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.

Summer All Year

 Written by Jaime Clough
The 2nd grade Baltimore City Public Schools teacher spoke about how the tools she learned at Summer Arts & Learning Academy have informed her teaching and transformed her classroom at Young Audiences’ annual Impact Breakfast earlier this month.

“Buffalo Woman, go,” Mr. Briggs nudged me. I stepped onto the stage, took a deep breath, and began my lines. I was eight and dressed in a leather Native American dress with beads and fringe. I was shy, but I had done the work. By the morning of the production, I had read primary texts, written a research paper, and created my own costume. So, when I stepped onto that stage, I was not timid or nervous, but passionate and proud. This was my first experience with arts integration.

Fourteen years after my role as the Buffalo Woman, I was accepted into Teach for America Baltimore and began teaching at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School in Charles Village. My students are diverse. One walked with her family from Mexico to America. One, who cannot yet read, learns in the same space as another, who is reading Harry Potter. Some of my students come to school without having eaten since the night before. Others rarely have clean uniforms.

I knew what I wanted to do in my classroom, but I didn’t have the tools to execute my ideas.

It was last March that I found Young Audiences. They matched me with fiber artist and Young Audiences teaching artist Katherine Dilworth, and together we went through a one-week professional development class. I learned how to use song and rap to teach students multiplication, and theatre to understand points of view in a story. During Summer Arts & Learning Academy, for the first time, I taught the way I had always wanted to teach.

As part of our literacy unit, students read City Green. To help kids understand the message of the book, “what makes a community?” and connect with the characters, Katherine and I planned a lesson around creating a community garden out of woven flowers. We’d use our art standards to create ABAB patterns and connect math standards for adding and subtracting the strings.  

We had one student in the class with lots of sensory difficulties. He had challenges with personal space, with expressing his emotions, and would often just put his head on his desk. As he began to wind thread through his loom to make his flower, I was ready for him to say, “It’s too hard,” and stomp away. After 15 minutes of weaving blues and purples, a pattern emerged. His flower was taking shape beautifully. He was adding and subtracting, counting his strings, and weaving the pattern. Absorbed in his work, he sat without prompting for the longest amount of time since I had known him. “Ms. Clough, look! Ms. Clough, I did it,” he said. “I made my flower and it’s so cool!” That was the spark.

From that moment on, my student was different. He raised his hand. He worked with partners. He asked questions about how to make his work better. Without that moment at the beginning of summer, we would not have seen a change in him. The arts gave both him and me the tools we needed to help him succeed.

Jaime Clough (right) with her Summer Arts & Learning Academy teaching artist partner Katherine Dilworth

My classroom after SALA is a different world. Teaching through the arts doesn’t just work for some students, it works for everyone. I have the highest engagement I have ever had, we are on track to grow two years in one school year as a class, and there is a spark in every single eye in the room when I write the lyrics to a “Ms. Clough Original” on the board. iReady, ANET, and DIBELS tests do not make us anxious anymore. When we walk into the computer lab, my students cheer because now they know they can do it. They are confident because they know their math and reading strategies from the songs, skits, and choreography we use every day. The successes and swagger among students in my classroom are because of the skills I gained while teaching with Young Audiences. Now, my dream is to be a principal so that I don’t just have a classroom of sparks, but a whole school of them.

Young Audiences' Sun

Jaime Clough is a 2nd Grade Teacher at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School and Summer Arts & Learning Academy Classroom Teacher. Her first-hand experience is a testament to the power of arts integration in the classroom and is an example of the incredible strides a class can take both emotionally and academically when children learn through the arts.

Future So Bright

Written by Jahsol Drummond
The 2017 Bloomberg Arts Intern and Filmmaker delivered the following speech at Young Audiences’ annual Impact Breakfast earlier this month.

My name is Jahsol Drummond. I am eighteen and currently a senior at Bard High School Early College.  I have attended Baltimore City Public Schools since kindergarten and I have never been a big fan. I was always told I was a good kid but my grades never really reflected that. From early on I was put in a box. Once I got to middle school, classes were separated and labeled 31 through 34. We all knew that groups 31 and 32 were supposed to be for the smart kids and 33 and 34 were for the “dumb” ones. I was in 33, and the stigma of feeling lesser set in, but I was also just glad I wasn’t in 34.  

When I didn’t get good grades in middle school, I couldn’t get into a good high school, and a cycle began. This is the problem. In middle school, a composite score based on the grades you earn determines where you can go to high school. Once kids get behind in their education here in the city, they get derailed and there isn’t much help to get you caught up. Luckily, I found Bard High School Early College, a school with college-level expectations that encourages its students to think. Bard gives kids who haven’t done well in the current system a second chance and (I think) a better education than any other city school can provide.

I first learned about the Bloomberg Arts Internship from Bard’s guidance counselor. This program, which is managed by Young Audiences, matches students with arts and cultural organizations for a paid internship over the summer. I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it.

So, I was excited when I was accepted into the program and Young Audiences matched me with Tim Nohe, who is the Director for the Center for Innovative Research in the Creative Arts (CIRCA) at UMBC and a filmmaker. We clicked instantly. We saw that we had a common interest in using film to communicate perspectives.

On the first day, Tim and I hit the ground running. He taught me how to use the camera, and how to use editing software. My first project was to film interviews with the arts staff at the university. I was involved throughout the entire production process: from researching the artist, to formulating the questions, filming the interviews, and editing the footage. Tim believed in me and over my six weeks at CIRCA, I was exposed to the world of professional filmmaking and working with people to create pieces of work that I cared about. I made something I was proud of and a spark ignited. That first-hand experience helped me get involved in the local industry and I came away feeling like I had earned the title of filmmaker.

Proud mom, Tracey Drummond (center).

On top of connecting me with a great worksite, Young Audiences helped me and my fellow interns apply to college. We spent time working on our college essays and doing extensive research on the colleges we wanted to attend for the next fall. Today, I’m graduating from Bard with an Associates degree and I will be attending Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts on a full-ride scholarship and with all of my current credits carried over.

At the end of the summer, Young Audiences required me and the 24 other Bloomberg Interns to present what we learned in a public presentation in front of hundreds of people. I had the opportunity to show what I had learned by producing my own video for my presentation. I was really pleased with how it turned out, and there were leaders in the city’s arts and cultural industry who were impressed with my work too.

My dream is to communicate the problems in our educational system through film, and now that I have finished the program, I know that I can do this. I hope my films inspire a spark within others to make a change. I now know enough to trust my spark to guide my work, and Young Audiences hiring me to film all three of YA’s summer programs this year means that others believe I have it in me, too. My career has only just begun, and it’s already so exciting. Thank you to Young Audiences and Bloomberg for opening this world up to me, and a special thanks to Tim for showing me the way.

Mother and son waiting for the 2018 Impact Breakfast to begin.

It Only Takes a Spark…

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

Spark. Ahh, now that’s a great word. Quick, simple, to the point.  And it’s versatile – noun or verb – it’s all good. And if you’re a fan of onomatopoeia (and who isn’t?), well, I think spark works well there, too.

If you attended the 11th annual Young Audiences Impact Breakfast, you heard that word a lot. First, from Stacie Sanders Evans, President and CEO of Young Audiences, whose drama teacher sparked a passion that would put her on the path to her leadership of YA. You heard it from Jaime Clough, a second-grade Baltimore City Public School teacher who taught in YA’s Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) and who has used the tools and strategies learned at SALA to transform her classroom during the school year. You even heard it from a student. High school senior Jahsol Drummond spoke about his experience developing his video and editing skills at the Center for Innovative Research in the Creative Arts (CIRCA) at UMBC  in last summer’s Bloomberg Arts Internship. He shared his plans for the future as a college student (he was awarded a full scholarship to Bard College) and as a filmmaker. “My career has only just begun, and it’s already so exciting,” Jahsol beamed.

High school student Jahsol Drummond and Baltimore City Public School teacher Jaime Clough spoke at the event.

It is amazing where a spark will take you if you have the passion and determination to stoke the fire.

But, of course, the thing about the Impact Breakfast is not just the inspirational stories we hear from the presenters, nor is it solely about acknowledging the remarkable strides Young Audiences has made over the past few years in overcoming summer learning loss. These are important and wonderful things to witness, no doubt. But what truly struck me this time around was the synergy of people attending this event united by the desire to improve educational opportunities for the children in our communities.  

The author, Barbara Krebs (left), with DJ, music producer and nonprofit founder Kariz Marcel (right).

Seated to my right was Kariz Marcel, a DJ, music producer, teaching artist, and founder of the nonprofit Innovation Echo Alliance who is seeking ways to partner with Young Audiences and other educational organizations through his music industry connections. As he explained it to me, he was hoping to establish a roster of professional recording artists who would be willing to donate a small portion of their music royalties to these organizations as an ongoing and sustainable way to raise funds for education in our local schools.

Another gentleman at our table was Lieutenant Steven Thomas, a member of the Anne Arundel County Police Crisis Intervention Team.  He and his team identify youth who can be helped by, for instance, after-school programs, like the Police, Artist, and Community Engagement program (PACE), and then find ways to make these things happen.  For example, when it was discovered that transportation was an issue, they partnered with the school system to provide it.  That meant getting the school-approved CDL bus license so they could drive students on the county’s buses.  A little spark of creativity to problem solve what might otherwise have been a deal killer. Instead, police officers are keeping local youth involved in enrichment programs.

Likewise, I got a chance to talk briefly with Dr. Stuart Levine, President and Chief Medical Officer of MedStar Harbor Hospital, who I had heard speak only a week before at the unveiling of the mural that now sits in the lobby of the hospital’s Emergency Department. This mural, which focused on how cells and viruses interact with human and animal bodies, was created by sixth-grade biology students from Brooklyn Park Middle School. The project was the result of a multi-week Young Audiences teaching artist residency in partnership with Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI). So here was yet another way that a group, which is pivotal to the lives and health of its local community, had found a way to connect with young students, perhaps sparking future collaborations?

And that is just a small sampling of the conversations I had at my table alone. As I looked across the room, I could only imagine what discussions, ideas, creative solutions, and inspirational tales were being shared elsewhere. Knowing that so many people had gathered because they have a passion to improve the educational lives of our youth, I came away from the event feeling recharged, hopeful and, yes, ready to find fresh ways to kindle the spark – in whatever myriad forms it appears – in my own life and those of others.

Indeed, there is no telling what particular spark at what precise table will catch fire and generate a lasting, positive impact. 

But that’s the Impact Breakfast for you – a kaleidoscope of people who are sparking change and impacting the future for our children!

Donor Spotlight: M&T Bank

For 58 years, Young Audiences of Maryland (YA) has been combining arts and education to create inventive and exciting learning experiences for children across the state. We believe that these experiences shouldn’t stop when the school year does, so we created the Summer Arts & Learning Academy – a five-week summer program that provides an opportunity for Baltimore City students who are behind in math or literacy to improve their skills through an arts-integrated curriculum. Through high-quality, engaging lessons, the Academy not only decreases summer learning loss in reading, but also eliminates summer learning loss in math, helping our students to return to school ahead of their peers.

With the help of M&T Bank Corporation, YA is working to expand this transformative summer program. Founded in 1856, M&T Bank is a regional financial services company that provides banking, insurance, investments, mortgage and commercial financial services in New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, DC. It has been recognized for its financial strength and sound management, and is proud to continue its tradition of reliability in the way it serves customers and supports the communities where they live and work.

M&T Bank is supporting students in the Baltimore community by partnering with Young Audiences as a sponsor of our 2018 Impact Breakfast. This year’s event will raise funds for the Bridging the Inspiration Gap Campaign, which will double the number of students served by the Summer Arts & Learning Academy.

YA knows that there is a space between the best conditions for learning and what our students in Baltimore City receive in school. We are grateful to M&T Bank for helping us to close this gap and give students the opportunity thrive in the summer and achieve year-round.

Learn about how Young Audiences is transforming summer experiences for Baltimore students through our Summer Arts & Learning Academy!

For more information about M&T Bank’s charitable giving, please visit their website.

Our Board of Directors: Bravely Creating Opportunities for our Students

We are reminded every day of the irreplaceable support we receive from those who share in our mission to transform the lives and education of Maryland students through arts experiences. From teachers and teaching artists to principals, parents, and donors, our list of allies is long. And because of our allies, the reach of our impact is wide and growing even wider.

“Thanks to our amazing staff and board, and to our supporters, including our Sunburst Society, our outreach has grown by 400%,” executive director, Stacie Sanders Evans, announced at the crowded Impact Breakfast last week. “Last year, we reached 191,000 students at nearly 500 schools with 225,000 hours of inspired learning! Also, we trained 1,096 teachers in arts-integrated instruction – so that means this kind of learning takes place even when our artists aren’t in schools.”

Alan Hoff, Board Member and chair of Major Gifts Committee (center)
Tea Carnell, Board Member
Kiati Plooksawasdi, Board Member (right)
Eric M. Pripstein, Board Treasurer (center)

Our teaching artists live and breathe our mission through their work in classrooms every day. And that’s just the beginning. While they may fly under the radar, our board of directors includes 23 of the most engaged, hands-on leaders and supporters we could hope for. Their commitment is extraordinary. Our board members can be found supporting our work in any number of ways including authoring blog posts, hosting On The Brightside events or leading full-day staff and teaching artist trainings. You may find them meeting with potential sponsors over lunch, inviting colleagues to our events, learning dance routines with their co-workers from a teaching artist, or even volunteering to make sock-puppets at our Family Engagement Night!

Candice Buckner, Board Member (left)
Catherine Pierre, Board Member (right)
Thomas J. Sessa, Board President (right)

Our board members are proud of the work we all do and they are eager to say so. “Arts integration is when the arts are drilled down into an academic curriculum in a thoughtful and meaningful way – and that is what puts the ‘Arts for Learning’ in our name and what makes Young Audiences/Arts for Learning so exceptional,” explained board member Tea Carnell at the Impact Breakfast. “What do the arts bring to a curriculum? Creativity, joy, and expression are the obvious ones. Arts integration brings mastery, perseverance, insight, focus, understanding, reflection, and problem solving.”

It is this passion for arts integration and the desire to reach all children that drives each one of us at Young Audiences, but we wouldn’t be able to do the work we do, and we wouldn’t be able to reach the children we reach, without the unwavering support of our board members. “We are at this incredible moment in time. We have the evidence our programs work. We have a school system that is asking for help. All we need to do is bravely create the opportunities we know students need,” Stacie Sanders Evans told supporters. “Young Audiences, its incredible artists, everyone in this room – YOU – can close the gaps for our young people.”

Board Secretary Randy Osteen (left) and Board Member Julie Medalis (center)

And you are. Because of you, we not only met, we surpassed our Impact Breakfast’s fundraising goal. From the bottom of our hearts, we extend a sincere thank you to our board, to Alan Hoff, chair of our major gifts committee, and to each and every one of our wonderful supporters. Visit yamd.org to learn more about the programs we offer and how you can help us reach even more children.