Announcement: Fall 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship Recipients

ASTEP is thrilled to announce that Katrina Yaukey and Will Thomason have been selected as recipients of the 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship!

The Fellows will be taking the lead as Program Facilitators at our ASTEP on STAGE! sites in Harlem and the Bronx with CHOICES Alternative to Detention Programming. At this program, Will and Katrina will help ASTEP Volunteer Teaching Artists share their magic with young people who have been involved with the justice system. This program will give students the ability to share their voices and choices through the arts, all while having fun!

The Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenger Fellowship gives this unique opportunity to individuals who closely model Jennifer’s personal values and skill set and ensures all young people, regardless of their backgrounds, will experience the transforming power of the arts, much as the arts impacted Jen’s life.

“It’s an incredible and unexpected privilege to have been chosen for this fellowship. The way in which Jennifer’s family has chosen to honor her legacy with this program is a gift to so many people. It’s wonderful that Jennifer’s passion for the arts will continue to be shared by many people!”
– Katrina Yaukey, 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow



“ASTEP has easily been the highlight of my Fall. I have enjoyed playing word games in the Bronx, building relationships with high-schoolers in Harlem, and hanging out and sharing music with kids living in a residential facility next door to my apartment in Washington Heights, and all of these opportunities to share and grow are thanks to ASTEP programming. Becoming a Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow further excites and inspires me to give to these ASTEP programs. I will aspire to give passionately and compassionately, as I understand Jennifer did. I look forward to my continued involvement with ASTEP, and I thank you for making it possible to do so.”
– Will Thomason, 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

 

Marcus Crawford Guy’s blog: BACK TO SCHOOL


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 #5:

BACK TO SCHOOL

 

I remember as a child (neurotic and high strung as I was even way back then) being so challenged by the routine that school brought as I returned at the end of each summer. I longed for days where I could play as I wished, where morning bled into noon and into night and be that guided by books, games, movies or time with family and friends, it was something I missed by the time the last week in August rolled around. I went to a school where we wore uniform: shirts, ties, belted pants and black shoes… ugh. Stifling.

But as I think about many of the kids I have met this summer at ASTEP’s partner sites, I am eager for them to get back into routine, to have new structure and to be given goals to work towards. The fundamental difference between my own free time and the free time of the students I work with being that I really didn’t have anything to worry about. Structure would be provided where needed but for the most part, I had more things to do than I had things to worry about.

For our student population, the equation is typically reversed. Time off often brings up the things that are absent in their lives. I had to actively remind myself of this in all of our workshops these past couple of months – intellectually I understood their experience (with a 26 year old brain) but to be living that in the mind and body of a 7 or 8 year old is completely incomprehensible. It made me particularly aware of moments when a teaching artist couldn’t understand why the students needed so much scaffolding around a particular concept. For the most part, their days are spent off without structure – and this likely only brings their life circumstances into focus more acutely. Their creative expressions within transitional housing complexes for example, aren’t always accepted as productive and so our task is to come in and not only be the bearers of fun, but also to present the structure in which that fun will be had.

So, with school back in session, I’m excited to return to many of these sites this fall and see familiar faces with brand new energy. Granted, its usually colored with the exhaustion of learning at the end of a school day but this allows our function to be different, providing fun, freedom of expression and creativity at the end of a rigorous day, which, of course, then presents a whole other set of challenges!

 

 

Rachel Kara Perez’s blog: Each day


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 #5:

September 5, 2018

Each day

My padrino tells me, obsessing over the past is what breeds depression. Fixating on the future is what breeds anxiety. That we can only truly ever appreciate and have a life well-lived if we focus our energy on the present, allowing ourselves to be fully here and now.

In this work, and especially in this mighty city, it is easy to find excuses not to follow this thoughtful and somewhat sage advice. The trains are late, we are waiting for our next check, one of the children may be gone next week, new sets of expectations, someone is late, we didn’t get that gig…the list is long.

Working with refugee youth, and specifically unaccompanied minors during my time with ASTEP has granted me a different relationship with impermanence. It came almost all at once, as I spoke to a fellow teacher from the Refugee Youth Summer Academy about my work at our site with Lutheran Social Services. I expressed my struggle with endings, how saying goodbye (or harder still, not being afforded an opportunity to say goodbye) never got easier with this work, how I had cried and not known how to channel that sorrow after a child leaves, especially when they’ve been at LSS for a long time and then one day are just not there anymore.

The advice she gave me was a total game changer. She suggested at the end of each class I take a moment to let the children know how much they mean to me. That way, even if I don’t have the opportunity to say an individual goodbye to each of them before they leave, I can rest assured that they know how I feel about them, that I believe in them, and that I care. Little did I realize how effective this would be and also how soon I would need to say a goodbye of my own.

I am moving on from ASTEP to further my work in arts activism, working full time for an arts and social justice organization. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and yet I will miss ASTEP dearly. Of course, I will find ways to collaborate and stay connected, always.

My last day with the children at LSS  I actually didn’t have a Volunteer Teaching Artist and was able to take the lead as opposed to offering on site support. It felt fortuitous. I threw them a little party, we had snacks, listened to music, and drew together. I took the advice of my colleague, and now friend, and explained that this was my small way of expressing my gratitude. That I wanted all of them to know that they are important. That whether we have been together one day, or two weeks, or seven months, that each day is special to me, and that I will always think of them. I told them the time I have spent with them has changed my life. I thanked them for their time and for their presence. And I thank everyone at ASTEP, for your support and encouragement, for the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship, for the honor of carrying on this work for those who no longer can. And though I must say goodbye, please accept this modest writing as an expression of my gratitude, and know that each day was special to me.

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!

 

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!

 

Rachel Kara Perez’s blog: Paint on the edges


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 #2:

May 10, 2018

It’s always amazing to see how quickly things can change and how at times they stay remarkably the same. For several months I had much of the same core group of students, and then while somewhat knocked out of commission due to being sick this month, I came back and it felt like I had to start all over again, earn their trust again, explain why I had been absent, deal with the guilt of unexpectedly needing to stay home to rest. Then learn someone from the core group, one of the little ones (which is how we affectionately refer to the younger class), left while I was gone. The turnover struggle is real, and you would think it gets easier with time.

Recently we had a class working with body and face paint, and the children really got into it. Maria, our Teaching Artist for this particular lesson had worked with the children before, and those who had been there, remembered her favorably. We had a large group of older students, and bunched them in at the tables.  We had some newer students who came in a little late, as they were completing their orientation. No matter, the more the merrier, and for whatever reason, at this site I’ve observed that the children take particularly well to the visual arts, and are good sports about sharing materials and space.

I always find it interesting how the confidence of very small children is something to be envious of. Perhaps it is not even what one would call confidence, more a disregard, or a lack of self awareness, a beautiful naiveté that leaves them refreshingly unguarded and willing to try something new. Working with children ages 5-17, I notice that self-conscious behavior can often set in as early as 10. I say all this because in the younger group, I had a little girl and boy saying they couldn’t paint a heart, even after I saw them do it, and wanted me to do it for them. They wanted it to be perfect. A new child, 5 years old and all smiles (also the younger sibling of the little girl) not only did not care whether he could make the perfect heart, he was not interested in it. He proceeded to paint his entire arm green with such dexterity, he would have painted his sleeves had I not jumped in to roll them up. Una casa! he proudly proclaimed. If only we were all so confident in our renderings, in what we create. There is always much we can learn from the little ones.

He proceeded to wipe off his arms and paint over and over again, enthusiastically creating new temporary masterpieces, marvelling at the fact that he had transformed his skin into a canvas. There was a lot of laughter, and his sisters kept telling him not to get it on his shirt, as I repeatedly rolled it up and he repeatedly painted to the edge (he definitely got it on his shirt, but it washes off easily). If I could give the students one thing only, it would be the ability to never lose that innate curiosity so many little ones have. To maintain that spark, that eagerness, that imagination, that beautiful naiveté, and fearlessly transform it into art. To not worry about getting paint on the edges.

 

 

 

Marcus Crawford Guy’s blog: A 2 SHOW DAY


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 #2:

A 2 SHOW DAY AT ASTEP on STAGE!

545am / My alarm rings and the only thing slower than me is the sunrise. I’ve got an hour long train ride ahead, followed by a 15min walk to my first site for the day: a juvenile detention center where I’ll be leading classes in poetry over 4 days in the next two weeks. ASTEP Shirt – check! Supplies – check! Game Face – check! And just like that I’m out the door…

845am / My Teaching Artist cohort and I are taken through 3 security doors to meet the school librarian who’ll escort us and our pre-approved materials to the classroom. “The kids are excited for poetry month!” I am too. And I’m hoping the caffeine (now 3 hours old in my system) keeps working its magic.

915am / SHOWTIME. Act 1. 2 young women write Acrostic poems and open up, sharing the positive qualities they’ve assigned to each letter of their name. Their uniform ages them and for a moment I forget they’re just teenagers – they speak so beautifully. But their youth shines through as colored markers (approved contraband) are brought into the mix.

10am / One of these young women is going to be released today. She wears a smile brighter than the sun and the girls giggle their way out the door, the guards having called and approved movement between classes. My energy and spirit are rejuvenated – who needs caffeine?

1055am / Act 2. The class draws to a close as 4 boys, having written their own Acrostic poems, share what they learned with the class. Through their lens of “cool” I can hear them celebrating one another, having a new set of armor being built up as their positive behaviors are acknowledged. As they walk out the door I know they’re all questioning: Can clever be cool? And is that alliteration?

1230pm / I crash in through my front door, inhale my lunch and switch out supplies for the afternoon show… I’m about to head back out on another hour long train journey… but not before I nap!

345pm / I meet my next team of Teaching Artists and we immediately start talking about how our plans can change if the group is too small, too large, too energetic, too exhausted, too noisy… you get the picture! They’re flexible, they’re ready and it’s showtime all over again!

445pm / Energy is flowing – dare I say uncontrollably. We’ve explored our signature rhythms and are trying (oh, how hard we are trying!) to focus on drawing the things the music makes us think of. Suddenly, “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s Moana blares out through a handy portable speaker and becomes the ultimate antidote to chaos. Crayons and markers are held up like candles, it’s Beyonce at Coachella, and the kids join one another for a chorus of their favorite song. The joy is palpable.

550pm / Time to wrap up. “What’s one thing you learned or enjoyed today?” Several kids sigh. “What?!” I exclaim, shocked by the reaction. “But we loved so many things! The drawing with Mr. Eric and music and playing the BAH! game and playing Bunnies and Hawks with Mr Julian.” The reviews are in and it’s clear they were a hit!

715pm / After my fourth hour underground today, my front door slams shut behind me and my ASTEP shirt stares up at me. The word STRIVING looks a little bolder than it has before. Today we did that. We were striving in pursuit of something great and I think we inched our way closer to the goal. I open my laptop and refresh my email. Gmail politely reminds me that tomorrow I’ll be an Actor again, out in search of a whole other kind of two-show day.

 

Rachel Kara Perez’s blog: A reason to laugh, to create, to channel one’s anger, or to express one’s joy.


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 #1:

March 31, 2018

March was quite the month. I have had to say goodbye without the opportunity to actually say it, to a few of my students who had been with us the longest, nearly 6 months. It is important to note that each week the size of the group alters. Some children come and stay for a couple of weeks, some several months, though it is rare, and some only once. As all of the children are protected as Refugees under U.S. law, once they move on, and for their own privacy and protection, they are not permitted to maintain contact with anyone who works at the Social Services agency, nor with each other. So imagine our heart beak upon discovering young love had blossomed between two of the teenagers. One in particular, whom I will refer to as Jose, had been with us for about six months. He was generally reserved, and more brooding once he fell in love with the “new girl” who arrived a few weeks after him. The children are not permitted to date one another and for many months I have dreaded the day that took place just two weeks ago. I walked in, asked where Jose was, and discovered he had left that morning. I could not disguise my disappointment, and the girl who told me expressed her observation that I looked as if I would miss him. Of course I will, I told her that each week is difficult, and I will miss him. A younger boy popped his head up and asked if I would miss him when he left, and I said of course. The girl who told me, she has also moved on since that week.

When asking each child to go around the room and say their name (for review and also to meet the newcomers), the girl he loves was still there, and bravely and honestly said that she was feeling sad. I thanked her for her honesty, and told her I respected her. I did not push for her to participate in all the activities. Just two weeks prior there had been a grey cloud over the heads of the older group, as two other students who had been there for a long time had also moved on. It is hard to explain the feeling, the impermanence, the hope, and yes even joy that is also found in this classroom. I have seen children arrive and be despondent, head hung low, tears streaming down their faces because they are far too recent arrivals in a new place, a new land, with a new language, and new cold weather that seems to be adding insult to injury. I have witnessed these same children, miraculously, come running into the classroom to meet me, jovial, playful, delightfully rambunctious, at times content, verbal, expressive, smiling. Sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes a few days. To see them again just being children.

These children have traversed and overcome great odds just to be here. Alone, for that is truly what Unaccompanied means..these children have experienced much more in their 5-17 years than many of us will in a lifetime. Many are escaping violence, poverty, gangs, hoping for a better life, hoping to succeed and thrive, sent ahead by families desperately hoping they will do better without them, or by joining others who are already here in The States. And this is where we come in.

ASTEP. An art class. A reason to laugh, to create, to channel one’s anger, or to express one’s joy. I am always amazed at how respectful, and eventually willing to play the children are. I admire them when they advocate for themselves, when they tell me they feel uncomfortable dancing or acting, and ask to observe, ask not to be pushed, not yet. And when they do it anyway, awkwardly, laughing, getting out of their heads if only for an hour.

At times we explore deeper themes, such as the day I led an activity with poetry and music from our cultural backgrounds, where the children were encouraged to write poems of their own, many expressing their pride for their native lands, for their culture, how they carry their flag in their heart wherever they are. Other days I just want them to laugh; we play theatre games, we make weird sounds, we dance.

A couple of weeks ago, our Volunteer Teaching Artist taught a dance class, and one little girl, whom I will call Liana, who had recently turned 9, and is often a very vocal and helpful and expressive participant, sat in the corner with tears streaming down her face. She had danced the week before and this had not happened, but at times we can be triggered unexpectedly. As the Volunteer Teaching Artist continued her lesson, I went to Liana in the corner and asked her why she was crying. She told me her father had taught her to dance, and it made her sad to think of him. I said I understood, that I had also learned how to dance from a parent. I let her know that to dance we don’t always have to be happy, that I even dance when I am sad, that it helps me, to literally move through it, that it can help her feel better. I said if she wants to come back and join us, I will be waiting, but if not that’s ok too. She nodded while more tears splashed on her cheeks, and I went back to the group. 5 minutes later she walked back to the circle, I motioned to her to stand beside me. We danced together. We laughed, we smiled. She taught me some words in her native indigenous language, Mam. Promised me a vocabulary list, one I am constantly worried I will never receive, for she keeps forgetting, or perhaps won’t be here the next week to give it to me.

Another boy who taught me how to say “thank you”, in Mam, also from Guatemala, lit up as I attempted the pronunciation. Quiet, shy, hesitant, this was the same boy who the week before during our poetry and music exercise I mentioned above, showed me his work, a paragraph written in both Mam and then translated to Spanish. Telling me a little about his life. Because I had asked him to write, or draw, express something. This is the power of storytelling. And this is what we do, this is why I use the arts as a tool for empowerment, for social justice, to foster empathy, to build community. To give them a voice. To facilitate the space in which they may discover it for themselves.

 

Marcus Crawford Guy’s blog: from the classroom


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 #1:

ASTEP ON STAGE! – Why?
It has taken me two years of participating in ASTEP on STAGE! workshops around New York City to realize why the project has its name. Much more than being related to the many performing artists who help teach and facilitate these workshops, the name stems from the fact that these workshops happen live. Just as we do in the theatre – we have to respond in the moment and we have to keep the show moving. This serves as a guiding principal in all of our workshops around the city with students in shelters, in Alternative To Detention programs and non-traditional housing.

The fact that ASTEP on STAGE! happens live, and in the various contexts it does, means that the students often arrive in the classroom with no time to debunk or hit refresh and reset. This brings with it the challenge of hyperactivity (yay – kids!), anxiety and sometimes aggression (my teenage self can’t imagine going through that transition here in the chaos of New York) and all of the politics that come with these communities. With this in mind, the teaching artist entering these classrooms needs to be flexible, ready to improvise and needs to lesson plan with less linear thoughts and more a web of activities and plans of action should the class not come primed to work. This level of readiness means that the teaching artist can support the students through these challenging moments rather than being thrown and potentially presenting them with judgement.

The other important element of these workshops is that they have to find a conclusion. Just as in the theatre, we need to bring our students to a place where the lesson ends and a measurable achievement can be acknowledged. For so many of the students, this kind of affirmation just doesn’t exist in their day to day lives and we get to offer a sense of completion and a celebration of that – regardless of how tumultuous the journey was, or how the lesson veered from the google doc we all share and collaborate on before we arrive. The importance of offering the students something labeled with success cannot be valued highly enough. As small as the gesture may seem, it lifts the students up and we begin to break, what may be, patterns of negativity in their lives.

The ASTEP on STAGE! experience is a challenging, but rewarding, one to step into. No two classes are the same and the lesson often bears little resemblance to the plan, but I’ve never left the room without new knowledge. It’s a great venue for volunteers to get their feet wet before committing to longer term opportunities. So what are you waiting for? Come play, share and learn!

Email sami@asteponline.org to get involved in our ASTEP on STAGE! programming in New York City.

 

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