By Christa Huber, Arts Integration Coach, Patterson Park Public Charter School
I have been with Patterson Park Public Charter School for six years in various teaching positions in Title I, third grade, the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, and am now the school’s arts integration coach. This year has been a learning process, but also such a positive experience working in partnership with Young Audiences and Arts Every Day.
It was a personal goal for me to transition Patterson Park Public Charter School into becoming an arts-integrated school. I wanted to maximize our artist-in-residence programs with outside artists as much as I possibly could this school year. We believe in the strength of the impression that residencies make upon students and teachers. All of the work that comes out of a residency versus a day-long field trip makes such a difference. Residency programs allow students more time to engage with and learn from the artists. This exposure to artists is also important for the teachers because it provides a longer period of professional development so that they can learn skills and strategies that they can carry out in the future.
We had a fantastic variety of Young Audiences artists out to our school this year. These artists included: spoken word poet Femi the Drifish, ceramic visual artist Amanda Pellerin, Baltimore Improv Group, Flamenco dancer Anna Menendez, and more. These programs were made possible through Access for All grant funding from Young Audiences and funding from Arts Every Day.
We spread the residency experiences across different grade levels of the school. It was very helpful having the Young Audiences artist and program information online because it allowed me to search for artists that matched and linked to the content areas that our teachers were looking for.
There were a variety of stand-out experiences from our residencies, but here are a few:
- Femi the Drifish worked with our middle school students in Language Arts. A great thing about that residency was the response we received from students who typically are not comfortable with performing in front of people. By their culminating performance, those students in particular were the ones to stand up and share their poetry with strength.
- The third grade worked with Amanda Pellerin to create an Ancient Egyptian mosaic. This piece of work related to their study of the ancient civilization. Mr. O’Connell, our third grade science and social studies teacher, was blown away by how Amanda challenged the students to do their best work in a really positive way. We’re very excited to have that piece of artwork as a permanent fixture in our school.
- Anna Menendez brought some of the Spanish culture into our school. Some of our middle school students had just returned from a trip to Spain during spring break, so this residency was another way to connect with what they learned and saw on their travels. It also provided a relatable experience for the students who didn’t have the chance to travel to Spain.
I have personally seen the impact that residencies have had upon teachers compared to other arts-related experiences. I believe that having artists at Patterson Park helped our teachers develop a great deal. Artists exposed teachers to new art forms that they may not have had any experience with, such as spoken word poetry or improvisation, and gave our teachers opportunities to learn how to tie these art forms to the curriculum.
One of our charter school philosophies is that children learn best through hands-on activities with interdisciplinary and semantic learning models. Arts integration is at the core of our values and it naturally makes sense for Patterson Park.
By Bomani, Young Audiences teaching artist and Hip Hop poet
Before my recent residency with fourth-graders at Scholars K-8 in Baltimore County began, the teachers I worked with–Mrs. Brumbalow, Ms. Barnes, and Ms. Hicks–had prepared the students for my arrival. When I walked through the door on the first day, the students recognized me and treated me like a rock star, so I knew I had to make a meaningful impact.
At the beginning of a residency, there are three writing rules I give students:
- Artists don’t make mistakes, they make discoveries.
- Do not edit in your head.
- The only wrong answer is a blank answer.
Students are oftentimes drilled to memorize answers in order to score highly on assignments. Sometimes they become paralyzed with fear when asked their opinion, so I try to loosen them up to think creatively. Young people need to have freedom to develop an idea out loud without self-doubt and to not fear right or wrong answers.
I worked with the Scholars K-8 teachers to create a series of Hip Hop writing workshops to strengthen students’ comprehension skills. In the two weeks I was at the school, students wrote songs about the writing process, how to count money and use decimals, as well as climate and how humans affect the environment.
The initial challenge was getting students excited about writing. They were energized by Hip Hop poetry writing because it’s a style of music they admire beyond the school setting.
Once they got used to the idea that we weren’t looking for one correct answer, they felt free to say what they were thinking. There was one student in particular whose reading and comprehension skills were not where they should have been for his grade level. One of his teachers revealed that this residency was one of the few opportunities where he felt confident enough to answer questions because he could take his time and work through his ideas out loud. Each day he was fighting through the door for the front seat, and his self-esteem was boosted each time he answered a question.
During an exercise, we discussed the music video “Me, Myself, and I” by De La Soul which includes symbolism about self-acceptance. The light bulb went off for many students, who immediately related to trying to fit in or be cool. They realized that at some point, you have to validate yourself without caring about the opinion of others. To see them react to that song, and have students come in the next day writing lines I didn’t assign, was a very powerful feeling. They were using art to reflect their realities and project their hopes for the future.
There was one point during the residency that I had to put my “teacher” foot down when a student became disruptive while we were writing the chorus of a song. Students that age can struggle with differentiating positive and negative attention, but when we got down to the last line, that student raised his hand and offered a new idea to our brainstorming session. The line was exactly what we needed and the whole class recognized him for it. To be validated like that after being reprimanded showed him that we wanted him to participate and be a part of the team, but in a constructive way.
This residency strengthened their class bonds by allowing students to collaborate and recognize each other’s talent. Even students who often had problems dealing with their classmates or paying attention were invested. They appreciated each other’s creativity and when they were put into groups to write on their own, they just took off.
One of the main complaints I get from young people is that they aren’t understood. My response is always that they need to improve their communication. The ability to speak, write, and create art in a way that others can comprehend is something students latch onto, and they internalized the techniques I gave them. We would brainstorm an idea, flesh out a paragraph on this idea, and then break the paragraph into a rhyme. While writing the song, they formulated introductory and supporting paragraphs. Before they knew it, they had completed an essay. The process made them realize how much they want this skill. One student gave me a poster she made outside of class time with an anagram for my name. Her classmates loved it so much they all signed it and gave it to me. I still don’t think I’ve come down from that high.
Young Audiences Hip Hop poet Bomani recently visited Empowerment Academy Elementary/Middle for an assembly and workshop to teach students the elements of writing Hip Hop music and its parallels to poetry- and essay-writing while also addressing the subject of anti-bullying. Following the assembly, Open Mic, students worked with Bomani to use the techniques demonstrated in his performance to write their own Hip Hop poem about how to handle bullying inside and outside of school. One teacher shared: “Students were pleasantly surprised at their ability to write poetry, and became more adamant about stopping bullying.”
The assembly and workshop were made possible through the Young Audiences Access for All Initiative which makes Young Audiences artists and programs available to high-need Baltimore City Public Schools at up to 80 percent off of the cost. This opportunity helps principals with limited resources provide hands-on learning in the arts that supplements and enriches the curriculum.
The following day, three students volunteered to share their finished poem with the student body over the school intercom. Read the full poem below!
When there is bullying, don’t just be a bystander,
Better not mess with a Marylander!
Find an adult who is trustworthy,
So the bully will not continue to hurt me!
There is verbal, physical, cyber, and exclusion,
Don’t do any of these. Use inclusion!
Bullies cause a lot of confusion,
Everyone must help to find a solution!
This is just one example of how Young Audiences artists connect fine arts, the curriculum, and important 21st Century skills to impact how students see themselves and relate to others.