It Takes a Village
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 [email protected] for more information or call (855) 245-2787. Interested in hosting your own Meet Young Audiences event? Find out more here!