By Christina Delgado, Young Audiences photographer and visual artist
Digital photography is an art form that provides instant gratification. You can see your progress faster than you would with painting, drawing, or ceramics. Because of the age we live in, people are multimedia-driven and our society works efficiently with cell phones, computers, and the internet. I find that digital photography is yet another way technology has changed our approach to a task, and I believe it integrates well into education. Technology can give relevance to the art of photography, while also lowering a barrier. Easy-to-use digital cameras allow students to see themselves as artists and to express themselves creatively. This is something I wanted to teach my second- to fifth-grade students at Moravia Park Elementary when I began my residency with teacher partner and good friend, Cicely Jones, at the school in January.
I worked with students who were a part of the school’s P.R.I.D.E. program, which supports students with social and emotional learning differences. I started by giving students an overview of cameras and portrait photography. I wanted to teach them how to effectively take pictures and understand a photo’s ability to communicate feelings and ideas. Children aren’t always aware of how they are surrounded by photography every day. When they are looking at magazines or billboards, those are photographs! Getting them to understand how this art form is relevant to their everyday lives was important to their development throughout this residency.
The project I assigned students was based on a book of famous portraits that I found in a local bookstore. It showed all kinds of unique examples of portraiture, including Oprah, President Obama, and Billie Holiday. These pieces not only showed portraits of the individuals, but it also mapped out a collage of drawings, symbols, and words explaining what was important to each subject.
I had students build something similar so that they could share their own perspectives. Collaging items from magazines with their own photographs helped them define their sense of identity as they pieced the parts together. Their collages focused upon various aspects of their worlds, including interests, hobbies, and what makes them feel safe.
Some students really connected with each other through this project. One student, Trevor*, took the initiative to help another student who was having trouble focusing by sitting down with him, helping him cut out images, and discussing the project. Together, they were able to complete the work on the project for that day.
With Cicely and our faculty team, we came up with an idea that would give the students some independence. We provided disposable cameras to each of the students so that they could create images on their own time. This allowed the students to share a more well-rounded view of who they were. Giving them that responsibility really made a difference. Students felt important because they were expected to do something at a higher level–it was a very special moment.
Ultimately, the whole experience was wonderful and I appreciated the fact that Cicely brought me in to be a part of their team. During the final residency meeting, I got emotional after hearing what Cicely had to say about the improvement she had seen in her students during the residency. There were less behavioral issues and attendance was up. Hearing that positive change validated what I do. Sometimes it’s easy for artists to feel like the things they do go unseen, but this experience had an enormous impact upon the students I met. They were coming to school and they were staying positive and being productive. As children grow up, there are moments in their lives that they will never forget. I think these memories will go far.
*Student names have been changed to protect their privacy.
By Cyan McMillian, seventh-grade student, Windsor Hills Elementary/Middle
My name is Cyan McMillian and I am a seventh grader at Windsor Hills. I’d rather throw a football than paint my nails (seriously). I felt like a free spirit until my tenth birthday–which was the worst day ever. I was excited but made the mistake of not bringing enough cupcakes for the whole class. One girl–the drama queen–decided to take out her frustrations on me. She waited until we got in the cafeteria and took a mixture of yogurt, milk, juice, and water and poured it over my head in front of everyone. On my birthday! Everyone who saw it laughed. Even the adults. I was so hurt and embarrassed that I ran out of the cafeteria in tears.
I never wanted any friends after that. The more I tried to be myself the more I would get picked on. Bullies targeted me for all the ways that I was different–my weight, my clothes, and my love for school.
My parents signed me up for the Baltimore City summer learning academy, the summer before middle school started. I like math and science, but I was most interested in the art classes provided by Young Audiences. See, I don’t get to enjoy the liberties of art during the school year. Having art every day during the summer was a treat because I got to make new friends, I learned how to use the color wheel, how to make 2D pictures become 3D pictures.
My art class was taught by Young Audiences teaching artist, Danyett Tucker. She played a song by Lauryn Hill called “Everything is Everything,” and asked us to illustrate what the lyrics meant to us. I love that song. It was like math because my hands and brain were working at the same time to solve a problem. I was able to express myself without being judged in a way that was fun and challenging. I learned from Ms. D that there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to art.
Ms. D believed in me and gave me the confidence to believe in myself. She let me come to her when I needed someone to talk to and gave me helpful advice when I was stuck. I was free to be who I am again, which made me feel like my old happy-go-lucky free-spirited self.
Ms. D inspired me to keep drawing after the program was over. My dad loves to draw and after that summer we started drawing together. When I found out the summer program was going to happen again this summer, I found out where Ms. D was teaching and signed up. This summer was even better because not only did I get art with Ms. D, other artists also helped teach the science and math classes. I learned how ratios relate to music and how dance movements connect with science.
In Ms. D’s class, we created a mural that’s displayed here today illustrating Maya Angelou’s poem, “A Brave and Startling Truth.” The poem was confusing at first but the more we read it as a class it became easier to understand and inspired me to speak out about the positive and negative things that happen around me. I was able to use my voice through illustration again. I attended this program every single day and now I have two murals in my portfolio.
Now when I feel like I have something to express but don’t know how to say it, I draw it out. Thanks to Young Audiences, I have learned a lot about myself. I’m more observant and I know what a real friend is. I know who I am. So what if I’m not a girly girl, I’m fast and I can handle my business. When they call my clothes trashy, I don’t let it bother me because their shiny white sneakers always end up dirty in a few days. And when they talk about my weight, like the song “All About That Bass” says: “Every inch of me is perfect from the bottom to the top!”
Last year I had the highest grade point average in middle school and it is still sky-high. I have a scholarship to any college that I want. I plan to get a PhD and work for NASA. Thanks to the support of my family, a few good friends, and the Young Audiences artists who understand me like a parent would, I am going for my dreams. And while the summer program is over, what I learned from Ms. D, that “Everything is Everything,” will stay with me forever. What that means to me is that if you want to be something and you work hard, you will most likely become that. So keep an eye out for me.
By Kwame Opare, High Point High School Dance Teacher and Young Audiences teaching artist
I have had the privilege to work with a diverse group of learners in the Prince George’s County school system so far this school year. As a dance teacher for all grades at High Point High School, I have been faced with a challenge not yet experienced throughout my years of bringing my craft to the classroom as a teaching artist. High Point’s population is largely immigrant and first-generation American young people and English is often not the first language (or even second language in some cases) for many of my students. This has compelled me to modify, and even synthesize new instructional methods, to ensure the transfer of knowledge.
What I’ve noticed in this short but meaningful time is that no matter where you are on Earth, young people want to learn, they crave information. They will test you as the adult to see if you really care whether or not they get it, or if they even show up. I care, and in this short time, I believe that I have convinced my students of this. Now that I “got ’em,” the onus is on me to make sure they know that they have the right to learn and that they must take the process of learning into their own hands. Creating an environment where students feel confident and enabled to take ownership of their learning is essential to their growth as students and beyond. We as educators must only provide a framework of knowledge and wisdom that comes from study and experience in a safe environment so that the true capacity for brilliance can be nurtured in our young people.
What do the arts have to do with all of this? After all, it’s just dance. Through dance, I have seen the strengths and weaknesses of my students and have used them both to fortify my instructional methods. The brilliance of all my students is evident, but is often locked away beneath external and internal distractions, such as self-doubt, embarrassment, worries about what peers will think, or problems at home. Through dance, we can successfully weed through these distractions. Some of my students at High Point tell me their stories and in response I just ask them to please keep coming to class because they are a part of something now. Their growth from the first day of class to today has been a joy to observe and I feel so fortunate to bear witness.
At first they came in scared, terrified, some not knowing the English language, and nearly none of them knowing the language of dance. Though the proficiency levels vary, the feelings of frustration from the challenge is shared. Yet, we are starting to build a community of support and understanding with confident souls that know they CAN! Some of those who stood in the back of the class at first are finding their way to the front and are becoming leaders, helping others and welcoming newcomers.
In dance, the process often begins with what I refer to as the ugly duckling syndrome. “Feeling ‘stupid’ and looking ‘stupid’ is OK,” I tell my students. I remind them that we all looked “stupid” when we were learning to walk as babies but the alternative was to never run and we wouldn’t have that! The process is what makes art making so fulfilling and ultimately what makes a teaching artist so effective. Artists know and respect the strength of the process because we are immersed in it daily. Effectively bringing the idea of process into the classroom has a positive and lasting impact on students.
It is through these processes that students are engaged where they may otherwise be distracted or lack interest. The process instills in young people the ability to effectively gather resources, question, problem-solve, and persevere to see something through to the end, whatever challenges they may face in academy and beyond.
By Micaela Gramelis, Young Audiences Grants and Annual Gala Manager and former teacher
Sitting in my class each day, Nadia did well. She worked hard; she smiled. She was kind, but deferred to her third-grade classmates for academic guidance during group activities. After the first half of the school year I would not have described her as a leader. Boy, was I wrong.
Nadia’s gift spent months undercover in our classroom. It was not until the class held a talent show at our pre-spring break celebration that a brave, confident Nadia emerged. As Nadia’s group began their rehearsed dance for the audience, her dance partners—both confident learners who often directed activity in the classroom—lost track of the dance sequence. All eyes turned to Nadia, whose poise and confidence in her movements indicated to her classmates that she was the one they should look to; she was the one they should follow.
During the two years I spent teaching in Baltimore City Public Schools, my students were aware of what was out there. They knew of museums, universities, and instruments, even if they did not utilize these things in their day-to-day lives. These artistic tools and institutions–so cool at first–quickly lost their appeal when my students thought that they were inaccessible. Consistently kept at a distance, they became the enemy and symbols of what one lacked.
Nadia was fortunate to discover her connection to dance outside of the classroom, despite not having access to dance classes at her school. Nadia’s visual arts classes often consisted of coloring with crayons and pasting one color of construction paper on top of another when she was lucky—but a student’s access to the arts should not be up to luck. Artistic opportunities in school are about much more than cultivating fine motor skills and identifying artistic talent; they are about closing the gap between what students know exists, and what they have been conditioned to believe is out of their reach from years of deprivation.
Nadia and her classmates did have the opportunity to play recorders in their music class, and the pride with which they carried their recorders down the hallway let me know that these instruments were prized possessions. When my students held their own recorders, with their names attached, the arts became tangible; they began to move forward, one step, toward what they deserved. When they performed in our talent show, and were cheered on by siblings, parents, and classmates, my students nudged forward toward what they deserved. When they wrote plays, and their written words were enthusiastically acted out by their peers, read aloud and valued by others, they began to experience how the arts can create a community and boost the self-esteem of each class member. Our students deserve this community. They deserve the opportunity to try new things. They deserve positive attention for their accomplishments, and for their voices to be valued. This is all possible through the arts.
To ensure that each Maryland student has the opportunity to experience the power of the arts, Young Audiences has increased its presence in Baltimore City schools from 89 schools to 119 schools during the last four years. In 2009, we served 22,033 students; in 2013, we served 38,317. Since its launch in the winter of 2009, our Access for All Initiative has subsidized programs for students in low-income Baltimore City schools to ensure that all students have equitable access to the best artists and educational arts experiences that our state has to offer.
Inequity in access to the arts is just one manner in which many of our students from low-income backgrounds are underserved. Increased access to the arts will not solve every challenge of poverty, but it can produce empowered leaders—equipped with resiliency, creative thinking, and problem-solving skills—who are prepared to tackle future challenges. It will produce youth who have learned to value their voice because they have had the opportunity to share it with others. It will produce students who know what they deserve, and have the tools they need to put up a fight for it.
e interested in applying for a Spring 2014 for Allgrant to bring a Young Audiences program to your school, the application is available online here. To learn more about Access for All and our work to increase equity in arts programming, click here.