Young Audiences teaching artist Ssuuna, a dancer, musician, and storyteller from Uganda, brought his incredible stage presence to Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School recently. There, he taught over 100 high school students African dance and drumming using the same focused energy and passion he delivers on stage. What struck the teachers in attendance, however, was how well Ssuuna guided his students in building a community and how expertly he handled distractions in the classroom, even with pointed interruptions.
“He never raised his voice with them, but made it clear that their choices would have consequences,” recognized Mrs. Black, a 9th-grade teacher at the school. By encouraging students to examine each of his or her options and the consequences and rewards that go along with them, Ssuuna cultivates classrooms built on cooperation and encouragement. “He put the responsibility on the students to take ownership of their actions and choices, and it was very meaningful for students to have that responsibility.”
Another participating teacher, Mr. Hughes, observed that the residency made students feel more relevant. “Ssuuna met the students where they were and gave them confidence and a sense of belonging, no matter what their interest,” he said. This “relevancy” seemed to be felt not only internally, but collectively. Participants created their own inclusive ritual by uniting and forming a prayer circle before performing at the culminating dance. Mrs. Black recalled how powerful the moment felt to her, “I was really inspired to see all kinds of students coming together to be supportive and work as a team in that way.”
It is so important for students to be understanding, especially at this age, rather than making others feel like they don’t fit in.
The culminating dance introduced one last challenge when a student suffered a panic attack onstage. Ssuuna stepped in to join the student and spoke with her. In the moments that followed, she was able to regain control, breathing and finally relaxing. Teachers could actually see the transition from panic to calm occur within the student. Mrs. Black described the experience as transcendent for the teachers, the students, and the audience. “That moment made the whole experience feel more intimate, supportive, and vulnerable,” Mrs. Black explained. By witnessing first-hand Ssuuna’s kindness and encouragement with the student in distress, the audience was inspired to also be encouraging and supportive. “It is so important for students to be understanding, especially at this age, rather than making others feel like they don’t fit in.”
Skher Brown teaches world cultural awareness, body coordination and interpersonal skills through the basics of Capoeira Angola, an African-Brazilian martial art form that is a blend between a dance, game, and self-defense. In his new residency, Capoeira Speaks: Dancing for Social Intelligence and Life Success Skills, students develop non-verbal communication skills through body language and kinesthetic movement. This residency is well-suited for inclusive learning settings and those with behavioral, social, emotional, and/or physical disabilities.
“Over 90% of all communication is nonverbal, yet far too little focus is placed on teaching our children how to empathize with others and build relationships. Capoeira Angola is a non-verbal language that uses our bodies to speak instead of our mouths.”
Social intelligence affects how students manage their own behavior, their decision-making process, and how well they are able to navigate social situations. It is, along with academic achievement, one of the greatest predictors of success. Learning to read and respond to body language helps students learn to communicate more effectively, strengthening their social intelligence, thus increasing their chances of success.
apoeira Angola creates a culture of being more aware of one another. It’s communicating all at once with everyone in the room,” Skher explains. “I will say with my movement, ‘I’m about to ask you a question, I need an answer,’ and the student will respond with his or her choice of movement–the ‘answer’. Over 90% of all communication is nonverbal, yet far too little focus is placed on teaching our children how to empathize with others and build relationships. Capoeira Angola is a non-verbal language that uses our bodies to speak instead of our mouths. Once students learn the movements, they come together and begin to have a conversation.”
Capoeira requires students to be very expressive with their entire bodies, including their faces. Participants smile, open their eyes wide, and use animated gestures. These movements help students connect with their own emotions, which translates into being able to recognize and connect to the emotions of others.
“Students take ownership of the new community culture and protect it.”
In Skher’s residency, students take turns observing one another performing the dance movements of Capoeira. “After the dance routine, we form a large circle for participants to look at one another using eye contact. Here, students express what positive observations they noticed about their partners. Then, students share how it felt to give and receive positive reflections. Invariably, though the expressions might start out a little stiff, the mood and classroom environment always turns into a welcoming and connected space. Students take ownership of this new community culture and protect it.”
Skher Brown is one of nine selected roster artists who received training in a variety of inclusion tactics to utilize in the classroom through the Inclusive Allies program in partnership with Disability Rights Maryland. Learn more about our programs for students with special needs and the work we are doing to ensure that all students receive the many benefits of engaging and inclusive arts-integrated classroom experiences.
Arts integration is a valuable tool for reaching multiple learning styles across the curriculum and is linked to enhanced academic outcomes as well as positive social and emotional development for children. While this is true for all students, studies have found that the impact of the arts on language development and core subject learning is particularly beneficial for students with disabilities or those with special learning needs.
As an inclusive organization, Young Audiences’ goal is to bring high-quality, arts-integrated instruction that is accessible, supportive, and welcoming to children of all backgrounds and abilities into the classroom.
Reality is a social definition. Disability is the social process that turns impairment into a negative by creating barriers to access. Difference should be accommodated and celebrated. You can create new ways to create together by taking into account universal access to creativity.
We are diligently laying the foundation for inclusive practice to be incorporated into arts-integrated curriculum, increasing the opportunities for youth of all abilities to participate in artistically-excellent programs. To help us achieve this goal, our staff received specialized inclusion training through the Inclusive Allies program in partnership with Disability Rights Maryland.
Nine selected roster artists also received training, participating in a comprehensive workshop covering a variety of inclusion tactics to utilize in the classroom. YA Roster Artist and FutureMakers founder Matt Barinholtz observed, “Reality is a social definition. Disability is the social process that turns impairment into a negative by creating barriers to access. Difference should be accommodated and celebrated. You can create new ways to create together by taking into account universal access to creativity.”
YA artists approach this “universal access to creativity” by rethinking the norms behind the ways we allow people to communicate, socialize and behave. We create a culture where all students receive the many benefits of engaging and inclusive arts-integrated classroom experiences, adapting lessons with audio/visual cues and different levels of kinesthetic movement, and applying inclusion tactics.
The following Young Audiences Roster Artists have completed the training as of 2016:
- Future Makers/Matt Barinholtz
- Tori Bertocci (Synetic Theater)
- Skher Brown and the Capoeira is Culture Performers
- Anna Menendez
- Jamaal Collier
- Valerie Branch
- Sue Trainor
- Alden Phelps
- Pam Negrin
In the coming months, we will proudly share artists’, teachers’ and coordinators’ stories about their roles in this important work.
Young Audiences’ roster of artists continues to grow to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms, from slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters.
We’ll be regularly posting interviews with our artists, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences bringing their Young Audiences programs to schools. We recently sat down with Tim McCarthy of Quest Visual Theatre.
Why did you decide to become a Young Audiences roster ensemble and how does it align with Quest Visual Theatre’s larger mission?
I had known several artists in Maryland who were with Young Audiences and I began to investigate what the organization was about. It made me think about where Quest Visual Theatre was heading and I thought it was something worth pursuing because we have so much experience working with children.
We are an inclusive company. Deaf people are a part of everything we do everyday and we wish to celebrate the people who are in this world. That’s the world we want to live in and we wish to bring those experiences it into children’s lives.
Quest also uses visual theatre to cut across language and cultural barriers. All of our work is inclusive and accessible. Everything that Quest does reflects the company’s commitment to welcoming to all people. One program that reflects that is QuestFest, which is a biennial international visual theatre festival. Quest partners with area theaters, universities, and agencies to present performances, conduct approximately 20 residencies, and provide training in visual theatre. The QuestFest Community Showcase enables students who have participated in QuestFest residencies to share work that they created.
What has been the most memorable part of the programs you have brought to the students with Young Audiences?
I love what I’m bringing into the schools and seeing how engaged the students are. Quest does little warm-ups before each performance. We play a game like charades with the audience. We have the audience begin to guess what the actors are doing; playing baseball, football, or golf. That really gets the kids involved and excited.
Do you have a memory of when you felt that you has an impact upon a student or class?
Students usually don’t know how to approach our actors because they are deaf, but after a performance or residency, we intentionally spend time and stick around to interact with the children. That’s when the hugs begin to happen. Things really change at that point. They see our artists as people they want to interact with. The communication barrier goes away.
How does your art form help connect students to what they are learning in school ?
Our goal is to integrate theatre into the curriculum. We do this by focusing upon two primary areas, including learning readiness and literacy.
How do the lessons that you teach students apply to and affect their everyday lives outside of the classroom?
In addition to learning the art form, the developmental skills we are focus on are communication and interpersonal skills. When you’re creating something and working in collaboration with others, especially if you’re not able to speak, you’re going to have to be clear about what your intentions are. Our lessons teach children how to send and receive information clearly with engagement.