Kindergarten students use crayon to draw stalk of broccoli from real life.

Sowing a Big Idea: Growing Up Green

Some big ideas are meant to be shared. It is through partnership and collaboration that the big ideas grow roots and become an integral part of something even bigger. In 2015, Pat Cruz, YA’s then-chief innovation officer, and educator Mary Kate Bransford had a dream. What if every kindergarten classroom in Prince Georges County Public Schools (PGCPS) had an arts-integrated environmental literacy program?

Their big idea brought together twenty teachers and five teaching artists to write a five-day lesson plan that both met environmental literacy and visual art criteria and explored themes like habitat restoration, local ecosystems, the life cycle of plants, and the lifecycle of animals for a brand new program: Growing Up Green. The program, a partnership between Young Audiences and the Prince Georges County Office of Environmental Literacy, would be piloted in 17 schools in the district in the 2015-16 school year.

Teaching artist Bomani guided students in writing poetry about worm composting!

That first year resulted in the creation of five separate 5-day arts-integrated environmental literacy lessons. Teaching artists worked side by side with kindergarten teachers all five days of the program with the goal of handing off that role to each individual school’s art teacher in future years. To prepare teachers, Kristina Berdan, Young Audiences Education Director, trained teacher ambassadors, kindergarten lead teachers, and art/music teachers to use the arts as a teaching tool in their classrooms. “I used to think art was a product of a lesson,” said one kindergarten teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools after being trained in arts integration through Growing Up Green. “Now I think art is the process to achieve the objective.”

The team constantly listened, assessed, reflected, and revised, resulting in a comprehensive catalog of resources for teachers and the refinement of, in the second year, four unique residencies instead of the initial five, and then in its third year, one: Fiber artist Pam Negrin‘s The Lifecycle of Plants. Kindergarteners and their teachers explored nature with their real-life senses—looking, smelling, touching—to not just learn about our natural world, but experience it. Classrooms across the district were outfitted with custom-made embroidery tables where students could gather and stitch their observations, building with and learning from one another. “We think with our hands and when students are immersed in a lesson together, they begin to make their own connections,” said Pam. From sharing what they learned during the school day at home to internalizing and remembering more information, the effects on learning were so profound that once-resistant teachers embraced learning through arts integration and extended it into other content areas.

Embroidered tapestry illustrating the life cycle of plants

Growing Up Green combines the arts and time outdoors with making connections between humans and the environment and brainstorming solutions. “The program gets kids outside and thinking about the bigger picture and the combination of all the elements of the program supports the district’s goals,” said James Roberson, PGCPS Instructional Specialist for Environmental Literacy. And after the lessons have ended, classes are left with beautiful embroidered tapestries they can share with the school community. “The tapestries are a great way to showcase what they’ve learned.”

Our state was the first in the nation to approve an environmental graduation requirement for all Maryland students. In 2011, the school board created Environmental Literacy Standards that would support the growth of the planet’s next generation of stewards. Prince George’s County Public Schools is intentionally integrating these standards into the PreK-12 curriculum, and through Growing Up Green, they are successfully reaching the county’s youngest students. This is the first year that PGCPS is running Growing Up Green without Young Audiences’ support. “Young Audiences has been an outstanding partner over the last four years,” said Roberson. 

A child assembling a laser-cut, wooden birdhouse
FutureMakers helped kindergarteners make custom birdhouses!

“I’m really impressed by how different teachers have taken what they learned and run with it,” said Jhanna Levin, PGCPS Environmental Literacy Outreach Teacher. As a result of Growing Up Green, teachers in the district’s Autism Program, for instance, have embraced the art of embroidery, the fine motor skills it develops, and the calm it inspires. “It soothes the kids in a way they weren’t expecting.” Levin, new to the department, has taken the reigns of Growing Up Green and nurtured the development of teachers new to the program as well as veteran educators. She is constantly checking in and helping the teachers to do what works best for them.

She is holding a training session this coming January for lead kindergarten teachers to explore additional arts integration techniques for classrooms and it’s not just new teachers who are looking forward to it. “We’re talking about turning T-shirts into yarn and using dance for the observational piece,” said Levin. James Roberson added, “We’re really excited about what Jhanna brings to the program.”

Growing Up Green was a tiny seed that with research and tremendous effort and love, Young Audiences was able to sow. Through the amazing partnership we’ve had with PGCPS, we’ve seen the program evolve and take shape in a way that both works best for the district and stays true to the vision of Growing Up Green at its conception. We are extremely proud to see the district take charge and continue nurturing and developing this incredible program. Levin said, “There are teachers who have done this for three years now and they say, ‘Just give us the materials. We’ve got this.'”

Embroidered tapestry illustrating the life cycle of plants

Growing Up Green at Mount Rainier Elementary School

Children in Prince George’s County Public Schools know how to celebrate Earth Day! Through Growing Up Green, a PGCPS arts integration initiative, children in kindergarten classrooms learn environmental stewardship by experiencing nature first-hand, marveling in the wonders of our natural world, and nurturing a passion within themselves to respect and preserve it. Funded in part by a BGE Green Grant and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the program engages kindergarteners in meaningful and authentic outdoor experiences that help connect them to their local ecosystems and inspire them to learn more about protecting our environment. The arts provide the vehicle that the students use to demonstrate and communicate their understanding to the greater learning community of their school.

At Mount Rainier Elementary School recently, YA roster artist Pam Negrin worked with young students to record their own observations of plant life over the course of her residency, The Life Cycle of Plants. On outdoor adventures, the class immersed themselves in the drama of nature. They set out to identify and explore the many characteristics of plant life in all of its forms: seeds, seedlings, mature plants, flowers, and fruit. Their drawings and observations were then rendered in colorful yarn, stitch by stitch into one large-scale embroidered mural for their entire school community to learn from and enjoy.

The children’s work serves as a reminder of one of the biggest lessons even our smallest students can teach us. Just as this kindergarten class’ finished mural is a collaborative effort, so is making our world a safe, strong, and healthy one for every living being. Happy Earth Day to all.

Pam Negrin’s artwork includes embroidery, appliqué, drawing, collage, improvisational quilting, printmaking and sculpture. Her residencies transform classrooms into creative and collaborative handwork studios where students create something beautiful together. Schedule one of Pam’s residencies for your classroom.

Growing Up Green: Hip-Hop Poetry and Composting

 Growing Up Green: Poetry and Composting

Growing Up Green: Hip-Hop Poetry and Composting

Teaching Our Youngest Learners Environmental Citizenship Through the Arts
Part 2: Local Ecosystems

This Spring, Young Audiences wrapped up the initial phase of its pilot programming for Prince George’s County Public School District’s new arts integration initiative, Growing Up Green. We introduced the program in an earlier blog post, but here is a refresher for those who missed it:

The initiative is part of an exciting new partnership between Young Audiences/Arts for Learning and Prince George’s County Public Schools and is funded in part by a BGE Green Grant and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The program engages kindergarteners in meaningful and authentic outdoor experiences that help connect them to their local ecosystems and inspire them to learn more about protecting our environment. The arts provide the vehicle that the students use to demonstrate and communicate their understanding to the greater learning community of their school.

Bomani, a Young Audiences Teaching Artist, began his pilot program by using poetry to investigate the process of composting with five groups of Kindergarten classes at three different schools: John Hanson Montessori, Oxon Hill Elementary, and Benjamin Foulois Creative and Performing Arts Academy. Over 80 kindergarteners had the opportunity to literally get their hands dirty in hands-on learning while understanding everything from what type of trash can be composted to why we need to grow food. Read on to hear more about Poetry and Composting from Bomani:

“Growing Up Green was a learning experience for me. I had done residences with kindergarteners before, but never where the final project had to narrate a sequence. Usually, when I’m working with kindergarteners, we are having fun working with rhyming words, and we can make up definitions for them and write like Dr. Seuss, creating an imaginary world.

This workshop offered something new, a tangible, in-your-hands experience that’s different from my usual history- or social studies-based residencies. But what is the root of this imaginary world for this particular workshop? We start with a shared experience.

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Students learn the ingredients and components to the composting process. I asked the students what they already knew, and then we would question and discuss the most important things. It doesn’t really matter what the subject is, as long as kids have a shared experience to draw from, all getting to feel, touch, smell, discuss; when we start throwing out ideas, we can better interact with each other.

One of the reasons I love group creative-writing sessions is because the conversations that go on in a group setting are the same internal conversations that go on in a writer’s head. Showing that process to young people in a physical way, where they are acting out how ideas are communicated — ‘what about this idea, what about that idea, we should take this back, we should add that in there!’ — helps them to better understand complicated topics like composting.

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One student would forget one part, and another would remember and say, ‘Oh you forgot the part about adding the paper!’ And they would all respond ‘oh yeah!’ and a conversation about the process of composting would develop further, which would inevitably lead to other discussions surrounding composting, like ‘Why do we need more trees? Why do we compost in the first place? Why and where do we grow food?”

The writing process began with the teachers and I adding the “odd” lines — the first line — and then students brainstormed the second line for the couplet, coming up with the rhyming components. At first, I was worried about how heavy-handed the adults in the room would need to be for it to make sense, but the students came up with some amazing things! Here’s a great example:

“Put holes in the bin so the worms get air,
Holes in the bin show worms you care,
Put strips of paper and some leaves,
Paper and leaves come from trees,
Add food scraps and coffee grinds,
You just need some time
Put the top back on, they don’t like sun,
Composting is very fun!”

Usually, there’s one student in every class that starts off really nervous about moving their body, using their voice or raising their hand. One young lady at John Hanson Montessori was very quiet at first but over the course of the class, her teacher came up to me and said, “She’s completely opened up!” With younger students, they typically have less fear than older kids, but for many of these children, English is a second language so it’s sometimes hard to communicate quickly or expressively.

This one student was able to open up because I kept repeating, ‘someone tell me a bad idea’ or ‘someone say something that’s not exactly right yet, but you think it’s almost there.’ Giving the young lady that freedom made it easier for her to open up. She would raise her hand and say something, and I would say ‘Oh! That’s not quite right, but please keep trying, I love where you are going with that! Rethink that, talk to your neighbor and come back to me.’ She got used to the idea of not being afraid of the wrong answer because we are all collectively looking for the right set of words.

There’s a line in one of the songs where they rhymed the word “word’ with “serve” as a near-rhyme. The teachers all agreed that “serve” was not the easiest to rhyme with, but when we asked the kids to vote, they picked “serve,” so we went with it! I prepped the kids for this more difficult rhyme, saying ‘you know, if it doesn’t work out, it’s okay, we can always back-track, but since you all voted on it, we’ll try it out and see how it works.’ I let them huddle up, and I got back a whole bunch of excellent ideas about how to use the word ‘serve’! Below is the final line we used in the poem:

Composting is how we serve, and we use this rap to spread the word!

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One of the side effects of this workshop, let alone the main idea of composting, is that it gets kids really excited about words and about articulating thoughts. Kindergarteners were constantly trying to find ways to tie in words to create new ideas, really stretching themselves and questioning the meaning of words.

In all honestly we probably did underestimate the ability of one 6-year-old to use ‘serve’ in a rhyme, but with 30 of them together all talking about it, they figured it out! Each rap came out really well!

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Teaching Children Not to Be Afraid of Giving the Wrong Answers

Ever wondered why kids say they’re bored at school, or why they stop trying when the work gets harder? In this essential video on Fixed vs. Growth mindsets, Educationalist Carol Dweck explains how the wrong kind of praise actually *harms* young people. This short video is essential viewing for everyone — from teachers and education workers to relatives and friends — which promotes GROWTH rather than “fixed” mindsets in students.

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Help Fund This Program!

Your tax-deductible donation will help support programs like Growing Up Green.

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Growing Up Green: The Life Cycle of Plants

Growing Up Green: Teaching Our Youngest Learners Environmental Citizenship Through the Arts

Part One: The Life Cycle of Plants

Growing Up Green

We think with our hands, and when students are immersed in a lesson together, they begin to make their own connections.”

We are in the midst of pilot programming for Prince George’s County Public School’s new arts integration initiative—Growing Up Green, a Kindergarten-level, environmental literacy program. The initiative, part of an exciting new partnership between Young Audiences/Arts for Learning, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Prince George’s County Public Schools, is funded in part by a BGE Green Grant and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

The program engages kindergartners in meaningful and authentic outdoor experiences that connect them to their local ecosystems and inspire them to protect our environment. The arts provide the vehicle that the students use to demonstrate and communicate their learning to the greater learning community of their school.

Growing Up Green

Growing Up Green residencies are divided into four major themes—Habitats, Local Ecosystems, The Life Cycle of Animals, and The Life Cycle of Plants.

One of the first YA teaching artists to pilot this program was textile artist Pam Negrin. Pam chose “The Life Cycle of Plants” for her residency with the Kindergarten class at Rockledge Elementary School. “One of the tenants of this initiative is just getting kids outside!” With cuts to recess, these residencies provide purposeful outdoor experiences that directly engage students with their surroundings and sharpen their observation skills.

Along with being outside, one of Pam’s favorite things about Growing Up Green is “giving students a chance to experience wonder.” She and the students had several surprises while exploring the hidden parts of plants everyone gathers at the beginning of the residency. After reading about what constitutes a “fruit,” students sort their treasures—dandelion, sweet gum fruit, crepe myrtle seed, milkweed—into the appropriate plant life phase: seed, seedling, mature plant, flower, or fruit. The students loved playing a game where they had to accurately categorize collected plant life alongside familiar food found in a grocery store by exclaiming “fruit!” or “not fruit!”

Growing Up Green

Early on in the pilot program, students gathered an assortment of “fruits” resembling spiky balls that fall from sweet gum trees. Even though most attempt to avoid these prickly pods, the students gave no hesitation in cracking them open to find hundreds of seeds! Once the plants were sorted, the students began to observe and draw each part. Using their original drawings as a visual guide, and after learning some basic embroidery stitches, they collectively stitched a large-scale embroidery depicting the life cycle of plants. “Kids are stitching around the table with each other, working in groups, exploring together. Really, collaboration is another strong aspect of Growing Up Green,” says Pam. “We think with our hands, and when students are immersed in a lesson together, they begin to make their own connections.”

Growing Up Green

Ultimately, Growing Up Green can naturally make children stewards of the environment, “not because we taught them preservation is important in a textbook, but because they were outside experiencing it for themselves.” Pam adds, “this residency reminded me that the more immersed I can be in what the students are learning in their core curriculum, and the more I experience the wonder and excitement of that learning, the more I have to share with my students and the stronger the arts integration.”

Growing Up Green

The program also provides teachers the tools to creatively engage students in curriculum-based learning through arts integration long after the residency has ended. In fact, one of Growing Up Green’s primary missions is to ensure the program’s long-term sustainability in the classroom. Once the residency ends, the arts integration techniques that were taught during the residency help teachers to more accurately and confidently employ environmentally based learning strategies into their current lesson plans. Ideally, once the piloting phase of the program is complete, Growing Up Green will become embedded into the core science and social studies curriculum of Prince George’s County Public Schools.

By partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Trust to arm schools with relevant, local environmental data to meet district-level standards, and by doing our part to provide teaching artists and professional development in arts integration, this program could not be more equipped to succeed.

Video: Growing Up Green @ Rockledge Elementary

Growing Up Green aligns with Environmental Literacy Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core State Standards, and Visual Arts Standards.

YA Forges New Arts Integration Partnership

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership

A teacher from Oxon Hill Middle School personally thanked Young Audiences during a post-event gathering for bringing the Literature to Life program to Prince George’s schools. After a performance of “Black Boy,” a verbatim adaptation and stage performance of the classic American literary work by Richard Wright, he said he saw one of his students carrying around the Richard Wright book. When he asked the student about it, the student said he decided to read it after seeing the performance.  The teacher noted that he didn’t read that book until college and said, “This is what Young Audiences does for our students.”

On November 17, Young Audiences of Maryland and Dr. Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), announced the launch of a new arts integration partnership at a press conference held at Oxon Hill Middle School.

This new initiative will benefit more than 15,000 Prince George’s County Public School students in the 2015-2016 school year and dramatically increase student student access to the arts.

Dozens of teachers, principals, and PTA members were in attendance, along with school board members and PGCPS district office personnel. The event attracted the attention of local media outlets, including WUSA, a CBS news affiliate station in Washington, D.C., who ran a segment on the new partnership during their morning news coverage on November 17.

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In the true spirit of Young Audiences, this was not your typical “black-tie” press conference. The room was filled with music, dance, laughter, and inspiring stories. Student performances from Oxon Hill Middle School’s Performing Arts Academy opened the event, showcasing the talents of the school’s students through music and dance performances. Young Audiences’ teaching artist Ssuuna engaged the audience in an interactive, call-and-response performance of music from his native Uganda with authentic African instruments.

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership

With media cameras rolling, Dr. Maxwell spoke passionately about the importance of partnering with Young Audiences to bring high-quality arts programs to more PGCPS students. Integrating the arts into classrooms is not only critical to increasing student achievement and engagement; it is an essential component of every student’s education and maximizes the talents of all students.  Dr. Maxwell’s belief in the importance of the arts-in-education—and the exceptional teaching artists and arts-in-education programs that Young Audiences provides—will ensure that all students have the opportunity to experience this critical part of their education.

Stacie Evans, Young Audiences’ Executive Director, echoed Dr. Maxwell’s remarks, saying:

We believe that artists are catalysts in our schools. Through their art form they develop new approaches to teaching the curriculum. They inspire children. They help reach the most reluctant and struggling learners. From the beginning, Dr. Maxwell made it clear that the arts are a priority and he welcomed community partners to be part of the solution to ensure that our kids receive a complete education.  As a result, 15,000 more students are benefiting from Young Audiences programs this school year alone.

Additional speakers included Mr. Wendell Coleman, Oxon Hill Middle School Principal; John Ceschini, Arts Integration Officer for PGCPS; and Tracey Cooper, Oxon Hill Middle School science teacher.

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership

Young Audiences’ teaching artist Kevin Martin closed out the event with a steel drum ensemble of Oxon Hill Middle School students.  These students—who jumped on stage to perform just hours after learning to play the steel drums—soon became the teachers. The steel drum performance culminated with Kevin inviting audience members, including Dr. Maxwell, to join a student at their drum and follow the student’s lead in learning the song.

A teacher from Oxon Hill Middle School personally thanked Young Audiences during a post-event gathering for bringing the Literature to Life program to Prince George’s schools. After a performance of “Black Boy,” a verbatim adaptation and stage performance of the classic American literary work by Richard Wright, he said he saw one of his students carrying around the Richard Wright book. When he asked the student about it, the student said he decided to read it after seeing the performance.  The teacher noted that he didn’t read that book until college and said, “This is what Young Audiences does for our students.

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership

From theatrical productions that bring American literary masterpieces to life, to artist residencies for kindergarten students that inspire environmental citizenship, this new partnership with Prince George’s County Schools significantly increases access to arts learning for thousands of PGCPS students and leverages the talent of 20 teaching artists, the resources of six private and public funders, and advances the goals of PGCPS and YA to transform the lives and education of all students through the arts.

Research shows a direct connection between participation in the arts and student achievement. Research also shows having the arts in schools contributes to positive school culture and builds the creative and critical thinking skills that our workforce needs. Despite these benefits, student access to the arts as part of their education has declined. Young Audiences is honored to partner with Dr. Kevin Maxwell, named a Champion of Change by President Obama for his dedication to the arts, because he is committed to ensuring that PGPCS students are not denied the arts as part of a complete education.

Powering Arts Integration with Innovative Programming
Young Audiences’ programming for PGCPS will combine arts learning with traditional subjects such as science, math, and reading, expand in-school opportunities for professional teaching artists, and include further arts integration advancement through strengthening teacher preparation and professional development. Program areas to include:

GROWING UP GREEN
A Kindergarten-level environmental literacy program that supports a thematic approach and addresses the Maryland Environmental Literacy Curriculum Standards. Curriculum will be developed collaboratively among partner organizations and, following a successful pilot of the program, will later be infused into the kindergarten science and social studies core content areas. Financial support provided by BGE, Chesapeake Bay Trust and Maryland State Arts Council Artist in Residence Program.

LITERATURE TO LIFE
Through our unique combination of interactive theater, literature, and education, Literature to Life brings American literary masterpieces to life —giving voice to words and inspiring young people to find their own voice. Financial support provided by Laura Handman and Harold Ickes, Lisa and Porter Dawson, and other generous supporters.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
A series of professional development workshops designed for schools in their first year of joining the “Arts Integration” initiative. Educators will define and discuss the benefits of arts integrated teaching. After experiencing a sample drama and language arts lesson, teachers will brainstorm and apply creative challenges in their specific curriculum area. Program facilitated by Teaching Artist Institute.

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership