Changing Perceptions: I Used to Think…

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

Colorful sticky notes adorned the walls of the classroom. Like before-and-after photos of an amazing remodel, the notes told the story of how a group of Head Start teachers in Southern Maryland unveiled their hidden talents to reach their young students through the arts. The ‘before’ stickies began, “I used to think…” Teachers filled in the rest of the sentence with thoughts such as, “dance, music and theatre weren’t that effective,” or “movement and story time could not go together,” and “it was hard to integrate the arts into the classroom.”

Then, as Young Audiences teaching artists demonstrated techniques that blend learning and the arts, the Head Start classroom teachers began making their own artistic/educational connections – connections that would help them return to their classrooms and engage kids in ways they had been hesitant to trust before. They soon realized that when kids are singing, dancing, and moving, it’s easy for them to forget that they’re actually learning!

Khaleshia Thorpe-Price (center)

The Professional Development course was held on February 17th and sponsored through the PNC Grow Up Great® initiative. Created to help children from birth through age five develop a passion for learning that lasts a lifetime, the program generously funded training that provided Head Start teachers with a variety of resources to increase learning, engagement and confidence by incorporating art into the curriculum.

Three YA teaching artists, musician Lisa Mathews, actor Khaleshia Thorpe-Price, and dancer Anna Menendez, taught the group. They learned, for example, how to use dance tools to create patterns, how to use their bodies and musical instruments to express themselves, and how the use of props and different character voices can more fully engage students in story time. At the end of the class, each teacher was tasked with writing and presenting a lesson seed in each art form for when the class reassembled in May.

Before: “I used to think…”  Head Start teachers in Southern Maryland wrote down their ideas about art in education before completing the professional development course led by YA teaching artists.

“It was very evident from their participation on the first day and their reflections on the second day that teachers were excited about these arts strategies and implemented them immediately,” explained Kristina Berdan, YA’s Education Director. “Having strong backgrounds in social and emotional learning, they were able to quickly experience and understand the impact that the arts can have on this kind of growth in young people. Most of them tap into the arts regularly through chants and songs, yet these professional development opportunities allowed them to learn deeper, more meaningful strategies in and through the arts. The ‘ah-ha’s and feelings of excitement were palpable!”

After: “Now I think…” Teachers reflected on what they learned and how teaching through the arts can inspire learning.

For some, wariness about the role arts could play in the classroom had been replaced with a newfound willingness to incorporate them into their lesson plans. Through the introduction of dramatic play and puppetry, for example, students had a greater understanding of the stories they read in class than they did before the professional development course. One Head Start teacher, Jessica Wiley, summed up her experience in YA’s Professional Development class this way, “The ideas and suggestions were practical, applicable, and personalized. I love how Young Audiences was able to address our questions, challenges and concerns very well.”

The teachers ended the day completing sentences on sticky notes that began, “Now I think…” Their statements showed how their opinions about using the arts as a tool for learning had evolved from hesitancy to a feeling of openness and anticipation, writing, “you can use music in all areas of teaching,” and “dance can be a calming technique,” or “movement in story time is helpful to keep children engaged.”

For Maryland’s youngest students, the new strategies will be especially impactful. “Head Start supports our nation’s most vulnerable children by offering a comprehensive, high quality early-learning experience that prepares them for kindergarten and strengthens family participation in their children’s learning,” said Yasmina S. Vinci, executive director, National Head Start Association.

Like any successful renovation, the before-and-after sticky notes showed what can be created when you effectively blend harmonious elements – education and the arts – to capture a child’s natural desire to learn.

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Hands-on learning through arts integration

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By Christa Huber, Arts Integration Coach, Patterson Park Public Charter School

I have been with Patterson Park Public Charter School for six years in various teaching positions in Title I, third grade, the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, and am now the school’s arts integration coach. This year has been a learning process, but also such a positive experience working in partnership with Young Audiences and Arts Every Day.

It was a personal goal for me to transition Patterson Park Public Charter School into becoming an arts-integrated school. I wanted to maximize our artist-in-residence programs with outside artists as much as I possibly could this school year. We believe in the strength of the impression that residencies make upon students and teachers. All of the work that comes out of a residency versus a day-long field trip makes such a difference. Residency programs allow students more time to engage with and learn from the artists. This exposure to artists is also important for the teachers because it provides a longer period of professional development so that they can learn skills and strategies that they can carry out in the future.

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One student performs a poem for his peers as a part of the residency program with Young Audiences spoken word poet Femi the Drifish.

We had a fantastic variety of Young Audiences artists out to our school this year. These artists included: spoken word poet Femi the Drifish, ceramic visual artist Amanda PellerinBaltimore Improv Group, Flamenco dancer Anna Menendez, and more. These programs were made possible through Access for All grant funding from Young Audiences and funding from Arts Every Day.

We spread the residency experiences across different grade levels of the school. It was very helpful having the Young Audiences artist and program information online because it allowed me to search for artists that matched and linked to the content areas that our teachers were looking for.

There were a variety of stand-out experiences from our residencies, but here are a few:

  • Femi the Drifish worked with our middle school students in Language Arts. 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.
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Third-grade student painting a mosaic tile which was added to the final mural depicting what the class had learned about Ancient Egypt.
  • The third grade worked with Amanda Pellerin to create an Ancient Egyptian mosaic. This piece of work related to their study of the ancient civilization. Mr. O’Connell, our third grade science and social studies teacher, was blown away by how Amanda challenged the students to do their best work in a really positive way. We’re very excited to have that piece of artwork as a permanent fixture in our school.
  • Anna Menendez brought some of the Spanish culture into our school. Some of our middle school students had just returned from a trip to Spain during spring break, so this residency was another way to connect with what they learned and saw on their travels. It also provided a relatable experience for the students who didn’t have the chance to travel to Spain.

I have personally seen the impact that residencies have had upon teachers compared to other arts-related experiences. I believe that having artists at Patterson Park helped our teachers develop a great deal. Artists exposed teachers to new art forms that they may not have had any experience with, such as spoken word poetry or improvisation, and gave our teachers opportunities to learn how to tie these art forms to the curriculum.

One of our charter school philosophies is that children learn best through hands-on activities with interdisciplinary and semantic learning models. Arts integration is at the core of our values and it naturally makes sense for Patterson Park.