Lessons from Summer: Preparing for a Virtual Fall

By now, Maryland students will have started their new school year. We know they have been missed terribly by their teachers and by their friends. And while they might not be reuniting in the ways that they had hoped, we know that they can still feel the love, the excitement, and support they would normally get in person. We know this because this summer, we were able to build and maintain the community and connections that students and families have come to expect from our programseven though the circumstances were different.

Just as in years prior, students practiced their math and literacy skills each day with educators and professional teaching artists in our Virtual Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA). Besides the traditional benefits of summer learning, our students had the additional experience of getting adjusted to online learning in the fall. One parent said, “I really appreciated the fact that students were able to be in a virtual camp and prepare themselves for the upcoming virtual school year.”

“I really appreciated the fact that students were able to be in a virtual camp and prepare themselves for the upcoming virtual school year.”

And because they were learning through the arts, students were engaged, they had fun, and they were driven to learn and succeed. We saw puppet theatre performances and were treated to kitchen instrument concerts. We heard all about new passions ranging from embroidery to engineering. And we saw students and their families and caregivers having fun while learning and engaged in the arts together.

Teaching artist Marian McLaughlin’s class made a collaborative crankie—a moving illustrated story—after reading the book “City Green”. The crankie shows everyone’s garden plots in their imaginary community garden.

We discovered that our Virtual SALA students RULE Zoom! At this year’s program culmination, students presented collaborative class projects and Creative Challenges and we were absolutely blown away by their creativity and hard work. And it’s not just the time and effort that was apparent in their presentationsyou can feel their joy and pride, their camaraderie and excitementeven through the screen!

Students in this year’s Virtual Summer Arts & Learning Academy worked with teaching artist Femi the Drifish and educator Mrs. Cassin to create “Our Changing World News”.

We also had the honor of congratulating 19 incredible students on their completion of the Bloomberg Arts Internship, the college and career readiness program for rising high school seniors. Like our SALA students, the 2020 interns completed the entirety of the program virtually. All summer long, these students honed their writing skills, prepared applications for college, attended virtual workshops on financial literacy and college preparedness, and met over Zoom with professional artists working across a multitude of disciplines.

Writing samples created by students during the internship were presented at the culminating ceremony.
Interns were presented with messages of gratitude from their peers.

At their worksites, interns completed projects that required extensive research and the development of new skills. They engaged in lively and thoughtful discussion; they showed up and challenged themselves and inspired each other to aim high; and they cared for and supported one another daily.

This video, created by Gyasi Mitchell, BAI class of 2019, offers a glimpse into week four of our virtual Bloomberg Arts Internship.

We learned so much about reaching and inspiring students virtually and about connecting talented and committed teaching artists and educators with families in all new ways this summer. This was not the summer any of us expected when we started planning for it last yearin what now feels like a very different time. But summer is a magical season at Young Audiences, pandemic or not, and we are so thankful to be able to take this experience and all the lessons we learned and apply it to the new school year.

We are truly excited to now offer a diverse array or synchronous and asynchronous programing to help schools engage students this school year. We know that creating content that changes the pace of remote learning can be a daunting challenge for educators. Young Audiences’ remote learning programs provide the tone and flow that makes learning interesting and fun. Our standards-based resources motivate students to stay engaged and provide busy educators with high-quality, fully customizable options for delivering content. Visit yamd.org/remote-learning to learn more about how our professional teaching artists bring excitement and joy into your virtual classrooms!

Young Audiences Art Crawl

Inspire, Imagine, Improve!

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

A few weeks ago, I was happy to attend Young Audiences’ third Art Crawl, held this year at the Single Carrot Theatre adjacent to YA’s offices.

For those of you who have not attended this annual event, I highly encourage you to do so. First of all, you’ll get to party with a group of fun, interesting, entertaining and dedicated folks. Secondly, you’ll get to enjoy the learning environment presented to the kids who attend YA’s Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA). And by that, I mean you’ll act, play music and create artwork, which helps you understand your reading assignment or your math homework. And finally, you get to nosh on great hors-d’oeuvres and sip handcrafted cocktails created by some of YA’s board members!

As always, I find myself splitting my time between talking to people I’ve met in the past, and meeting new folks who have interesting stories to tell. This time was no different. Balancing a plate of delicious appetizers from Copper Kitchen and a glass of wine provided by North Charles Fine Wine & Spirits, my husband and I soon found an empty spot at a table and introduced ourselves to Cori Daniel and Carlotta Williams. Turns out they were actually a teaching artist/teacher team who would later explore the book, Tar Beach, a story by artist Faith Ringgold recalling the dream adventure of a young girl flying high above her neighborhood in 1939 Harlem.

No matter the genre, the goal is making sure the children stay focused on the subject matter, sneakily presented as a lot of fun.

But I didn’t know this yet. What I did find out though was how long they had been teaching, what they taught, and I got to observe their obvious enthusiasm for the children and learning. Their animated conversation about their SALA classroom was fascinating, as were their fond memories of inspiring kids to learn while the children used their imaginations to improve their reading scores.

Oh, did I just use inspire, imagine and improve in one sentence? Yes, I did, and that is, of course, no accident. Having witnessed teachers and children in action in several of SALA’s classrooms this summer, and getting a chance to actually engage in it myself during Art Crawl is to truly understand how those three words create an arts-integrated learning environment that SALA uses to stem summer learning loss and bridge the Inspiration Gap.

Carlotta Williams, a second-grade teacher, co-taught literacy with artist Cori Daniels in Summer Arts & Learning Academy.

In SALA’s five-week summer classrooms, kids use a wide variety of art techniques to help them master core subjects – whether it’s textile art to illustrate a story they are studying or rapping their multiplication tables or dancing to show character development. No matter the genre, the goal is making sure the children stay focused on the subject matter, sneakily presented as a lot of fun.

And so it was. In the segment taught by the second-grade teacher and teaching artist I had just met, we warmed up with some dance movements to highlight acting concepts. Then we looked at the pictures in the book and explained what we saw in them. Finally, we paired off and used our imaginations to explore a special place for us – one that made us feel warm and welcomed.

Next up was a math segment, guided by teaching artist Nadia Rea Morales and teacher Jose Hernandez. With a chart in the room illustrating ones as yellow, tens as red, and hundreds as blue, I created a Piet Mondrian “masterpiece.”  The focus was to teach second-graders their ones, tens, and hundreds places and the relationships between digits and their place value. My own memory of learning such things was of boring, rote exercises that left me cold. Here, I hadn’t had so much fun with scissors and construction paper in ages. And to think – I was learning math!

Artist/teacher pair Nadia Rea Morales and Jose Hernandez teach math with the help of Piet Mondrian.

I ended the evening with teaching artist Christina Cook, who was surrounded by a variety of percussion instruments. As she demonstrated how these were used to sound out the syllables in words, I noticed how she was combining both math and vocabulary – a certain number of syllables to express a phrase, as she beat the rhythm on her drum.  She then handed out instruments and instructed us to follow along.

In addition, she said she used this technique to help the pre-K kids she taught to express their emotions. At first, she told us that the students mostly stuck to “happy” or “sad,” but soon she noticed that, as the kids gained confidence with the percussion pieces, their emotional range expanded, too. Now they were “curious” and “frustrated” and “ecstatic.” She admitted that she was impressed with the varying emotions the kids conveyed as well as the fact that they already had the vocabulary to communicate it. They had only needed the little nudge the music gave them to open up and express themselves more fully.

SALA teaching artist Christina Cook leads a lesson in identifying emotions and counting syllables through drumming.

I have to admit – Inspire, Imagine, Improve is a mantra I can really get behind. Because each time I’ve attended Art Crawl, I come away inspired by all the people who donate time, expertise and/or money to make SALA a reality for 2,100 elementary school-age kids.  I can only imagine how much harder it would be for the children and their teachers if this summer program didn’t exist. And I know that Young Audiences’ aim to improve test scores and access to arts-integrated learning is something I’m behind 100 percent.

Wouldn’t you like a little Inspire, Imagine, Improve in your life?  Come join us next year and I think you’ll find your own stories of imagination that inspire you to improve. Until then, Happy Holidays!