each note played on a steel drum. Through these art forms, and many more, students have been engaged in learning this summer so that they are prepared to hit the ground running this school year.
While most of the learning goes on inside the school, students have also had the opportunity to take their knowledge beyond the classroom walls on field trips. These excursions allow students to continue their hands-on learning in a new atmosphere, applying the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired throughout the summer.
The first trip was a visit to the Baltimore Museum of Industry, where students learned the ins and outs of technology and put their own engineering skills to the test. In one activity, students worked together in small groups to create a track that would carry a wooden ball and drop it into a can. This required them to go through the five steps of solving an engineering problem: plan, get materials, build, test, fix, and re-rest. Students were forced to adjust and readjust their designs before finally reaching their goal, usually resulting in loud cheers.
Students received another challenge: creating an artistic interpretation of the word industry. Groups joined together, combining their knowledge and creativity to come up with dances, skits, and songs that showed what they had learned that day.
The following week, students traveled to Baltimore’s Artscape, America’s largest free arts festival organized by the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. Surrounded by artists of all disciplines, the students put on a show of their own at the Station North Stage, showcasing what they’ve been working on during their arts enrichment classes. The show opened with a lively Hip Hop dance performance from Jamaal Collier and Alicia Shaw’s Hip Hop class. After the performance, one student explained the four pillars of Hip Hop, the most important one being knowledge. Next, Valerie Branch and Heather Tuttle’s dance class got the crowd cheering with a dance set to Ariana Grande and Iggy Azelea’s “Problem.” Kevin Martin and Kevin Older’s students also got to show off their steel drum skills.
Even those who didn’t perform on stage took part in their own form of art-making. Throughout the day, Christina Delgado’s photography students captured Artscape from behind the lens, while Danyett Tucker’s illustration students filled up their sketchbooks with drawings of everything from festival attendees to graffiti on buildings.
Bridget Cavaiola’s improv class performed an exercise called “Improv Everywhere.” All over the festival, they held compliment battles, gave flowers to strangers, and posed as wax statues, making them the target of many curious stares and even a few pictures. See this group in action in the video below!
The school year may have ended, but for Young Audiences, that doesn’t mean the fun, arts-integrated learning stops. Young Audiences has again partnered with Baltimore City Public Schools to bring arts enrichment activities to seven Baltimore City 22nd Century Pioneers Arts-Based Summer Camp sites. In addition, for the first time Young Audiences is also managing an eighth completely arts-integrated camp site at Edmondson Westside High School. The 22nd Century Pioneers Summer Camp is free to Baltimore City Public Schools middle school students.
At the Young Audiences camp, nearly 150 students will explore math and science concepts through the arts in classes and arts enrichment activities led by Baltimore City teachers and Young Audiences artists during the five-week program. Students can select the art form they will focus on during enrichment sessions, with choices including dance, photography, illustration and mural painting, theatre, Hip Hop, steel drum, or VEX robotics.
Because this is the first-ever Young Audiences arts-based summer learning site, we thought it deserved an equally spectacular kick-off event. As students arrived, what better way to greet them than with the arts?
On Monday, June 30, as students walked up to the school for the opening day of camp, the first thing that hit their ears was the sound of a steel drum being played by Young Audiences roster artist Kevin Martin of Rockcreek Steel Drums. Kevin has been building and playing steel drums for more than 20 years; this summer, he will show students how the instrument connects to math.
On the way into the building, students passed the dancing Valerie Branch, a new Young Audiences artist whose energetic moves caused many to stop and watch. Valerie will get students moving while studying science this summer. Those walking in also got to witness the Hip Hop talents of musician Jamaal “Mr. Root” Collier, who will use his skills to bring math to life. Bridget Cavaiola of Baltimore Improv Group used improvisational theatre techniques to direct students inside the building. With her help, students will learn how theatre can make abstract science concepts concrete.
The excitement wasn’t just at the front of the school. Once inside, students had the opportunity to take part in photographer Christina Delgado’s photo booth, dressing themselves in hats and glasses before striking poses. Students will have the chance to go behind the lens with Christina to learn the art of photography and its connections to math. Visual artist Danyett Tucker will link illustration to science. As students looked on, she created a colorful mural with images of various art forms incorporated into the design, from music notes to microphones to Polaroid pictures. Students were invited to create murals of their own, as each table was decked with markers and a giant sheet of paper.
All children, regardless of their resources or where they live, lose some math skills during the summer. Studies show that economically-disadvantaged students also lose literacy skills during this “summer learning slide.” Experts believe that the achievement gap between middle- and low-income students not only grows during the summer—it exists largely because of the summer.
Programs like 22nd Century Pioneers provide students with a safe place to go during the day, access to free healthy meals, adequate adult supervision, and positive, educational activities. This summer Young Audiences artists will connect students with new experiences through the arts as they learn about math and science in a new way and build their self-confidence as they gain knowledge and skills.
Check back in with the Young Audiences blog throughout July as we look at how these artist and teacher pairs are using arts integration in their classrooms.
Happy summer and happy learning!