Step by Step: The Power of the Arts

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

As a pair of dancers performed, a group of elementary school children sat, crisscross applesauce, watching their every move. Valerie Branch, a dancer and choreographer with Young Audiences had been working with the Belle Grove Elementary students in an artist residency made possible through the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI). When the last notes faded away, Valerie asked the children what they had observed.

“They love each other,” one child offered.

“They share,” another chimed in.

Valerie Branch and a student from Belle Grove Elementary School demonstrating a “weight bearing” dance technique for the audience.

Then she asked the kids to explain what dancing techniques they had witnessed. “Negative space,” “weight sharing,” and “weight bearing” were some of the answers shouted out.

Next, she gathered a group of her second-grade students to pair off with each other to demonstrate some of those concepts. Once the children had done so, half of the students were instructed to use a frozen pose in a high, medium, or low position. The rest were to react to whatever their partner had created. With the new poses in place, she asked the other children in the assembly to discuss what they saw and how the partners had related to one another.

And, in true arts integration form, this exercise was not just about learning dance terminology and positions, but was tied to lessons at the school. This particular one was used in conjunction with a poetry-writing assignment in which the children described themselves through the creation of “I am” poems. Later, choreography was added to illustrate their autobiographical poetry.

Such was the back-and-forth learning that observers witnessed at the Arts Empowered Minds Announcement Event and Celebration on Friday, March 8. The group of educators, politicians, state and local arts administrators, and volunteers gathered at the school was celebrating a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which will be used to expand arts integration and teacher professional development in Northern Anne Arundel County.

Pictured counter-clockwise from top left: YA President & CEO Stacie Sanders Evans, Matt Barinholtz of FutureMakers, AEMI Teacher Liaison Betsy Brininger, and Lacey Sheppard, AACPS Arts Integration Teacher Specialist

This is the third time that the NEA has awarded Young Audiences, the program’s managing partner, a grant for AEMI. This collaborative partnership between a wide array of arts and education organizations throughout Anne Arundel County seeks to “address the disparity in arts access–and associated gaps in student achievement–between students in Northern Anne Arundel County and the rest of the county.”

Arts Integration Teacher Mika Nakano (left) and Brittany Roger (right)

Now in its third year, AEMI has already racked up an impressive set of statistics. But even better than the numbers are the inspiring stories that teachers and administrators had to share during the event. Brittany Roger, a teaching artist with a scientific illustration background, spoke of bringing exotic animals (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, iguanas, corn snakes) to the classroom and allowing children to explore the creatures through sight, sound, touch, and smell. Afterward, the students draw and sketch the animals based on their observations.

Amy Goodman, who heads the math department at North County High School, told of her department’s initial skepticism about linking arts and math together. But as the teachers learned arts integration techniques and applied them in the classroom, they began to see students who had been turned off or struggling with math begin to make connections that helped them grasp the concepts they needed to learn.

Dr. Maureen McMahon,  Deputy Superintendent for Academics & Strategic Initiatives for Anne Arundel County Public Schools

And so, step by step, AEMI partners create opportunities for children to learn through the arts. Step by step, the Initiative changes minds about the importance of integrating the arts with reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. And, step by step, it makes converts of those who witness how the arts engage young minds and help them stay, not only focused on their education, but truly inspired to learn.

Learn more about the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, its collective impact partners and the community it serves by visiting artsempoweredminds.org.

Meet our new artists: FutureMakers

Meet Our Artists-FutureMakers_2

During the last two years, our roster has grown in size to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms. From slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters, these new artists are undeniably unique.

To introduce audiences to our new artists, we’ll be posting interviews with those who recently joined our roster, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences with Young Audiences so far. We recently sat down with Matt Barinholtz of FutureMakers.

What is your background as an artist?

FutureMakers started from work I was doing as a visual artist and sculptor with other makers and educators. I was frequently asked if I could bring the type of work I was doing to classrooms. I had met artists, engineers, and technologists that wanted to do projects with young people, but didn’t feel confident about how to approach it. I wondered if an organization could connect makers and educators, so both could build their skills.

During the summer of 2012, I was invited to work with a supportive cohort of community colleges in Maryland to bring STEAM workshops (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) into their summer programs for youth. Since then, we’ve steadily been growing our staff, or as we call them, coaches, and are excited to be working with Young Audiences to provide a formal pathway for those interested in joining FutureMakers to deliver programs to schools.

How did you hear about Young Audiences?

Someone shared a workshop offered by Pat Cruz, Young Audiences Education Director. I wasn’t able to attend, but reached out to Pat to find out how FutureMakers could learn from and work with Young Audiences. In 2013, we were invited to support a summer learning program in Harford County, and participate in the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) Seminar. Through TAI, we developed a FutureMakers residency. We’ve been making things that wiggle, draw, glow, and do crazy stuff with kids ever since.

Meet Our Artists-FutureMakers_1

See these sculptures in action here!

What has been the most memorable part of the programs you’ve had through Young Audiences?

I was watching morning announcement videos at a school which used puppets created by students with TAI instructor and playwright John Morogiello. They were funny and sharp. It wasn’t about adults, it was about youth development with young people out in front. I was impressed by the way art was completely integrated into that school. It made me wish that more places would work and integrate this way.

What was your favorite part of the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) Seminar? How has the experience changed your approach to teaching?

TAI solidified the way we at FutureMakers think about the pathway our coaches follow. It focuses our expertise and creativity on student engagement, measurable outcomes, and addresses the needs of our teacher partners. They get to see and do what they’d like within boundaries of what they need to do.

Our coaches are experiencing how maker education can connect in classrooms because of Young Audiences. Being observed, receiving feedback, and having scheduling and communications support is an enormous value that Young Audiences adds to our organization.

What does your art form–particularly as it relates to STEM subjects–teach students?

With technology, things are moving toward additive processes – for example, 3D printing, which is a process we incorporate in many community workshops. Traditional craft and art media are now expanding to incorporate materials often found in science or technology classrooms, or only available to higher education students. In a rapidly evolving, project-based learning world, coaches help young people embrace the design process in their creative lives – think like engineers to figure out how to solve a design challenge, and have the confidence to iterate, or try again, when things go in unexpected directions.

How do the lessons or skills you teach students apply to their everyday life outside of the classroom?

Students asking, imagining, planning, creating, and improving is the core of what we’re about. Young people have limitless imaginations, and are open to learning how to take a step back and ask questions. In the past, young makers followed plans or prescriptive examples to complete a project.  We’re learning that truly effective coaches facilitate their discovery of paths and options that lead to mastery – supported by the design cycle.

Why do you believe art is important for every student to have access to?

Young people need to have the opportunity to try something and fail, and a coach who can help them through difficult spots. Art was the only thing that kept me focused and motivated in high school; it was my identity early on. When we’re working with students in upper-elementary and middle school, identity is a large and important part of what our residencies are about. Art is a fast path to forming and grabbing onto an identity, whatever the content is.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Young Audiences roster artist?

It’s incredibly validating to know as an organization we’re doing something that our school systems embrace. I think the most rewarding aspect is knowing that we’re working in a community of other practitioners who are phenomenal performing and visual artists and amazing coaches. That is a very rare mix, and we’re honored to be a part of it.

Learn more about FutureMakers’ offerings through Young Audiences.

Keep an eye out for more interviews featuring our newest roster artists! See past new artist interviews here.

Reflecting on the Teaching Artist Institute

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The 2014-2015 Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) Seminar is already underway, but we wanted to share some reflections from artists who have graduated from the program. Here’s what they had to say about the experience:

As a full-time preservationist of acoustic Delta Blues from the 1920s and 1930s, I must make my history of Blues show academically relevant to the curriculums of Maryland and Virginia schools. I completed the TAI training program in 2009, and the course completely transformed my understanding of how I can support the current teaching standards in schools with my music programs.

As Young Audiences knows better than anyone, all the arts are under tremendous pressure to prove their relevance to school systems that are struggling to meet national testing standards in different disciplines. What I learned from my TAI training is that the arts serve a valuable role in preparing students with the 21st Century thinking skills they need for their future success in our rapidly changing world.

By creating a residency with a language arts teacher as my partner, I was able to use songwriting to teach students figurative writing skills. Without the TAI training, my school music programs would not be as academically relevant to the school’s goals. This connection is critical for the arts to survive in our schools, not as a reward for difficult academic work, but as a means to help students meet their academic goals.

The TAI program is well-run by dedicated educators and artists. It is challenging, rigorous, and exposes artists, teaching artists, and professional educators to each other’s thinking styles. This program deserves support, and I hope it continues to transform serious performing artists into skilled teaching artists.

Curtis Blues, Blues Musician, Exploring Math and Music by Making a One String Guitar

I had never thought of myself as an educator, at least not in the traditional sense. Musically, there is always an underlying truth or teachable moment I try to impart. However, now I needed to do so in a structured, educational format. Although the curriculum was challenging, I am ever so grateful for having gone through the process. The fellowship with the teachers and other artists truly cannot be measured. As an artist, mentally you have to re-wire your brain to remember that it is not about you or a performance; it is about what the children learn and take away from the experience. A few months later I had the opportunity to return to the school for a musical performance for a general assembly. My class was so excited to see me and the feeling was more than mutual. For that reason alone, it was a journey worth taking.

Uncle Devin, Musician and “Drumcussionist,” Uncle Devin’s World of Percussion

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TAI gave me such an appreciation for the life of the classroom teacher. Not only did I learn how to plan and sequence a project into realistic, meaningful lesson plans, I learned a whole new vocabulary and some best practices of a strong teacher as well. Field testing my lessons with my teaching partner gave me real world practice in collaboration, classroom management, solid preparation and flexibility.

TAI is also a rare opportunity to work and learn side-by-side with artists from other disciplines. I met so many energetic, thoughtful, creative people who are not only committed to their art, but also to making a difference in the lives of children. It was incredibly valuable to me to be stretched and out of my comfort zone. As a visual artist, I found that experiences in music, dance and drama helped me move out of my head and in to my body. I learned that this whole body engagement is something that I want to bring to students when I lead them in the visual arts.

On the last day of TAI we were asked to say one word that summed up our experience. My word was “ALIVE.” That pretty much says it all.

Pam Negrin, Visual Artist, Transformative Textiles: Weaving Together Math, Literacy and History and

Collaborative Stitching: Connecting and Inventing with Needle and Thread

TAI is an amazing opportunity where artists, educators, and staff truly collaborate to help process, define, and designate the importance of art in the classroom. I loved the guided lessons, hands on experience, and being around such amazing, talented individuals. I feel like this experience helped to shine a new light on my own experiences as a classroom teacher and now a teaching artist.

Bridget Cavaiola and Michael Harris, Baltimore Improv Group, Life is Improvised!

The staff and artists who coached us through TAI opened a whole new level of integrated content, planning, and instructional skills to us. The opportunity to develop new programming for excited young artists, alongside engaged education professionals in so many unique environments has grown our vision as an organization. This fall, three more team members will begin TAI. Best professional development around!

Matt Barinholtz, FutureMakersIt’s Alive: Kinetic Creature Lab!

I really felt like I was re-energized in my way of thinking and the facilitators brought a plethora of knowledge to the table. I appreciated their ability to listen, answer questions, and make the experience fun, interactive and simply enjoyable.

Valerie Branch, Modern DancerExploring, Creating, and Dancing with our Friends!