The heel of Quynn's red and black tap shoes strikes the floor in the foreground. In the background, kindergardeners' tennis shoes imitate the dance step.

I Am Ready: Early Learning and the Arts

When Quynn Johnson steps into the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms at Margaret Brent Elementary School in Baltimore City, she is met with hugs and big, bright smiles. The students love that they’ve been learning to tap with the artist and they’ve been waiting patiently for her to return. “What do I do?” the artist asks. “You make music with your feet and you keep a steady beat!” the students respond.

Quynn is a multi-award-winning performing artist, choreographer, author, and the co-director of SOLE Defined, a percussive dance company. Though she has performed tap dance for national and international audiences, on this morning, she is captivating our state’s youngest learners—not on a stage, but in a classroom—through rhythm, imagination, and dance. Already a professional teaching artist on the Young Audiences roster, Quynn is now training to also become a Maryland Wolf Trap Artist

A kindergarten student models a "heel-toe" tap movement by striking the heel of his sneaker to the floor. His classmates sit in a circle on the rug and watch carefully.

As the Maryland regional affiliate of Wolf Trap, Young Audiences is proud to be expanding access to the arts for Maryland’s youngest students during the critical early learning years. 

High-quality early childhood education is absolutely essential to giving children the best possible start in school and in life. Decades of practice and research prove that integrating the arts into classroom experiences contributes to greater academic achievement and social/emotional development for our youngest students. The creative collaboration between teachers and artists in the Wolf Trap residency builds foundations and fuels momentum in arts-integrated early learning classrooms.

Students and teachers sit in a circle on the floor, feet outstretched. Children imagine their colorful sneakers are transformed into tap shoes and are in position to stomp out beats.

The children sing along with the artist to the tune of Frère Jacques, “I am ready, You are, too, Eyes on the teacher, We’re going to learn.” Everyone knows the song and everyone is excited to sing it—first in English, then in Spanish.

Estoy listo
Estás tambien
Ojos en la profe
Vamos a aprender

Quynn made up the song while teaching in the Summer Arts & Learning Academy last summer, but now sings it with students in lower elementary grades at every school she visits. Mrs. Jager, the Kindergarten teacher, likes it, too. She uses “I am ready” as a transition song all the time—and her students will remind her if she forgets!

The artist is not only here to teach the young students how to tap, she is here to build the teachers’ skills and knowledge and demonstrate how to integrate the art form into their lessons throughout the year. This embedded professional development is something that distinguishes the Wolf Trap Early Learning Residency from other artist residencies.

As Quynn leads the students in an exercise stomping out beats, another skill is being fortified. They are identifying patterns and practicing word sounds like “Apple, apple, ah, ah, ah,” and “Bat, bat, buh, buh, buh.” The classroom teachers and the artist work together to tailor the residency to each particular classroomdeciding how refined the dance movements should be for each age group and which literacy skills to focus on.

“The process is pretty new and different to me but I like it,” said Quynn. The artist pays particular attention to teach the elements of her art form that educators will feel comfortable utilizing in the futureand not just off the cuff, but with some artistic integrity. “I think the embedded PD portion is a great way to keep the teachers involved and shows them how it doesn’t have to be its own lesson but can be incorporated within what they’re already doing. I never want them to feel like it’s unreachable.”

By the end of Quynn’s residency in the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, the students know how to keep a steady beat on their feet, and they remember a beat pattern and two basic tap steps. And the teachers can connect the art form to literacy—leading students to sound out words and sounds with their feet. “They both felt great and comfortable with everything we did in class and I could hear them using it after our time was over.” They were ready.

Eighty-five percent of brain development occurs during the first five years of a child’s life. Participation in the arts encourages positive growth in a child’s emotional, physical, intellectual, creative, and social development. As the Maryland affiliate of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, Young Audiences expands access to the arts for Maryland’s youngest students during the critical early learning years. Bring a Maryland Wolf Trap 16-Session Residency into your school.

Wring, Fling, Bling, and Sing

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

As a Young Audiences volunteer, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch a variety of artists at work in the classroom. And the results always amaze and humble me. Whether it’s rapping the multiplication tables, or acting out a storyline, or drawing to illustrate a book’s theme(s), I love how the arts grab kids’ attention and not only hold it, but draw them out, asking questions, trying out new ideas, and expanding their horizons.

But it dawned on me that I had never watched a class in its entirety–had never witnessed the full lesson plan. I finally got a chance to do so recently when I visited Ms. Bradley’s eighth-grade Honors English class at Chesapeake Science Point Charter School in Hanover, Maryland. Over the course of a week, Gayle Danley, an internationally recognized slam poet, was there to guide them in writing their own poems.

Full disclosure: Gayle is a personal friend of mine. I met her five years ago when she mentored my daughter, Colette, who had been asked to speak at Young Audiences’ annual Impact Breakfast. And over the years, I have watched her perform at YA events and in her own shows. But I had not yet witnessed her in action in the classroom.

And so, I found an inconspicuous spot from which to observe. Gayle quickly got to the heart of the lesson. She had started working with the class on Monday, so she now asked for volunteers to read the poems they had written since then. She instructed them to listen carefully and write down two things: 1) a sentence or phrase they really liked; that they could truly identify with and 2) a sentence or phrase they didn’t like or didn’t understand.

“So, who wants to go first?” After a predictable silence, Gayle encouraged them, “Poets have to be afraid sometimes. I know you’re afraid to share your work. But if you come up here, we’ll support you.”

After another quiet pause, one brave soul ventured forth. “Let’s hear it for the poet!” Gayle shouted, and led the class in applause. Even so, the first girl almost returned to her seat. But by then, her classmates were shouting their own encouragement, “You got this!” “Own it–you’re already up there!”  “You can do it!”

And so she read. Sometimes Gayle interrupted to ask her to slow down or to speak louder. Another time she stopped her to ask the class what they thought of one line, “how does that make you feel?” When the teenager had finished, Gayle again led the applause and praised her for being first.

Then she asked the class for their favorite and least favorite lines, and asked them to explain. At one point, Gayle focused on “f-a-i-t-h,” which the young woman had spelled out rather than saying the word. She asked if that bothered anyone, threw them out of the poem temporarily because that’s how Gayle had felt. And when there was no comment, she asked, “Ms. Barbara, what about you?”

And so, being honest, I answered that I had actually liked that because it made me truly pause on that word and think about it. Hopefully, that was a good teaching moment about how unique poetry is and that your own personal experience will guide your interpretation!

Back at the front of the classroom, Gayle pointed to words that were written on the board: Wring, Fling, Bling, Sing. “Let’s talk about these for a while.” And for the uninitiated (as I was), Gayle describes this as her writing process.

  • Wring: Wring the words out onto the paper like you’re wringing out a washcloth. Just write it down!
  • Fling: Once it’s on paper, fling out any words that aren’t needed.
  • Bling: Now, add words that will really make your meaning stand out.
  • Sing: Finally, read it aloud and see how it sounds. Fling or Bling as needed.

As she described this, I laughed internally because I recognized my own writing process. Except I had always described it (skip this part if you’re squeamish) as the vomit method. Throw it up on the paper and clean it up later. Leave it to a poet to be, well, more poetic about it!

And so it went. Kids coming to the front, reading their poems, a start-and-stop process to consider edits. “When you say ‘ancestors,’ I think it would be good to be more specific. What if you substituted ‘Rosa Parks’ for ancestors?”

“His color was dangerous,” Gayle repeated from another poet. “What is dangerous?” she asked the teens. “A knife!” “A gun!” “A wild animal!” And with those words, she suggested illustrating the danger more concretely with a visual image that would strike the listener/reader.

As the lesson wound down, I gathered my things to leave. Did I mention there are no observers in this classroom? At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher had explained what she was looking for in an assignment that talked about regional differences and dialects in language. Before I could exit, I found myself surrounded by a group of three girls who asked me where I was from (North Carolina), how did I pronounce “pecan” (accent on the second syllable), what word do I use that generally isn’t used in other parts of the country (y’all).

Signing off on their papers, I felt excited to be a part of their education even in such a small way, inspired to try this on my own, and happy to be a tiny part of Young Audiences’ mission to reach kids through arts-integrated education. With Gayle’s teaching style demonstrated, I am ready to Wring, Fling, Bling, and Sing on my own!

The Power of “What If?”: A National Residency Teaching Artist Credential

Written by Stacie Sanders Evans,
Chair, Young Audiences’ National Residency Teaching Artist Credential
President & CEO, Young Audiences of Maryland

One of the things I admire about many of the artists I encounter is their ability to envision and create without constraint. Most of the time, I feel my ability to dream is tethered to my day to day constraints. Fortunately, I have the rare board of directors at Young Audiences of Maryland (YAMD) that isn’t asking me why our copying budget is over by 10%. Instead, they are encouraging me to dream bigger dreams and actually discouraging me from worrying about how to pay for it. They want to help shoulder the burden of these constraints so I have enough moments to live in the delicious “what if” space.

“What if” moments have gotten Young Audiences to where it is today both locally and nationally. One “what if” moment just recently led to a successful pilot of the Young Audiences National Residency Teaching Artist Credential for exceptional teaching artists. Up until this pilot, unlike almost all other professions within education, there has been no nationally recognized credential for the field of teaching artistry. 

Twelve artists (featured below) from seven different states have completed a very rigorous application process and earned the National Residency Teaching Artist Credential to date. Let’s applaud these amazing artists who took a chance with us and contributed to the larger idea of “what if” in an effort to help us test and refine a credentialing system.

Young Audiences formed in 1950 in Baltimore because of our founder, Nina Collier’s, “what if” moment. Nina’s question, “What if we bring musicians into our schools to perform?” ultimately led to the movement that created 32 Young Audiences affiliates across the United States and now benefits five million students annually. She had no idea the impact that question would have on children and artists.

In the ’90s, YAMD’s first paid executive director, Patricia Thomas, had another important “what if” moment: “What if artists are no longer limited to the auditoriums of our schools? What if they go into classrooms to give kids a chance to create in an art form?” Today, artists in partnership with Young Audiences, impact 230,000 hours of classroom learning in the arts every year, creating powerful moments for Maryland’s young people. Thank goodness there were Nina Colliers in communities across our country who were creating the same kind of opportunities for more children.

Once Young Audiences saw the transformative power of our artists in classroom settings to inspire kids and we saw how high stakes testing was narrowing the curriculum and negatively impacting student engagement in the classroom, we asked another “what if.”

“What if Young Audiences played a larger role in education and in our communities to bridge the gap between what we know the best conditions are for learning and what children actually receive in school? I call this the inspiration gap.

This “what if” led us to invest heavily in artist training (far beyond even our own roster of artists) and to create many more opportunities for artists to partner with academic teachers to use their art form to draw kids into learning in literacy, math, social studies, and science classes. This is known as arts integration, which could be learning fractions through the steel drum or about figurative language through writing and performing their own poems, or about the scientific method by writing rap songs.

Using the arts helps students connect to the academic content in meaningful ways–so the learning “sticks.” Young Audiences’ arts integration approach also requires students to “show what they know” through the arts by either performing or exhibiting. Students become more visible in this kind of classroom and it nurtures the sense that they matter. When you make the learning matter and students know that they matter–that is the secret sauce to bridging the inspiration gap.

Now school districts and foundations see us in a broader light, as an organization that can help improve educational outcomes for kids. These groups are investing nearly three million dollars in YAMD this year so we can address stubborn problems in education: preventing summer learning loss, increasing school readiness, and improving teacher practice.

Across the country, we have artists who are ready to bridge the inspiration gap, and there are even more who, with the right training and support, will soon be ready to join them. We believe the National Residency Teaching Artist Credential, along with a network of coordinated, affordable professional development opportunities, could lead to kids in all communities having greater access to a quality education–one that includes arts education and opportunities to learn in, through, and about the arts from the best professional artists in their community (even where there is no local Young Audiences affiliate).

Imagine a society where teaching artists are recognized for the valuable role they play in breathing creativity and possibility into our schools. Work which, in turn, draws kids back into learning. Imagine how many more kids would benefit if artists were able to choose teaching artistry as a profession because it was treated like other professions.

Members of the National Residency Teaching Artist Credential effort Top row from left: Brian Scheller, David Dik, Marsha Dobrzynski, Jeni Siepierski, Julie Lister, Jenny James, Sheila Womble, Ivy Bennett, Dick Deasy, Hana Morford, Chris Sheard; Bottom row from left: Valerie Branch, JoEllen Florio Rossebo, Susan Oetgen, Stacie Sanders Evans

Many, many things are needed to realize this vision, and I believe a credentialing system–one that is developed in partnership with artists and educators with students at the center–is one important component in a larger ecosystem that needs attention. And I’m not alone. A national survey revealed that 94% of teaching artists want a credential like the one we are designing for the field. One reason artists support this idea is that, currently, since our field lacks a credential, there is no unified way for that expertise to be recognized or validated.

For example, dance and teaching artist Valerie Branch has performed with over 10 dance companies, choreographed over 100 dance works, has a Bachelors degree in Dance (Magna Cum Laude), and has led artist-in-residence programs in 150 schools. But as a teaching artist, she had no signifier of her expertise, excellence, or the value she brings to the classroom. The National Residency Teaching Artist Credential solves this problem.

We are still early in this “What if we created a National Residency Teaching Artist Credential?” moment. And we hope one day, after thoughtful adjustment and many discussions with different stakeholders (that includes you!), and in partnership with the many other national and local organizations that care about education, this credential could be something that the broader field will welcome.

Was there ever a time an artist closed the “inspiration gap” for you or a young person you love?  Let’s make more moments like that for our young people. Wanna “what if” with Young Audiences around this idea? Let me know because it will take all of us–you, me, our friends, and our friends’ friends–to turn this new“what if” into a reality.

2018 Young Audiences’ National Residency Teaching Artist Credential Recipients

Valerie Branch, Young Audiences of Maryland
Melli Hoppe, Arts for Learning, the Indiana Affiliate of Young Audiences
Molly Johnson, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania
Laura Marchese, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania
Ray McNiece, Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, the NE Ohio Affiliate of Young Audiences
Emma Parker, Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, the NE Ohio Affiliate of Young Audiences
Malke Rosenfeld, Arts for Learning, the Indiana Affiliate of Young Audiences
Chris Sheard, Young Audiences of Louisiana

2019 Young Audiences’ National Residency Teaching Artist Credential Recipients:

Carrie Sue Ayvar, Arts for Learning / Miami
Harlan Brownlee, Kansas City Young Audiences
Quynn Johnson, Young Audiences of Maryland
Brittany Roger, Young Audiences of Maryland

Jason Baker

smARTbeats with Jason Baker of Fractal Cat

smARTbeats returns to WTMD on Saturday, November 10 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart! On this month’s segment, host Lisa Mathews talks with Jason Baker, one of our talented teaching artists from Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA). Jason is a board-certified music therapist and teaching artist by day. Kids lucky enough to have had him as their teacher in SALA over the past few summers will tell you he has a lot of wisdom and kindness to share. Do they even know that Jason is a bona fide rocker once the day is done?

Jason Baker with host Lisa Mathews in the WTMD studio.

In the classroom, Jason is known as a man who helps kids learn their math facts through writing their own beatbox riffs, who models compassion and collaboration, and who leads young percussionists with artistic excellence. No doubt, the same skills he uses as a music therapist cross over into his lessons. His students work diligently, checking their numbers and planning their beats in the arts-integrated math class. The kids are eager to support their peers as each finds the courage to perform their beatbox compositions at the mic.

Jason’s music majors exhibit the same cooperation and camaraderie as his math students. They don’t just play their instruments. With their drums in a circle, the young percussionists listen, they watch, they respond to one another. Their rhythm is alive and has a personality all its own.

By night, Jason Baker is the drummer for the highly acclaimed psychedelic rock band Fractal Cat. The classically trained musician’s beats are the pulse of Fractal Cat’s euphonic sound —and like a teacher in a classroom, he keeps the music rolling.

Young At Heart airs weekly on 89.7 WTMD from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.

Hear Jason Baker’s smARTbeats interview online now!

smARTbeats

smARTbeats is back with Khaleshia Thorpe-Price!

smARTbeats returns to WTMD on Saturday, June 14 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart! On this month’s segment, host Lisa Mathews talks with the multi-talented Khaleshia Thorpe-Price. Khaleshia is a musician, actor, and Young Audiences teaching artist with a contagious and explosive energy for the arts that fills students with creativity and excitement.

For over 15 years, she has facilitated residencies and workshops for children and adults for many arts organizations including Wolf Trap, Arena Stage, Young Playwrights’ Theater, Young Audiences of Maryland, Folger Shakespeare Library, Shakespeare Theater Company, and M-NCPP. In classrooms across Maryland, DC, and Virginia, Khaleshia helps students create and perform original plays with props and visual aids.  In addition to teaching, you can find Khaleshia directing performances in the Folger Shakespeare Children’s Festival and serving as a dramaturge for the Young Playwrights Theater Festival.

The artist not only co-wrote A Journey with Jazz, an interactive performance experience for young audiences, for the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts, she performs in the production with the Wolf Trap Jazz Trio. “In my classes I love to use music to unify my students, to build ensemble and community,” Khaleshia said. “The language of music has a way of speaking to my students and pulling us all together. I begin and end all of my classes with some type of music.”

Young At Heart airs weekly on 89.7 WTMD from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.

Tune into 89.7 WTMD this Saturday at 7 am as YA teaching artist, actor and musician Khaleshia Thorpe-Price joins host Lisa Mathews in the studio!

Andrew Greene Shares the Art of Ragtime on smARTbeats!

smARTbeats returns to WTMD on Saturday, June 9 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart!

On this month’s segment, host Lisa Mathews sits down for a chat with pianist, conductor, musicologist, and founder of the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra, Andrew Greene. A new addition to the Young Audiences roster, Andrew is excited to share his love and appreciation of Ragtime in Maryland schools and open ears and imaginations to the genre!

Andrew Greene, center, and the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra

Be sure to tune in to hear the artist talk about bringing to life important, historic films by performing original silent film scores from the era! On his website, Andrew explains, “All of our silent film scores use the actual music that existed when the films were originally released – it’s the closest thing to actually being back in the silent era!” The group accompanies short silent films featuring renowned actors like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, or Laurel and Hardy.

As an ensemble that re-creates the sounds and sights of a century ago, the Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra is both entertaining and educational. The musicians teach their audiences to understand, appreciate, and make connections to modern-day examples of the music they present, how sound can impact emotions, and to think critically to understand the role sound plays in creating scenes, moods, feelings, and emotions. “With critical thinking, we can create a scene just using music and sound!”

This unique ensemble gives audiences a true appreciation for the role ragtime music played in the art and history of cinema and an understanding of how ragtime music relates to the music we hear today. “When film was in its beginning stage 100 years ago, there was no sound to accompany the movie — so we work with audiences to show how sounds can change how we think about a certain scene or action sequence.” Their work has not gone unnoticed. “The premier American ragtime ensemble” as hailed by the Washington Post is rapidly becoming the leading professional ragtime orchestra in the United States- which is great news for Maryland students.

Young At Heart airs weekly on 89.7 WTMD from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.

Listen online as YA teaching artist, conductor and musician Andrew Greene of Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra joins host Lisa Mathews in the studio!

Steve Cyphers Talks the Physics of Sound on smARTbeats!

smARTbeats returns to WTMD this Saturday, May 5 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart! On this month’s segment, host Lisa Mathews sits down for a chat with professional frontman and percussionist, Young Audiences teaching artist Steve Cyphers. Tune in and you’ll hear why Maryland students absolutely love drumming with Mr. Steve!

The musician has performed for audiences on stage his entire adult life, touring with bands in the U.S. and abroad, contributing drums, percussion, songwriting, and vocals. “I truly believe music and art can help break down social and political walls and help to build cultural bridges,” Steve explained. “That being said, I simply enjoy performing for, and with, people!”

In schools, Steve helps students gain a deeper understanding of playing and notating rhythms and the science of sound. In addition to body percussion and call-and-response exercises, Steve’s students learn how to play a bucket with mallets designed and fabricated by the artist to accentuate the high and low pitches of the buckets, and to provide more volume control for the classroom. With Mr. Steve in the classroom, students investigate the physics of sound waves and even get creative by altering their “instrument,” to change its sound.

“I’d like to inspire students to venture further into music and performance, and interact with them in a positive, fun, and educational way.”

And inspire students, he does. If you’ve ever wondered what true happiness looks like, just watch a group of Steve’s students singing and playing James Brown’s “I Feel Good” on bucket drums!

Young At Heart airs weekly from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.

Hear Steve Cyphers‘ smARTbeats interview online now!