Written by Barbara Krebs,
Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member
Field trip! Remember the excitement you felt as a kid when you got to explore the world outside your classroom for the day, file on the bus, and leave school far behind? Well, it was a bit like that on Wednesday, July 25, when a diverse group of Maryland legislators, high-level education officials, and others boarded a bus to learn more about the programs that Young Audiences and its partners are offering Baltimore youth this summer. Except instead of leaving school, we headed toward them!
Initially, visitors met at Moravia Park Elementary School, the first of three stops that day. As Stacie Sanders Evans, President & CEO of Young Audiences, shared in her opening remarks, “We’re shining a light on summer learning opportunities; we’re shining a light on amazing kids; and we’re shining a light on how the arts blends these two things.”
At Moravia Park, we visited SummerREADS, a free drop-in literacy program that is the result of partnerships with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Baltimore Elementary and Middle School Library Project, Baltimore City Public Schools, and Young Audiences. Over a five-week period of time, more than 500 K-8 Baltimore City students will have had the opportunity to visit one of nine reading sites where they encountered engaging literacy workshops with teaching artists and fun enrichment activities with special guests.
And that is exactly what we found when Max Bent, a beatboxer who has been a Young Audiences teaching artist for 7 years, led a group of six- and seven-year-olds in the basics of beatboxing. He taught them how to make various sounds and then incorporated them into a song, “My Banana.” As they counted out beats (three syllables in banana!), they thought of other fruits (apple, two syllables!) to add into the song.
We had to leave for our next stop before he could complete the lesson, but I could already see the intriguing possibilities in beatboxing for both math and English. Before we left the school, there was a quick Q&A session. The questions came fast and furiously from all sides of the room, a testimony to how interested people were, not only in the learning they had just witnessed, but what it took to make this possible.
Our next stop was at Dorothy I. Height Elementary School for an introduction to Young Audiences’ Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA). Here we learned that SALA is a five-week program for Pre-K through fifth graders where the focus is twofold. First, to arrest summer learning loss, and second, to make sure that learning is fun and engaging every day.
At this particular school, 260 children meet each day to learn and reinforce lessons in literacy and math. Last year, Young Audiences reached more than 1,150 children at four different school sites. Incredibly, in one year’s time, Young Audiences, in partnership with the Baltimore City School system, has doubled its efforts, reaching about 2,200 kids at eight school sites.
We were then offered the opportunity to enter classrooms to observe the action. I slid into a third-grade classroom, where the children were focusing on The Red, a book about a confused crayon, whose friends eventually help him discover his true color.
The teaching artist, Daniel Ssuuna, whose specialty is East African dance and drumming, divided the kids into three groups, each focusing on one particular part of the story. Handing out percussion instruments, he instructed students to focus on the emotions of the crayon during their assigned story segment. Was the crayon confused, or supported, or happy? With that in mind, they then created a dance and drum accompaniment to illustrate the crayon’s feelings.
Other instructions given by the classroom teacher, Amanda Bila, highlighted listening skills. She asked, “When we are not performing, what do we do?” The kids supplied helpful advice: Be quiet. Be respectful. Listen. Pay attention.
As the groups formed, I watched their interactions with the teachers and each other. I saw collaboration, referring to the book for inspiration, asking teachers questions, answering questions from the teacher, ideas discussed, ideas kept or discarded.
If Socrates had walked into this classroom, I’m sure he would have been proud to see his famous critical thinking methods being deployed.
Though I would have loved to watch each group perform, sadly, our time was up. Still, the excitement the kids exhibited as they analyzed their book was a potent reminder of how exciting and fun learning can be when you combine the arts and dedicated teachers.
Next we traveled to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. Here we learned about the Bloomberg Arts Internship (supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies NYC) which places 35 Baltimore City rising seniors in paid internships at local arts and cultural institutions. These teens worked throughout the city with a goal of learning career readiness skills through real-world workplace experiences and professional development. Additionally, college mentors and writing coaches worked with the interns on college applications, resumes, and other experiences that will help them move to the next level professionally and/or academically.
One intern, Collin Snow Stokes, spent his time at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum documenting the thoughts and feelings of Lewis staff, visitors, and volunteers evoked by objects reflecting Jim Crow era stereotypes from their upcoming exhibition “Hateful Things.” His goal was 10 interviews, but he became so interested in the project that he exceeded his goal and even had time to do a few more before writing up his findings. And since his goals are to go into journalism and/or broadcasting, the interview process has honed job skills he will use for the rest of his life.
We also heard from two young women, Citlalli Islas and Paris Day, who worked at Port Discovery Children’s Museum. Paris was assigned an archival project, logging in items that have been collected by Port Discovery over the 20 years of its existence. As she began her assignment, both she and the curators soon realized that the scope of it was more than they had anticipated. But by creating a system to log and track the items, they have begun the process that will help the museum maintain its collection for years to come. And as an added bonus, as she archived items, the collection overseers realized what a great exhibit some of the artifacts would make and, thus, an exhibit was born!
Citlalli interned in the exhibits department and has learned a lot about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating and maintaining a museum exhibit. Obviously, this requires artistic vision. But beyond that, this has called on her to be innovative, meticulous and organized – not a bad group of skills to acquire before college and beyond.
Finally, it was time to get on the bus to return to our cars. As we wound our way down Baltimore’s city streets, I listened to the conversations around me, ranging from other arts organizations and what they accomplish in their communities to legislative and philanthropic aides asking questions about the work that Young Audiences does and how each person present got involved.
And as I thought about involvement, I remembered another thing that Stacie had said at the beginning of our journey: It takes a village. At the time she was referring to the teaching artists, librarians, kids, and parents who were involved with SummerREADS. But it was just as applicable to each program we visited, and to each organization that contributes time, money, or leadership.
None of what I had witnessed occurs in a vacuum. The sheer number of people, funds, and time takes a rather large village, actually. And I’m happy to be a small part of this Young Audiences village. It’s a great place to be and I invite you to join me! Field trip!
Learn more about our mission, our methods, and our future plans during a one-hour Meet Young Audiences event. In addition to hearing from the organization’s leaders and getting an inside look into the amazing work we are doing around the state, one of our roster artists will share their amazing work with you and speak about how the arts complements and enriches classroom learning. Please reach out to Ingrid Murray, Individual Giving Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or call (410) 837-7577 x. 107. Interested in hosting your own Meet Young Audiences event? Find out more here!
Baltimore City School students closed out a summer of creativity and arts-integrated education with performances and visual art exhibitions at Young Audiences Summer Arts and Learning Academy. The academy’s culmination events were an opportunity for students to showcase their art forms and what they learned to family and friends.
The Summer Arts and Learning Academy took place over five weeks, giving students from Title 1 schools in Baltimore City a free, daily opportunity to explore art forms with teaching artists while improving literacy and math using hands-on, arts-integrated learning techniques. They wrote songs to memorize grammar rules, learned dances to recall fractions, and immersed themselves in a multitude of art forms, making literacy and math concepts stick. The third annual academy had children and staff laughing, learning, and inspired.
This kind of summer engagement with the arts is proven to have a significant impact on kids’ education. In Summer Arts and Learning Academy, classroom teachers and teaching artists work together to continue to build momentum while stemming summer learning loss, or the loss of academic knowledge over the summer months. According to a study last year by Baltimore City Schools, students in 3rd-5th grade attending the Summer Arts and Learning Academy avoided summer learning loss, and in many cases, gained ground on their national peers in literacy and math.
The culmination events, held at Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle, Coldstream Park Elementary/Middle, James Mosher Elementary, and Gardenville Elementary, put students on stage to showcase the art they created at the academy for parents, teachers, friends and family. Here is some of what we saw.
Two students from YA roster artist Femi theDrifish‘s spoken word poetry class read aloud their own inspiring words. They expressed the challenges caused by bullying through their writing, moving the audience with their heartfelt performance.
A larger group of students performed African dance on stage as their teacher, YA roster artist Ssuuna, led an accompanying rhythm section. A dance circle broke out at the end as students entered and showed the audience their skills. Cheers, laughs and applause filled the auditorium.
Music, poetry, and theater graced the stage as another group performed a chapter from a short story they read during the Academy. Kids performed as trolls and goats while their teacher, YA roster artist Drew Anderson narrated. Positive energy filled the room.
And that’s only a taste of the dozens of performances that took place at culmination events around the city. Watching students light up and enjoy learning with the infusion of arts experiences is remarkable. We can’t wait for next summer.
Young Audiences teaching artist Ssuuna, a dancer, musician, and storyteller from Uganda, brought his incredible stage presence to Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School recently. There, he taught over 100 high school students African dance and drumming using the same focused energy and passion he delivers on stage. What struck the teachers in attendance, however, was how well Ssuuna guided his students in building a community and how expertly he handled distractions in the classroom, even with pointed interruptions.
“He never raised his voice with them, but made it clear that their choices would have consequences,” recognized Mrs. Black, a 9th-grade teacher at the school. By encouraging students to examine each of his or her options and the consequences and rewards that go along with them, Ssuuna cultivates classrooms built on cooperation and encouragement. “He put the responsibility on the students to take ownership of their actions and choices, and it was very meaningful for students to have that responsibility.”
Another participating teacher, Mr. Hughes, observed that the residency made students feel more relevant. “Ssuuna met the students where they were and gave them confidence and a sense of belonging, no matter what their interest,” he said. This “relevancy” seemed to be felt not only internally, but collectively. Participants created their own inclusive ritual by uniting and forming a prayer circle before performing at the culminating dance. Mrs. Black recalled how powerful the moment felt to her, “I was really inspired to see all kinds of students coming together to be supportive and work as a team in that way.”
It is so important for students to be understanding, especially at this age, rather than making others feel like they don’t fit in.
The culminating dance introduced one last challenge when a student suffered a panic attack onstage. Ssuuna stepped in to join the student and spoke with her. In the moments that followed, she was able to regain control, breathing and finally relaxing. Teachers could actually see the transition from panic to calm occur within the student. Mrs. Black described the experience as transcendent for the teachers, the students, and the audience. “That moment made the whole experience feel more intimate, supportive, and vulnerable,” Mrs. Black explained. By witnessing first-hand Ssuuna’s kindness and encouragement with the student in distress, the audience was inspired to also be encouraging and supportive. “It is so important for students to be understanding, especially at this age, rather than making others feel like they don’t fit in.”
At Young Audiences, we’re always building partnerships with great organizations to help enrich our children’s lives through arts and culture. Hot Spots, a before and after school extended care cultural enrichment program, was a perfect match to do just that. This past spring, Young Audiences partnered with Hot Spots to bring Ugandan culture into the hands and hearts of the entire student body at Lyons Mills Elementary for a special performance dubbed “culminating”.
Traditionally, Hot Spots offers artist residencies for students after school. For this partnership, an effort was led by Hot Spots Executive Director, Emily Gordon, to bring in-depth knowledge and meaningful craft-making to every student and teacher in the school for an entire day of culminating activities!
To facilitate this huge endeavor, Hot Spots chose Young Audiences Teaching Artist and Ugandan native, Ssuuna, a dancer, drummer, singer, and songwriter, to share significant cultural aspects of his home country with the entire school community. Hot Spots’ ultimate goal with YA for the next year is to make these kinds of culminating performances an access point that will reach far beyond a school.
We spoke with Emily Gordon about this unique experience:
“We chose Ssuuna because he is an artist and performer who brings these experiences to life. He shares such enthusiasm and energy and encourages our students to be active learners, not passive. It’s really important that we continue to work with artists who understand how to connect with children at their individual levels as opposed to simply teaching to the masses.”
More from our interview with Emily:
“This partnership is different from how we’ve worked with Young Audiences in the past. The majority of our past work has been for students who participate in after-school programs and residencies. A culminating performance typically happens only with the students in the program. We are thrilled to be expanding that reach.
For this residency, we sent out lesson plans to every educator in the school with pre-assembly activities to support the experience with Ssuuna. Students memorized Ugandan vocabulary, researched facts about Ugandan every-day life, and learned about the musical instruments they would build in tandem with the performance later that day.
“This wasn’t a ‘come drop off your students at an assembly’ type of day.”
Teachers made sure they understood what the assembly was about and prepared questions for Ssuuna to answer. We didn’t only focus on Ugandan music and dance; while grades third through fifth began the assembly watching a solo dance performance by Ssuuna and preparing questions, students K-2 sat down in small groups with Hot Spots teachers to create an Ensaasi, a Ugandan shaker. Rather than having them simply color in a pattern, Ssuuna identified forms of tribal art with cultural significance for design inspiration. From there, third through fifth-grade classes went back to the classroom and created Ugandan jewelry from different types of tribal wooden and plastic beads.
The success of this culminating day of activities reflects a desire to engage students differently with Teaching Artists. With assemblies, students are not able to stop and ask questions during a performance, and later they get forgotten. After Ssuuna had performed for 30 minutes, there was a fantastic Q & A session! Kids could ask Ssuuna anything based on what they had seen or read earlier in the day. We wanted to give them that forum, letting them express what they didn’t understand. Ssuuna is such an amazing artist who can explain and relate to students not only his experience in America but his roots in Uganda. That unique connection helps reveal why his story is so relevant and compelling for students.
Another big part of this new model is encouraging not only our students, but the parents, families, and neighborhood to get involved. How do we make sure this experience can be expanded into the home? To extend our outreach, we shared photos and videos of the performance and activities in a short newsletter blast to every parent in the school. Included in the newsletter were extension activities and follow-up questions like this social media challenge:
Teach your family how to make Ugandan jewelry and take a picture of you and your family wearing it! Then, take a video of you and your family playing your shakers!
We really appreciate this unique opportunity to partner with Young Audiences. YA is a critical component of our efforts and we are excited to replicate and improve this program next year!”