Brigid Transon’s blog: RYSA: Week 2


Brigid Transon, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about her experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 13 ASTEP Volunteer Artists lead the creative arts classes at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy, which supports the personal growth, cultural adjustment, and education of multicultural refugee youth and helps them successfully transition into the US school system. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.


 

Blog Post #1:

August 22, 2018

RYSA: Week 2

Hello All, I’m Brigid Transon.  This is my second summer with RYSA (Refugee Youth Summer Academy).  I have been honored to be chosen as one of the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellows.  This summer I have the opportunity to not only teach the young students, but I am teaching Upper School as well. Teaching the Upper School students was something I was nervous about as soon as I was given the role.  I have lots of experience with young students, where my expressive silly self can communicate when language may not suffice.

Last summer I taught Lower School dance and assisted with Lower School music.  I loved the RYSA experience and working with these incredible and inspiring students.  My love for these students made me decide to work with the elementary students every Saturday (SLS) during the school year.  SLS provided a space to see students and talk to them about their transition into public schools in New York.

The ASTEP team is incredibly strong with brilliant ideas and inspirations.  Now with two
weeks completed I have learned a lot. I have learned not only about my fears teaching
Upper School, but also about what I can learn from students who I have taught for
more than one year.

Three Lessons Learned from RYSA thus far:

1)    Upper School is crazy creative
a.    During our first class our oldest students were creating choreography based on the
name game.  These dances not only included levels but formation changes as well!

2)    Lower School is never what you expect
a.    As a returning teacher, I had an idea of what the class
dynamics would be from the class rosters.  And WOW was I wrong! One of the classes
who has a group of students who were more serious in the past creates the most
interesting movements when going across the floor.  In Lower School, we focus on
combining dance concepts, therefore as an example I give the students the prompt “go
across the floor in a low level, quick speed and near kinosphere.”

3)    Upper School LOVES to dance!!!!
a.    RYSA goes on field trips every Friday.  Week one the students went to the Natural
History Museum and then ate lunch outside in the park.  I was eating with Lower School
when suddenly I looked up and saw a dance circle had started.  What started with only
one class turned into almost everyone from upper school.  Each new song was from a
different country! The students started with bachata, the Azonto, to the Macarena to
Cardi B. Everyone got a say in the music and dance choice!
b.    Week two the students were at Central Park. Here multiple dance circles were
started.  One right when we got to the park, another while making friendship bracelets
and a final one after lunch.  Unlike the first field trip these circles did not include all of
Upper School but each class started their own circle and always welcomed anyone who
wanted to join!

I want to thank the ASTEP administration, the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger
Fellowship, the IRC and my co-teachers.  I cannot wait for the rest of the summer and to
discover what else I can learn from this incredible program.  I am provided with the
space to be challenged about my ideas of education, learn from my students and co-
artists, and have fun using the arts to transform lives.  I will keep you updated on the
programing and what I have learned after week four.

-Brigid

 

WELCOME TO OUR NEWEST BOARD MEMBERS!

ASTEP is pleased to announce that Laura V. Chittick, Steven Farkas, and Gabrielle Speaks have joined our Board of Directors!

Laura V. Chittick, an Executive Director at J.P. Morgan, earned a BA from Columbia University and holds a graduate degree from Yale University. She lives with her family in New York City and is excited to work towards arts education for all children.

Steven Farkas, a member of the $20 billion Global Equity Team within BlackRock’s Alpha Strategies Group, graduated cum laude with a BS in Finance from Tulane University in 2008. An early start in the arts solidified his interest in the profound effect it can have on all children. 

Gabrielle Speaks, Director of Board Relations and Special Liaison to the President & CEO at Community Service Society of New York, holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master’s degree in History from Howard University. Gabrielle works towards alleviating poverty on a policy and structural level, and is thrilled to be a part of the work ASTEP is doing. 

We look forward to working closely with our new Board members and welcome them to the ASTEP community!

 

 

September in Shanti Bhavan!

Join us! ASTEP is getting ready to send a team of 12 artists next month to deliver an arts intensive camp to the students of Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project – a residential school for economically and socially disadvantaged children outside Bangalore, India.

“You have a choice about how to see the world. There is no limit to what you can do.”

We are looking for artists to lead Musical Theatre, Filmmaking, Dance, Music, Visual Arts, and Storytelling classes to help this camp thrive. Be a part of our team that brings the beauty and power of the arts to this very special community! 

Email Sami Manfredi at sami@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!

Dates: September 5th – 17th, with an optional retreat September 3-5th

Location: Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, just outside of Bangalore, India

*Room and board is provided by ASTEP and Shanti Bhavan for all Volunteer Artists.

 

 

Rachel Kara Perez’s blog: An Ode to Lesson Planning


Rachel Kara Perez, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about her experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP on STAGE! This program gives over 1,500 NYC youth access to the transforming power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. ASTEP on STAGE! partners with schools and community organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.


 

Blog Post #4:

August 3, 2018

An Ode To Lesson Planning

Much of being an Arts Educator is about doing your best to prepare in advance, have a plan of action, and also be open to throwing that away and having multiple backup plans in case the lesson takes an unexpected turn. With flexibility and room for creativity, one can navigate a class and shape it based on the children directly in front of them. Preparation, abandon, improvisation, systematic approaches, being open to surprises. It’s a constant balancing game between having plenty of tools and plenty of flexibility in the event of cut time, extra time, changed time, interruptions, latenesses, etc. Depending on the setting, depending on the partnership, no class looks exactly the same.

In addition to continuing my work at Lutheran Social Services with our Unaccompanied Minors Program, this month I have also joined the ASTEP staff at The International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA). There I am the Lead Teacher in Storytelling. At this particular site we are preparing the children for public school in the fall, while incorporating English Language comprehension into our lessons. It’s been an incredible experience and I can’t believe we’ve already hit the halfway mark!

RYSA differs from the Lutheran Social Services site in that I am not working with the children in their native languages (at Lutheran Social Services all classes are taught in Spanish). That is a different set of challenges and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to experience both.

Lesson planning plays a crucial role at both sites. RYSA is a framework where we work to establish a more traditional school culture in an effort to prepare students for public school. At Lutheran Social Services, the volunteer Teaching Artists are afforded more freedom within their lesson plans, and each lesson is built to stand alone as opposed to at RYSA, where we plan for 6 weeks all while keeping in mind that it will culminate in a brief final performance.

It’s a different set of stressors and expectations but the ultimate goal remains the same: to use the arts as a means to uplift, educate, and inspire the youth. In all of our classes we work to share a joy, to provide tools for critical thinking, self reflection, imagination, and exploration.

Lesson plans are never anyone’s favorite part of teaching I don’t think, but they are helpful in organizing one’s thoughts and approaches to a particular class or project. They serve as a roadmap and a guide and even a script at times. Being an educator is not easy; it takes a lot of energy, focus, and social awareness to do it successfully and meaningfully. The different approaches to lesson planning have taught me a lot, and while there has definitely been a learning curve with adapting to different sets of expectations, I have more skills to include in my tool belt. While seemingly small, the concept translates into a larger one: having access to and the ability to offer different approaches each time I walk into a classroom is a kind of agency I hope to implement and pass on.

 

Marcus Crawford Guy’s blog: IF I’M NOT TEACHING AM I REALLY A TEACHER?


Marcus Crawford Guy, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about his experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP on STAGE! This program gives over 1,500 NYC youth access to the transforming power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. ASTEP on STAGE! partners with schools and community organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.


 

Blog Post #4:

IF I’M NOT TEACHING AM I REALLY A TEACHER?

 

Whenever I take a few weeks to myself (in this case to galavant in Los Angeles) I’m anxious returning to the classroom. I’m not a teacher by training but by instinct and I so often get the fear of – DID I EVER KNOW WHAT I WAS DOING?

So last week as I geared up for 3 days of arts classes at housing shelters throughout the city, reviewing volunteer lesson plans, I really took the time to check in with myself. What is my role in this? How do I make a space where artists can thrive? And if I were the volunteer, or the student, or the partner receiving ASTEP workshops, what would I want?

A planner at heart, these questions actually helped me focus and quelled my anxieties. Potential blindspots found detail and I mapped out ways of helping teaching artists keep the seed of the lesson they had crafted, while ensuring that it would flow and have a hook for our student population, who are often antsy and lack focus (they’re kids!). I started to see the benefits of time away. It forced me to come back and look at the work with fresh eyes: to consider the WHY in everything I do and reconnect with ASTEP’s mission – to break cycles of poverty, where poverty is defined as a lack of choice. I made sure that, without giving kids free reign, they didn’t feel bound by the plan. They had space to be expressive, offer input and interpret activities in ways that helped them feel strong and valued.

In action, the week felt fresh, fueled and live! And as I reflect, I am reminded that this isn’t a job – it’s a service, it’s an offering and it’s a commitment to people and communities who are in need of support. If it stagnates with monotony or gets stuck on autopilot, the communities we partner with suffer. And as summer continues, I’m going to keep checking in with myself, seeing the detail, the room for improvement and challenging myself to best represent ASTEP’s A-Game!

 

Pablo Falbru’s blog: Some may say I’m a dreamer


Pablo Falbru, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about his experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 13 ASTEP Volunteer Artists lead the creative arts classes at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy, which supports the personal growth, cultural adjustment, and education of multicultural refugee youth and helps them successfully transition into the US school system. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.


 

Blog Post #1:

July 17, 2018

Week 1 | RYSA: Some may say I’m a dreamer

Greetings! I’m Pablo Falbru, one of the recipients of the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship. It is truly an honor to be selected for this Fellowship and contribute to the legacy of Jennifer. I was picked to be the head music instructor for the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA), and have been brimming with excitement since I got the call. We just finished week one of the program, though my journey started at the end of June. I spent the last weekend of June meeting and training with the ASTEP team, followed by a week of training with the RYSA Team. Over the course of that training period, the importance of this work grew even clearer for me.

The scope, circumstances and challenges that these kids face really puts our lives in the U.S. into perspective. Certainly we face our own challenges of poverty, violence, and oppression. But the sheer scale that this happens in the countries that the RYSA students come from is staggering. So first and foremost, this has been an opportunity to put my privilege in check. To reflect and be grateful for everyone and everything I have. And to practice infinite kindness and understanding of the students I teach, the strangers I meet and of my own friends and family.

As I mentioned, we just finished week one and I couldn’t have asked for a better start! I have three classes, each translating to roughly Kindergarten-1st Grade, 2nd Grade-3rd Grade and 4th Grade-5th Grade. In some classes, I could have as many as 4 different languages being spoken, not counting English. So that is hands down, the most challenging part of the job. But I’ve always been a fan of languages, so I’m using this as an opportunity to learn something new. As with any class, some students are stronger than others. So finding ways to empower and inspire each kid is a delicate balance. They have all responded well to everything I’ve put forth and it’s rewarding to see their eyes light up when something clicks.

One of my favourite things that happened this week was when a “challenging” kid from the K-1st class…(this student had been reprimanded earlier in the day in another class)…played the djembe with confidence and consistency. As he played I could see he had a natural talent for music, in particular rhythm, and he was so happy to show me what he could do. These are the moments that remind me of the transforming power of the arts. How a creative outlet presents an opportunity for the “challenged” to excel. To show the dimensions and range we have when given the space to explore and express freely. So for me, having the chance to cultivate that and create an environment that everyone can shine, makes my life all the more worthwhile. So thank you to the administrators of the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for the honor of carrying the torch that keeps the inspiring legacy of Jennifer alive, namaste.

~Pablo

Rachel Kara Perez’s blog: send me your weary, a scattering of poems


Rachel Kara Perez, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about her experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP on STAGE! This program gives over 1,500 NYC youth access to the transforming power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. ASTEP on STAGE! partners with schools and community organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.


 

Blog Post #3:

July 9, 2018

send me your weary,

                              a scattering of poems

i.
In the red of uncertainty
In the dawning of hope
In the throes of sorrow
In the echoes of despair
I will reach for the beginnings
For the endings trail behind
In the songs of my country
In the dance of our pride
Worth fighting for and working for
Keep living for
The dawning of expectation
The certainty of demise
I send my children on without me
I will not let them see me cry

ii.
In the throes of uncertainty
In the wake of my fear
I will make my parents proud
Even though they are not here
In me they live on
In me they find hope
In me they find solace
And a chance for something more

—————

These tears betray not
The paths I have traversed
Roadways you’d die on

————-

These arms are empty
Hold no hope, discarded
Ready for anything

 

-when you have nothing left to lose

 

#istandwithrefugees

 

Marcus Crawford Guy’s blog: POSITIVE + REALISTIC.


Marcus Crawford Guy, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about his experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP on STAGE! This program gives over 1,500 NYC youth access to the transforming power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. ASTEP on STAGE! partners with schools and community organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.


 

Blog Post #3:

POSITIVE + REALISTIC.

 

We’re playing the Game of Life. Well, actually, we’re working with students to build it, asking them to complete the board with events, choices and circumstances that will shape their play in our final class this Thursday – “Remember to bring dice, Mr Marcus – that spinner thing won’t do!”

We’re working in a juvenile correction program at Passages Academy, where the common trait among all of the students is some kind of criminal charge, though we don’t get into those conversations. It’s a given and we work hard to move beyond that to build a creative and productive classroom environment. But with an ever-changing community, the politics are clear and while some infractions are considered “cool”, others are unanimously agreed upon as unforgivable. Regardless of the specifics, these factor entrench the students in a highly complex social environment. So when I posed the question: “What’s a negative event that could happen in your life?” it’s unsurprising that the answer was matter of fact “go to jail” because, generally speaking, it could be agreed upon – no politics.

Ok, well let’s think about something with lower stakes?” This caused a silence. “What’s something that could go wrong for me today that would affect me negatively but not be so high stakes as to cause me to break the law?” More silence. “Umm…you could stub your toe.” This was followed by a long and fairly intricate conversation about what feels normal, what feels bad, and what feels great for the students in their current state of being. The positivity and negativity associated with certain events exist on a sliding scale based on the privileges we are conditioned to. It makes sense and my upper middle class upbringing didn’t account for this.

Our dialogue about positive life events took a similar turn. The students weren’t willing to put events on the board that they couldn’t imagine for themselves. It was not productive, they said, to think about things that simply wouldn’t happen. I challenged this with the idea that if this was true, then thinking about the extreme negatives would only make them more likely to happen. So we agreed that we wanted to make a game board that felt realistic and true to the lives these young men were leading but that didn’t confine them to a certain realm of success or growth in the world.

And so, what was supposed to be a simple conversation about how we complete the game, became a complex discussion of what’s positive, productive and promotes success for this specific population. For the community in question, positive days felt like ones without negative interaction vs. being ones where something great happened. The latter just wasn’t in their realm of expectation.

As I gear up to play the game tomorrow morning, I’m thinking about how we can lift these students up, even when they are living with limited choices. How can they move forward and have lives that aren’t defined by their mistakes but by their potential to grow and move beyond this moment in their very young lives?

Our game board is deliberately two thirds positive – here’s hoping that’s what’s still to come!

 

Volunteer Reflection: Gabby Serrano

 

Name: Gabby Serrano

Age: 28

Where are you from, originally?  New York City!

How did you find out about ASTEP? Referred by a fellow volunteer. Shout out to Luz De La Cruz!

Which programs have you been a part of? ASTEP Arts Camp at Shanti Bhavan and ASTEP on STAGE! at the Incarnation Children’s Center and CHOICES Alternative to Detention program.

Do you have a background in teaching, when you started? No!

What is your arts background? I’ve been a visual artist for as long as I can remember. It all began with two of the finest mediums, crayons and paint (I’ll include fingers, as it was finger-painting to be exact). Early on, I realized that I truly enjoyed taking the time to freely express myself and continuously build off of previous efforts. Like many adults, life happened, and my passion lay dormant for a few years. It wasn’t until I decided to take an elective in sculpting that I found myself drawn back in and reacquainted with my long time love of the arts. I continued to create at my own leisure and pushed myself to explore different mediums and forms of art. A friend took notice to my artwork and recommended that I check out an organization that she had recently volunteered with in Florida. It wasn’t long after that conversation that I found myself on a flight heading to ASTEP’s art camp in India at Shanti Bhavan to teach visual arts. I currently use art regularly as an outlet and as a challenge to encourage myself to keep learning new and fun ways to create.

What challenges did you overcome while on site? There were times when we had additional attendees at a workshop and limited art supplies. One particular activity required drawing your neighbor’s portrait. Because there weren’t enough utensils to allow each child to choose their own medium, the activity underwent some impromptu revisions. We asked each child to randomly exchange mediums throughout the lesson, so that each child had a chance to explore a different medium while creating a single portrait. This essentially encouraged them (and I) to improvise and foster resourcefulness.

What victories did you achieve, while on site? There have been several occasions where people (both children and adults) have communicated their dislike or difficulty with visual arts prior to starting the activity because they feel that “they’re just not good at it.” It has been an ongoing learning experience for me as a teaching artist to find innovative and empathetic ways to help others overcome that self-proclaimed barrier, which can potentially influence their ability to thoroughly try. There was one particular instance, when a teenager didn’t want to partake in the activity for the same reason. However, after sharing a short chat with him that I realized he just needed some additional guidelines to work off. Once I provided him with some helpful hints on how to create a proportionate face, he really got into the assignment and created an amazing portrait. He was so proud of his work and even his fellow classmates took notice to his artwork. He’s a visual artist–he just needed some tools and encouragement to see his own potential.

What did working with ASTEP teach you about yourself? I’m currently a social work intern with a passion for visual arts. ASTEP is largely accredited for encouraging me to continue to pursue the arts and integrate it into my future career.  I’ve learned that I can combine my two passions and that it is totally possible to create whatever it is you envision.

What program is next for you? As an intern, I have fortunately been able to still partake in some of the volunteer opportunities in the tristate area. Some of the new, and more recent ASTEP programs are Women in Need and CHOICES. Once I graduate, I’d love to return to Shanti Bhavan and try other international and statewide opportunities.

 

 

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