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.

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.

Spreading the Word

Teaching a subject through a new art form feels less daunting after not only seeing a successful idea modeled in a classroom setting, but actually participating in the learning as a student. At Community Arts: Connecting Neighborhoods and Classrooms, the 13th Annual Arts Integration Conference at UMBC, academic teachers were given the opportunity to see and do in a number of classrooms on campus.

Workshop participants learned, for example, the art storytelling with Laura Wexler of  The Stoop Storytelling Series, how to connect ELA and STEAM with designing and building kinetic sculptures with FutureMakers, and ways to integrate theatre standards with language arts standards.

Participants in one class learned how to teach mathematics through wring poetry. Teachers of grade levels ranging from Pre-K through adult learners convened to learn from North County High School (NCHS) Algebra teacher Ashley Russell and Young Audiences roster artist and spoken word poet Femi the Drifish. Their workshop Right On, Then Say Word: Poetic Mathematics was developed through a lesson they have been successfully co-teaching since the 2017-18 school year.

The pair shared their collective experience working with students and showed examples of student work and performances. Femi (his students address him as Mr. Fish) gave the teachers a small taste of his signature style and shared other arts-integrated lessons he’s taught over the years, encouraging them to think about the intersection of language and math in word problems and popular mnemonic devices like PEMDAS (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally).

At the end of the hour, the teachers had not only enjoyed their time, they learned to create, revise, and perform their own spoken word poetry using mathematical terms. They felt confident that they could use poetry to teach material in their own classrooms. And their students will most certainly enjoy the challenge, pride, creative thinking, and accomplishment that comes from learning through this art form.

You can read more about their partnership in the classroom and how students learn Algebra through the practice of writing and performing slam poetry here.

In 2017, North County High School Math Department Chair Amy Goodman began working to bring arts integration to all of the school’s 9th grade Algebra 1 classes. Thanks to the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, these students have studied with a variety of professional teaching artists. In addition to Femi the DriFish, Algebra 1 students have worked with TAHIRA, Skher Brown, and Kevin MartinSince beginning this effort, the school’s Algebra I PARCC scores have shown double-digit gains (not to mention, students nurtured their creative sides exploring storytelling, learning to play steel drums, expressing themselves through poetry, and practicing the art of Capoeira Angola).

Arts Integration

Arts Integration: 1 + 2 = Fun!

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

When I was studying for exams in college, I would often create a strong visual image to help me remember test items. For example – the 6 C’s of credit? Character, capacity, capital, condition, collateral, cash flow. And while these concepts didn’t flow naturally through my brain, the image I created did. There was a guy (character) leaning on a crutch (condition) with a cap on (capacity) standing in front of the Capitol Dome (capital) with a briefcase (collateral) full of dollar bills (cash flow).

At the time I didn’t have a name for my study method – I just knew it worked for me. Years later I can now identify this as arts integration with an emphasis on a visual learning style.

And so I felt very at home as I toured Young Audiences’ Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) at Lyndhurst Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore. That’s because each classroom was filled with young students learning in a variety of arts-integrated formats. I witnessed drama, rap songs, textile art, drawings, and writing—all used in conjunction with classwork such as a math problem or a reading assignment.

And while I knew, and the teachers knew, that these children were involved in thoughtful, hard work here—the serious business of arresting summer learning loss—the kids were focused on how much fun learning was. For example, in the PreK classroom, YA roster artist Mama Rashida of WombWork Productions and her teacher partner, Samantha Amey, worked with the students on a basic math problem: 1 + 2 = 3. Now, of course, you can force your brain to learn this by sheer rote repetition, but let’s face it. How exciting is that?

But if you illustrate it with a story about the marketplace where you must buy one fruit (fruit sellers stand here to the right!) and then move on to the vegetable stalls where you need a tomato and a carrot (veggie vendors over here, please!), you set the stage for a fun learning experience.

As the kids moved excitedly from place to place to “fill” their baskets or “sell” their wares, the teacher illustrated what they were doing on the whiteboard. With their “shopping” completed, the children returned to their seats and began to answer questions about the math problem. At this point, the teacher pretended to be confused and wrote wrong answers on the board. As the children rushed to correct her, she had them explain what was wrong, until everyone agreed that the proper answer was three.

No, this wasn’t bored voices droning “1 + 1 = 2,” “2 + 2 = 4.” Instead, these were kids excited about math, happy to supply the correct answer to a befuddled teacher and eager to learn more!

But what about English? A little later I stepped into a first-grade classroom where students were studying Charlotte’s Web. Here, I found a mix of visual art and drama being used to tell the story. Several children took turns at the front of the classroom with a drawing they had made. After displaying it, they then acted out that portion in mime. Initially, the teacher set the scene, reminding the kids what was happening in the story at this point. After the child was done, the teacher asked the other students what they had observed as their classmate portrayed the scene.

Later, I noticed a bulletin board filled with tiny spiders made using a modified papier mache technique, with pipe cleaner legs. As I looked at this, one young girl came up to me and proudly told me about the paper collages they had made to illustrate what the barnyard looked like. “They’re displayed outside the classroom. You have to see them!” Indeed, I did, and when I left, I enjoyed all the bright, cheery artwork that surrounded the door frame.

My next stop was a mixed class of second, third, and fourth graders who were working on both how to solve for an unknown number in a math problem and the nine’s in the multiplication table. And here is where I definitely appreciated the arts-integrated approach. I remember learning the nine’s and, oh, how I despised them.

But nobody seemed to hate nine’s here. Maybe that’s because as they chanted this portion of the multiplication table, not only did they give it a fun rap slant, but other classmates accompanied the song with percussion instruments. Why couldn’t they have done that when I was in school?

My final stop was to a fourth-grade classroom where the lesson was to reinforce the basic math operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. Here, too, I felt very at home, but this time it was because not only did I recognize the teaching artist, YA roster artist Femi the DriFish, who I’ve witnessed teaching on several occasions, but I actually recognized kids whom I had seen before. This heightened my sense of how compelling arts-integrated learning is in capturing kids’ imaginations, so much so that they return for another summer of learning!

They rapped their way through a popular song remixed to describe math operations terms in word problems (equals to, divided by, times, added to, subtracted from, etc.) in preparation to shoot their own music video. As they practiced, I wondered what they would take away with them after this summer. Would they remember these lyrics and hum them in their head as they take a math quiz next year? Will they think about a marketplace full of vegetables and fruits and how math filled their baskets? Perhaps they’ll draw a picture that will help them recall the story they’re reading in class.

But most of all, will they remember the fun that accompanied all these math and English concepts? And that 1 + 2 = 3? I think so. And this funny little guy, leaning on his crutch with his cap, briefcase and dollar bills, standing in front of the Capitol agrees with me!

Young Audiences' Sun

Learn more about our mission, our methods, and our future plans during a one-hour Meet Young Audiences event. In addition to hearing from the organization’s leaders and getting an inside look into the amazing work we are doing around the state, one of our roster artists will share their amazing work with you and speak about how the arts complements and enriches classroom learning. Please reach out to Ingrid Murray, Individual Giving Manager, at ingrid@yamd.org for more information or call (410) 837-7577 x. 107. Interested in hosting your own Meet Young Audiences event? Find out more here!

Summer Arts & Learning Academy

Repping Baltimore: Young Poets Take the Stage

Children have a lot to say. Slam Poet and YA teaching artist Femi the Drifish worked with students in last year’s Summer Arts & Learning Academy to help them get their poem to the stage for all of Artscape to hear. We are proud to share this light, energy, and love for our city, straight from the mouths, hearts, and minds of the future of our nation.

Baltimore
We live
Baltimore
We wise
Baltimore
We Lit
Baltimore
We live [2X]

Don’t try to fit me in, your equation
I’m not a part of your, situation
We repping Baltimore real hard
Doing it real big, World Star
We eating chicken boxes, half N half
At the harbor, eating crabs
Repping Baltimore, since I was five
They don’t know me, I ain’t gotta lie

Baltimore
We live
Baltimore
We wise
Baltimore
We Lit
Baltimore
We live [2X]

We love this city, all heart
Always loved it, from the start
No more murders, more hugs
Stop the drug dealing, no more thugs
We don’t need to be, from the hood
What we need is, more brotherhood
We from Coldstream, getting an education
Cause we the future, of this nation

Baltimore
We live
Baltimore
We wise
Baltimore
We Lit
Baltimore
We live [2X]

smARTbeats

smARTbeats: Up to Eleven!

It’s been almost a year since we announced our partnership with WTMD to feature YA teaching artists on their family-favorite Saturday morning radio show Young At Heart! Since May 6, 2017, host Lisa Mathews—YA teaching artist and lead singer of Grammy-nominated children’s band Milkshake—has invited eleven top-notch, talented YA roster musicians to date into the studio to chat on a monthly segment called smARTbeats. Listeners have learned about the artists’ professional work outside of schools, arts integration, and heard how they’ve reached students through art in the classroom.

“Listening to music is great, but making music is transformative.” Alden Phelps

Some of the featured artists have talked about the guidance they’ve received and diligence and artistic discipline they learned from parents, peers, or mentors. Some have revealed the inspiration they’ve found through their own small children. All have shared with listeners the energy, kindness, and expertise that they bring into every Maryland classroom they visit.

“If we never spoke a word, we could communicate through music.” Devin Walker

From memories of touring with the one-and-only Mr. Ray Charles, reaching audiences around the world in Spanish, English, and through poetry, taking a musical journey to outer space, to finding out not just how artists inspire children every day in Maryland classrooms, but hearing what motivates, energizes, and inspires them, getting to know these fantastic teaching artists has been a real treat for Saturday mornings!

“There’s power in words, build or destroy, so watch what you say.” Femi the Drifish

And just in case you prefer to sleep in on the weekends, we’ve compiled WTMD’s Soundcloud links here for you to enjoy any time of day or night!

Young At Heart airs weekly 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 Flavor of Math: Understanding Algebraic Terms

What do you call a collection of two or more equations using the same set of unknowns? Can you identify the variables and constants in a mathematic expression? Why would a person ever use the Method of Matrices? If you were an Algebra student, you’d be committing these definitions, methods, and terms to memory, filling your lexicon with the language of math.

“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” Any veteran language learner will tell you that old adage. Being challenged to use their new vocabulary in a different context is one way to help students become (and remain) fluent. To encourage this, Amy Goodman, Math Department Chair of North County High School (NCHS) in Northern Anne Arundel County, coordinated an artist residency developed by YA artist and spoken word poet Femi the DriFish in collaboration with the school’s Algebra 1 team. Artist residencies, like this one, came to the school thanks to the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative.

Through the initiative, schools in Northern Anne Arundel County are learning to use arts integration as a strategy for boosting student achievement and engagement. Classroom teachers and school administrators are building sustainable partnerships with teaching artists and arts organizations that inspire students and use the creative process to make meaningful, real-world connections to the curriculum.

“Mr. Fish!” NCHS students announced Femi the DriFish’s arrival. The artist is a master of illustrating the meaning of words through poetry and, through literary guidance, builds a strong rapport with the young scholars. For this residency, Femi worked with students to write poems within small groups on the topic where I’m from.

The 9th graders brainstormed over how to use the algebraic vocabulary words scribed onto the backs of index cards to convey their thoughts: function, common difference, output, relation. The language usually reserved for Algebra class became double entendres in lyrics carrying messages of citizenship, diversity, and pride. “If you use the terms correctly,” Femi said, “you remember the definition. You retain it and can access it later.”

“Like parallel lines, some soulmates never meet,” one student revealed in his group’s performance. Some soloists represented their classmates. “Word pairs are like the relation to life, we are all like terms so we don’t have to fight.”

NCHS Algebra teacher Mrs. Russell was pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of creativity. “I’m seeing different things and personalities from kids that I don’t normally see,” the teacher said. “They’re a lot more excited than I thought they’d be!”

As they industriously crafted metaphors and similes, cleverly using their new vocabulary as figurative language, debate arose over whether or not the verses should rhyme. “It never has to rhyme,” Femi advised. “It’s how you perform it that gives it flavor.” He taught the children to confidently use body language by analyzing performing techniques and discussing what is needed to relay a message. “It’s all about how to effectively communicate with your audience,” Femi said. Scholars rehearsed the delivery of their collaborative poetry to truly express their emotions, communicate their history, and challenge the audience to walk in their shoes.

The students did not disappoint. “Like parallel lines, some soulmates never meet,” one student revealed in his group’s performance. Most groups selected just a few students to deliver their words in the culminating performance. Some soloists represented their classmates. “Word pairs are like the relation to life, we are all like terms so we don’t have to fight.” Performers garnered many cheers and rousing support from the teachers and peers populating the auditorium. And everyone involved in the residency left with a much stronger understanding of algebraic vocabulary and a knowledge of terms they won’t soon forget.

So, what do you call a collection of two or more equations with the same set of unknowns? A system. You call it a system.

The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative is the combined effort 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).

Young Audiences Art Crawl

Art Crawl:  The Intersection of Arts, Education, and Cocktails

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.

Board Secretary and Sunburst Society Member Tea Carnell

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.

Fiber Artist Katherine Dilworth and Academic Teacher Jaime Clough

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.

S.T.E.A.M.
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.

Jason Baker introducing the basics of beatboxing

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!

Poetic License
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.

Hip Hop Spoken Word Artist Femi the DriFish and Academic Teacher Erin Enouye

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.”

The author and her husband at Young Audiences’ 2nd annual Art Crawl

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

Femi the DriFish

Hear Slam Poet Femi the Drifish on smARTbeats!

smartbeats is back this Saturday, November 4, during the weekly children’s music program Young At Heart on WTMD. On this month’s smARTbeats segment, Young At Heart host Lisa Mathews sits down for a chat with professional spoken word artist, slam poet, highly-animated and engaging frontman, and YA teaching artist Femi the Drifish.

Best known as one half of the spoken word/Hip Hop-influenced duo, THE 5th L, Femi uses his artistry to encourage listeners to discover their own unique voices and identities. The Drifish also partners with University of Maryland’s Violence Prevention Program, using his words to address matters such as violence and bullying in our communities. He extends this experience, his skillful construction and delivery of words as art, along with compassion, patience, and high expectations to the classroom.

The artist and WTMD host Lisa Mathews in the studio

Femi the Drifish worked with our middle school students in Language Arts,” said Christa Huber, the Arts Integration Coach at Patterson Park Public Charter School. “A great thing about that residency was the response we received from students who typically are not comfortable with performing in front of people. By their culminating performance, those students, in particular, were the ones to stand up and share their poetry with strength.

The artist teaches children to confidently use body language coupled with creative writing to convey emotions, communicate, and connect with others. He works with students to identify the similarities and differences between poetry, Hip Hop, and spoken word–or slam–poetry, then encourages them to try writing their own original poetry

As a teaching artist at Summer Arts and Learning Academy, Femi integrated his art into Math and Literacy lessons.

Ken’Niya, a former Summer Arts & Learning Academy student declared “Mr. Fish” to be her favorite teacher from the program in summer 2015. “He helped me a lot through my writing by giving me examples and showing me his awesome poems. The most challenging and rewarding thing I did in the Academy was my poem I am Baltimore,” said the student. “It was emotional because of what was going on my city. I wanted to quit and switch classes but I realized I was the oldest in the class and the younger kids were having the same problem. So I told myself if you quit, they will too. So I pushed myself and everyone else, and made sure we were organized and ready to perform.”

Femi the Drifish and Jamaal “Mr. Root” Collier hosted the 2017 Summer Arts and Learning Academy performances where students showed off their dance, music, and spoken word skills.

This is the kind of guidance that makes Femi the Drifish shine. Whether students are processing their feelings after an emotional event, confronting their worries or disagreements with friends, or looking forward to a world of firsts: first high school, first love, first dance, first goal, one thing is certain, when Mr. Fish is in the classroom, students will find the courage to share their voices and be heard.

WTMD 89.7 FM

Young At Heart airs weekly 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.

Hear YA teaching artist and musician Femi the Drifish online now!

North County High School: Creating Learning Opportunities Through the Arts

The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI) is aimed at ensuring equitable access to the arts for Northern Anne Arundel County Public Schools through in-school arts integration, out-of-school arts programming, and professional development for teachers. Now in its second year, the initiative has been expanded to include all twelve schools in the region thanks to generous funding from the National Endowment for the Arts!

North County High School

Notable among the additional schools is the North County High School (NCHS). All students in every other school impacted by AEMI are zoned to complete their secondary education at this high school. North County High School’s new designation as an AEMI school will enable local students to continue their learning through arts integration throughout their school years. This creates a unique opportunity for the school to serve as a beacon for arts engagement, not just for high school students, but for the whole Northern Anne Arundel County community.

NCHS is already home to a variety of performing band and orchestra ensembles, and offers students the opportunity to become involved in a number of in-school and after-school arts activities. “The medium of music is a fantastic way to teach some wonderful life lessons as part of the comprehensive program at North County,” wrote NCHS Music Director Theresa Bange on the school’s extensive music program’s webpage. The school climate encourages a culture of respect for the arts in its many forms. NCHS has also shown a commitment to innovation, offering special programs including the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Magnet Program, the IT3 (International Trade, Transportation, and Tourism) Program, and the Early College Access program.

This year, the high school will participate in several arts-integrated opportunities where artists will professionally deliver instruction through the arts. Math Department chair Amy Goodman is leading the charge of integrating the arts at North County High. She is currently coordinating a residency developed by YA artist and spoken word poet Femi the DriFish in collaboration with the school’s Algebra 1 team as well as collaborating with theatre artist, storyteller, and YA roster artist TAHIRA to develop a residency through the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI). Also through TAI, 9th grade algebra teacher Sarah Dobry is collaborating with steel drummer, Kevin Martin, integrating music with the curriculum!

“It’s all about creating opportunities,” said Mrs. Goodman. She recalled her experience working with teaching artist Carolyn Koerber in the previous school year. “There was one student who struggled all year, but finally felt success working with Carolyn. Bringing artists into the classroom is an amazing opportunity for not only our students, but for faculty as well.”

We are looking forward to sharing the collaborative work of YA artists and educators in arts integration at North County High School over the next few months and for years to come.

The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative is the combined effort 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).

Summer Arts & Learning Academy

Closing Out Summer: 1,100 Students Display Their Talents

Baltimore City School students closed out a summer of creativity and arts-integrated education with performances and visual art exhibitions at Young Audiences Summer Arts and Learning Academy. The academy’s culmination events were an opportunity for students to showcase their art forms and what they learned to family and friends. 

The Summer Arts and Learning Academy took place over five weeks, giving students from Title 1 schools in Baltimore City a free, daily opportunity to explore art forms with teaching artists while improving literacy and math using hands-on, arts-integrated learning techniques. They wrote songs to memorize grammar rules, learned dances to recall fractions, and immersed themselves in a multitude of art forms, making literacy and math concepts stick. The third annual academy had children and staff laughing, learning, and inspired.

One mathematics class took the stage to perform one of the songs they used during Summer Arts and Learning Academy to improve their math skills.

This kind of summer engagement with the arts is proven to have a significant impact on kids’ education. In Summer Arts and Learning Academy, classroom teachers and teaching artists work together to continue to build momentum while stemming summer learning loss, or the loss of academic knowledge over the summer months. According to a study last year by Baltimore City Schools, students in 3rd-5th grade attending the Summer Arts and Learning Academy avoided summer learning loss, and in many cases, gained ground on their national peers in literacy and math.

Visual art lined the hallways and ceramics filled the lobby of Coldstream Park Elementary/Middle School.


The culmination events, held at Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle, Coldstream Park Elementary/Middle, James Mosher Elementary, and Gardenville Elementary, put students on stage to showcase the art they created at the academy for parents, teachers, friends and family. Here is some of what we saw.

Two students from YA roster artist Femi theDrifish‘s spoken word poetry class read aloud their own inspiring words. They expressed the challenges caused by bullying through their writing, moving the audience with their heartfelt performance.

A larger group of students performed African dance on stage as their teacher, YA roster artist Ssuuna, led an accompanying rhythm section. A dance circle broke out at the end as students entered and showed the audience their skills. Cheers, laughs and applause filled the auditorium.

Mr. Ssuuna’s class performing a dance they learned during Summer Arts and Learning Academy from Uganda.

Music, poetry, and theater graced the stage as another group performed a chapter from a short story they read during the Academy. Kids performed as trolls and goats while their teacher, YA roster artist Drew Anderson narrated. Positive energy filled the room.

Children in Mr. Drew’s class expertly brought ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff’ to life on stage.

And that’s only a taste of the dozens of performances that took place at culmination events around the city. Watching students light up and enjoy learning with the infusion of arts experiences is remarkable. We can’t wait for next summer.

You can view images from all four of our summer sites by visiting our Flickr page. More information about Summer Arts and Learning Academy can be found on our website.

Celebrate Black History Month Through the Arts

With Black History Month upon us, we celebrate the contributions, activism, culture, and experience of African Americans. Many of our artists at Young Audiences have designed performances and assemblies to connect students with African American history and develop an in-depth understanding of the unique stories, struggles, and accomplishments of the past and the present. The following are just a few of the many talented artists available to bring a meaningful connection to African American history into your school.

Black History Month
Pianist Kevin Gift

Kevin Gift introduces renown jazz pianists from Thelonius Monk and Art Tatum to Keith Jarrett in his assembly, Jazz Piano Masters. Students learn not only about the important contributions these musicians made to American music, but they also experience how improvisation can make practicing anything more enjoyable and personally satisfying.

Black History Month
Actress Debra Mims


Debra Mims
has been an actress for over thirty years and was an arts producer at PBS for fourteen years. With additional training in dance, she received a BFA in Theatre Performance from Marygrove College in Detroit, Michigan. She has performed at the Georgetown Theatre Company, the Children’s Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Detroit-Windsor Dance Company.

In My Grandmother Told Me: A Tribute to African-American Women, Debra uses monologues, poetry, and song to tell tales of days past and of courageous Black women and their struggles to be free, to vote, and to get an education.

Professional spoken word artist and slam poet Femi the DriFish uses his artistry to encourage his listeners to discover their own unique voices and identities in his writings, performances, and teachings. His poetry performance, Write On, Then Say Word! is a spoken word/slam poetry journey through the various reasons to write and perform. Throughout the assembly, Femi shows students that they can draw subject matter for poetry from their identity and history.

Black History Month
Poet Femi the DriFish

Young Audiences' Sun

Schedule artists and programming to celebrate Black History Month by visiting our website.