Donor Spotlight: Jen and Michael Sachs

As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, Jen Sachs often used music and theatre to engage her students. Although Jen lacked formal training in the arts or arts integration, she sang and used costumes and characters to encourage her students to participate in lessons. These small changes made a big impact.

“The benefits for my students were amazing,” Jen said. “They learned and obtained concepts quicker. They were able to express themselves better. They loved coming to school and appreciated new experiences.”

Seeing the impact of the arts on students is one of the reasons Jen was drawn to Young Audiences and became a Sunburst Society member in 2010.

Jen is particularly excited that Young Audiences has expanded into early learning classrooms as the Maryland sponsor of the Wolf Trap Institute’s Early Learning Through the Arts.

“The arts programs that include music, visual arts, and theatre are extremely important for developing minds,” Jen said. “Children are learning as they are doing. Whether they are building vocabulary through music and theatre or demonstrating the acquisition of knowledge through dance and movement—they are gaining vital skills for life and learning.”

Using Wolf Trap’s respected residency model, Young Audiences is bringing programs to Baltimore City preschool and kindergarten classrooms by off-setting the cost with community support.

“Low-income students often have limited opportunities to experience the arts in school,” Jen said. “Young Audiences’ programs fill this void and do more than teach students how to sing, act, dance, or play an instrument—they teach them to believe in themselves.”

Read about the work Young Audiences supporters have helped make possible in our 2013 Annual Report.

Why the arts make the difference

By Stacie Sanders Evans, Young Audiences/Arts for Learning Executive Director

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I recently took a foundation representative to see what our Maryland Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts program looks like when an artist is in a preschool classroom.

Afterward the representative asked me a question that has stuck with me: “Why does this program really matter–what real difference is it going to make for kids?”

If you are like me, life hits you weeks later and you always have a better answer when the moment has long passed. I have my answer now.

Arts-integrated education programs, like the residencies offered through Maryland Wolf Trap, matter to Christopher. After we observed the lesson, the teacher, Ms. Miles, and teaching artist and musician Sue Trainor debriefed, discussing what worked (and didn’t) during that day’s lesson. In this session, Ms. Miles had taken the lead in incorporating music and drama into the literacy lesson with support from Sue. Both Sue and Ms. Miles mentioned what a big moment it was for Christopher to fully participate in the lesson centered on the book the class was reading.

Christopher had played the part of the goat during the reading, and held his friends’ hands while traveling across the room singing. When the children were asked to sit, he joined his friends on the carpet to reflect on the elements of the lesson they liked the best using the song prompt: “That’s what I like, uh-huh, that’s what I like, uh-huh.” Each student was asked to show what they had liked about the lesson by adding a movement to the end of the song. Christopher stayed with the group and listened intently as his peers shared.

I actually didn’t know who Ms. Miles was referring to because Christopher looked no different from any other student in the class. But today had been an important step for Christopher, who often finds it difficult to pay attention, and wanders away from the group when he is distracted by the task at hand. Today Christopher was engaged and the lesson kept his interest. In these formative years, children develop a strong sense of how they feel about learning, school, and themselves. These impressions can hinder or fuel a child’s confidence and achievement for years to come. Today we were the fuel.

This program matters to Ms. Miles who said tearfully that Christopher’s success was the moment she lived for as a teacher. “These shining moments keep you going,” she said.

Ms. Miles is an incredibly gifted teacher whose dedication to her students is evident from the moment you walk into her classroom. But, like every great teacher, she is hungry for these moments–and this is what motivated her to bring this 16-session Wolf Trap residency program into her classroom and fully take advantage of the embedded professional development.

Ms. Miles now has more confidence and skill in using singing, rhythm, and creative drama to actively engage children in stories. She has an arsenal of arts strategies that keep 25 little bodies and minds fully engaged in her lessons. Instead of a simple read aloud of a book she is using the arts to bring these stories to life.

This program matters to all the children in the classroom. What Ms. Miles and other participating teachers find is that these kinds of arts-integrated lessons stick–children are better able to recall the sequence of events and characters of the story, comprehend the story, and recognize the new words being introduced in the story. More importantly, students in our program have an increased interest in books and stories. All of these skills are essential to school readiness.

Fortunately, these moments also matter to the foundation who joined us in the classroom, which recently granted us an award that will make it possible for us to reach seven additional high-need Baltimore City preschool classrooms and 175 more early learners through the arts.

Learn more about the Maryland Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts program here.

How song and dance changed my classroom

By Morgan Lyons, Kindergarten Teacher, William S. Baer School

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When I first heard that an artist-in-residence program was coming to my school, William S. Baer, I was excited. I learned about arts integration while I was studying education in college and wanted to find a way to use the arts in my teaching, especially when I decided I wanted to teach special education. I feel that the arts are an amazing pathway, particularly for kids who might not necessarily understand the material when taught in a more traditional way. When I found out that this opportunity was being offered at my school, I was thrilled; I jumped at the opportunity.

As a relatively new teacher, I knew I wanted to integrate the arts into the curriculum in some way, I just didn’t know how. Our curriculum is structure- and task analysis-based and there did not seem to be a lot of room for the arts, but Sue Trainorthe Wolf Trap-trained artist who I worked with during the 16-session residency, taught me how to make arts integration work for our program and how it could help our students.

The program began with Sue showing me her lesson plan, which we used for our first session with students. We continued to use Sue’s plans for a few weeks. After every lesson we talked about how it went–what the high point was and what we could work on for the next session. As the program went on, it developed and changed so that I was giving more feedback and Sue was asking me more questions. I began to take more of the lead, and I grew from a consultant role on lesson plans, to writing the lesson plans with Sue, to creating the whole lesson myself. This was a great way for me to learn because I got to watch Sue, I collaborated, and then it was all me.

Sue taught me a lot of arts integration techniques that I continue to use every day in my teaching. We incorporate music and visual representation throughout the day which makes for more engaging activities. We sing through transitions and when we’re teaching new material, such as shapes, letters, colors, and numbers.

One thing Sue and I collaborated on was the idea of using a mirror with my students. My students are kindergartners with autism. Students with autism often have a skewed perception of themselves and have a hard time making a mind-body connection. The mirror’s reflection serves as an additional visual for them and provides a form of visual feedback. Rather than me just saying, “Touch your head,” they actually see themselves do that motion and make the connection.

Sue also taught me what has become the go-to opening sequence for our classroom. It’s a series of two or three short songs that integrate body movement, beat, and tone. This new practice has had a huge effect on my students, but it had an enormous impact on one student in particular.

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See a sample arts-integrated lesson plan created by Morgan and Sue here!

Brittany was new to our school this year. She had never had a school experience, and she was very quiet and kept to herself. Sue came in and introduced the song and movement sequence to the students, and she asked them to mirror her actions. When Sue told students to “Show me your hand,” students were asked to mirror Sue by raising their hands like she had raised hers. Brittany took to that, and she was soon asking for the song specifically by using sign language, which she had no exposure to before. Brittany was communicating and expressing her desire for the song; she was actively participating and engaging with her eyes. Had Sue not introduced this activity, Brittany may not have engaged with the group for quite some time. She has really benefited from the social lessons Sue brought to our classroom during this program.

My hope is that this experience and opportunity is available to as many teachers as possible, regardless of their academic area, because it has helped my classroom beyond words. I’m not only a personal advocate for the arts but an advocate for the arts in special needs programs.

We, as teachers, are here for the students, and whatever can benefit the students is what’s most important. My kids are changing in front of my eyes because of what I’ve learned through this residency program. Because I gave it a chance and put in a little extra planning time, I have arts-integrated activities that keep my students engaged and entertained while they are learning.

To other teachers: Give it a try and you won’t regret it.

This program was provided under a contract with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Learn more about Young Audiences early learning programs here.