Will Thomason’s blog: A NEW YEAR WITH ASTEP

Will Thomason, a Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing blog posts about his experiences teaching with ASTEP. These programs give children 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 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.



It is currently 4:00am and I am giddy with excitement. It also helps that I have an open carton of Triple Chocolate ice cream beside me, but I promise, my excitement stems not from sugar, but from the prospect of the coming year. I am signed up to take a cycling class at noon tomorrow, but I think the instructor will understand my tiredness. After all, it is not solely my fault.

I worked on New Year’s Eve. It was intentional – I have seen enough sit-com episodes about the quest for the perfect NYC New Year’s Eve party for me to know that working a tepid Masquerade Ball was a perfect fit for the night. The one asterisk was that I had planned to participate in the “Polar Bear Plunge” the day after. For those who are not familiar with the concept, this tradition consists of a gathering of hundreds of people at various bodies of water – this one was planned for Coney Island beach – and a collective jump into the freezing cold water on New Year’s Day, as a jump-start into the new year. Though I had had a late night, I chose to get up early, pack my bag, and confirm plans with a fellow ASTEP volunteer, Angela, who had agreed to do it with me. But as I grabbed my keys to walk out the door, two thoughts crossed my mind. First, I hate the cold. I hate cold water. I hate cold water even in the summer. I don’t even like to *drink* cold water. Why would I subject myself to this pain *on purpose*? I was potentially willing to suffer through the pain, but my second realization is what prompted me to text Angela and request a back-up plan.

See, the point in the Polar Bear Plunge is to shock your body, and in turn, your mind, into a re-set for the coming year. As we all know with the Nintendo 64, the tried-and-true “turn it off, wait 10 seconds, and turn it on again” is the best way to fix a frozen (pun intended) system. But my system was not frozen. It was not broken, it did not need a re-start. I didn’t want to get *in* the water, because I was still on top of it, riding the wave from 2018! 2018 is when I started my relationship with ASTEP. What started with a one-time, low commitment to perform a 3-minute song on the piano, has turned into an integral part of my life. I have been able to meet an entire network of ASTEP employees, supporters, volunteers, and partners who have enriched my personal and professional journey, and I want to take that into the new year. In 2018, I was able to introduce the concept of wordplay to youth, who used their wit to outsmart me. I got to dust off my Spanish skills and hang out with some pretty cool, super cute 5 year-olds. I taught a new friend at a youth home how to strum the ukulele, and in turn learned some out-of-this-world jokes about astronauts. I convinced at least one child that I was Santa Claus (feel free to check out the picture. I’d say my years of acting training have paid off).  And at the very end of 2018, I flew to Miami and back in a day, and toured facilities of a community that ASTEP works with. I had some good, home-made food and good, home-made fun.

I used to make New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, I just found my list from 2014, which I had decorated and framed. I had planned to take 60 exercise classes a month, spend 10 hours a week practicing a foreign language, master front- and back-flips, and enroll in a year-long acting class. I admit, I had lofty goals, and barely accomplished any of them. But recently, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I have made New Year’s Intentions. New Year’s Aspirations. New Year’s Goals. One is to make a bigger deal out of little successes, and to stop making a big deal out of little inconveniences (lookin’ at you, MTA). Another is to try to get rid of my own insecurity (it’s useless!) And ASTEP is there to support me through all of it. I am already looking at potential summer plans with ASTEP, and I will be attending 3 separate ASTEP events in the next 4 days. I am excited. I am giddy. And I’m ready.

Here’s to another exciting, ASTEP-filled year!


Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship

Jen play

ASTEP is honored to announce that the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship is now accepting applications for 2017 summer programming. This Fellowship will take place from July 1 – August 18 2017 in the position of a storytelling/theatre Teaching Artist at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy in New York City.

For the eighth consecutive summer, ASTEP will support the 2017 Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA) in partnership with the International Rescue Committee. ASTEP designs, implements, and oversees RYSA’s creative arts classes, which focus on visual art, dance, music, and storytelling for 120- 130 refugee youth aged 5-25 years old. RYSA is a six-week summer camp, held five days a week from July – August; from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and culminates in a graduation ceremony and performance for students’ families and their community.

The Fellow will be joining a team of 16 ASTEP Teaching Artists, who will lead the creative arts classes at RYSA. This Fellow will work to build English language skills, school readiness, coping and self-regulation skills within this vulnerable and underserved population——tools they need to thrive in school and to help build a new life in their new home. The Fellowship responsibilities include:

  • Curriculum building and lesson planning for three (3) classes, each to meet twice weekly.
  • Planning and teaching age-appropriate and culturally-appropriate lessons that focus on English Language skill building, school readiness, and the development of soft skills.
  • Preparing a 2-4 minute performance piece in each class, or for visual art, preparing a showcase of student artwork, to be shared at graduation on August 18.
  • Regular collaboration and communication with IRC and ASTEP staff members for a cohesive camp experience.
  • Support and implementation of camp-wide behavior management techniques in the classroom.
  • Support and implementation of both ASTEP and IRC methodology and pedagogical techniques in the classroom.
  • Implementation of ASTEP evaluation tools in the classroom.
  • Full participation in ASTEP and IRC training sessions.
  • Full participation in ASTEP post-program surveys.
  • Weekly blog post to share experience with the ASTEP community.

Applicants must have experience in teaching English Language Learners, teaching in a school environment, and teaching art in culturally diverse classrooms. This Fellowship requires complete commitment and artists must be available for all training and camp days.

The Fellow must be available for the following dates:

  • ASTEP Team Training: July 1-2, 2017 (tentative)
  • RYSA Training: July 5-7, 2017 (tentative)
  • RYSA Dates: July 10 – August 18, 2017

From July 10 – August 18, the Fellow will teach six (6) hours per week and should plan to spend at least ten (10) hours per week on site.

The accepted Fellow will receive a stipend and materials/supplies budget.

This Fellowship is named after Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger, 1976-2016, a loving soul who valued the arts. She inspired everyone she met with her quick wit, compassion for others and passion for the dramatic arts. Jennifer’s love for drama started early in life in Kansas City when at the age of four, her mom took her to the musical, Annie. The live stage and sound of music captured her heart, and the thrill of the theatre and her admiration for all things related to drama was a hallmark of her life.

The Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenger Fellowship gives this unique opportunity to someone who closely models Jen’s personal values and skill set and ensures newly arrived refugee youth will experience the transforming power of the arts, much as the arts impacted Jen’s life.

If you are interested in applying for the Fellowship, please complete the ASTEP Volunteer Artist Application, making note that you would like to be considered for the Fellowship.

** Email Aaron Rossini at aaron@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!

Deadline to apply is: April 15, 2017

Volunteer music teacher needed in India for 3-month placement

We are excited to announce an opportunity to work with ASTEP for a minimum of three-months as a volunteer music teacher at Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project in rural India!

ASTEP has an exciting and immersive teaching opportunity available to a qualified teaching artist willing to share their musical talents in India. This January, ASTEP is sending a Volunteer Teaching Fellow to Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project in India to lead our year-round music program. In this Fellowship, the music teacher will lead general music education classes for primary school students in grades Pre K through fourth and will lead choir rehearsals for upper school students. Teaching Artists will also organize and facilitate private lesson for students in a variety of instruments. All applicants should feel comfortable teaching piano and voice lessons to beginning and intermediate level students.

DATES: Three-month commitment starting as early as January 1, 2017
WHERE: Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project near Bangalore, India
WHO: All Musicians!

The accepted Fellow must be available to teach for a minimum of 3 months and will receive a small stipend to cover expenses. Room and board is provided on site.

This position will be available year-round, but to be considered for placement in January, please fill out your application and send it and any questions to Aaron Rossini at aaron@asteponline.org as soon as possible.

Or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!

— your friends at ASTEP






There should be no dividing line between artistic excellence and social consciousness.

For 59 young artists interested in combing their artistic practice with their pursuit of a better world, ASTEP presented our 2nd annual Artist as Citizen Conference from June 7 – 12, 2015 at The Juilliard School.

At ASTEP, we work with children. We put artists in classrooms around the world to share their passion with kids.

In a larger sense, we’re part of an evolving, nationwide conversation on the role of the artist in society. There are articles published on the subject everyday – the landscape of the arts is changing and so are the opportunities available to artists. Meanwhile, the social emotional skills the arts help to develop are increasingly viewed as essential for success in today’s knowledge-based economy.

The Artist as Citizen Conference is an opportunity for ASTEP to help spread this powerful ideal nationwide — and with it, the remarkable culture of service it represents.

It’s been talked about for years. Innumerable blogs have discussed it. The New York Times recently chimed in. There is a movement afoot. A return to meaning in the arts. A return to impact. As one curator put it, “Marcel Duchamp’s toilet is being returned to the bathroom.”

The Conference is about putting the riches of the first network at the disposal of the second. Its mission is to celebrate, connect, and develop young leaders in the arts by providing them with a transformative artistic and educational experience in the heart of New York City.

Why? Because developing motivated young leaders in communities across America is a way for ASTEP to expand the reach of its mission exponentially.

Which means more kids. Exposed to more art.

An ASTEP Fellow in ACTION!

ASTEP Fellow_LT_1

Last week I spent some time as an intern at Orkestai Farms, a non-profit organic vegetable farm that works with students of varying ages and disabilities. Their program brings these students to the farm to participate in the amazing world of agriculture; from planting seeds to weeding and mulching, and finally to harvesting, as a way to develop skills and learn about sustainable living. After a week spent working on the farm with Alethea and Erin (co-owners) and their students, we led a community day where parents, students, and friends of the farm opened their awareness to different ways of experiencing the land through art- who knew you could create a beautiful sculpture of people with mulch, weeds, and rotten vegetables! (Additionally, this sculpture served as a compost for the potato beds for the next season!)

If there was one lesson to learn from this experience at Orkestai, it would be about patience: patience for the land, for the people around you, and for your art. Alethea, Erin, and the students at this farm taught me that the same care, love, dedication (and hard work!) that is put into planting and harvesting the land, must be applied to the people around us, and the relationships that exist there. A plant dumped into a shaded patch of land and left to its own accord will perhaps grow, but it won’t thrive. It needs attention and dedicated care to produce its best- the same should be said about our relationships with each other, and our relationship with our art.

— Linnell Truchon, ASTEP Volunteer Artist and 2014 ASTEP Fellow

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