Week 2: Storytelling: Rapid Transformation

By: Kelsey Lake, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

Last week, the newness of RYSA was a lot for everyone to take in! It definitely took some time for everyone to warm up to one another. Many students were shy, others stood out as natural leaders, and everybody was trying to learn so many new names!

As Week 2 comes to a close, I can confidently say that the students of RYSA have moved through that stage! They are boldly stepping into a new phase of more confident exploration and creative risk-taking in the classroom, and this thrilling new energy has led to some beautiful breakthroughs in Storytelling class.

One student’s rapid transformation sticks out clearly in my mind.

Last week, one boy (let’s call him M) came into class and did his very best to hide. He shrunk away from our silly warm ups; if he started raising his hand, he’d catch himself, his hand shooting back down again. Once, when he did speak up, his frustration with finding the English words to express his idea made him hide his head in his hands and back into the corner of the room. Marcus and I could see him following what was going on, and knew he had all sorts of thoughts and feelings about class, but we struggled to find an opportunity that could help him shine.

Then, this past Tuesday, something completely unexpected and delightful happened. Halfway through the class, it was time to “wake up” Sparkles and Spellzy, our puppet friends who have helped us learn so much about the power of imagination.

“How can we wake up and welcome Sparkles and Spellzy?” we asked.

M raised his hand! Marcus and I were thrilled to see he wanted to participate and quickly called on him.

And then, out of NOWHERE, M started to sing. He came up with a fun, short song to help wake Sparkles and Spellzy, belting it out confidently in front of the entire class. It was brilliant! We asked him to teach it to the rest of the class, and it became a fun new way to bring the puppets into the room.

Since then, M’s light has been shining so brightly. He offers creative ideas, gets up in front of his classmates to act out silly skits, and sticks it out when he struggles to find words for what’s going on in that creative mind of his!

Alongside M, we’ve seen many students take their scattered, incredibly high energies and focus them into leadership roles. Other students are taking their English language acquisition to the next level by volunteering to read our stories out loud with growing confidence! It’s incredible to see how quickly these students are learning to trust their own voices and imaginations; they all have such unique, riveting stories to tell, and I can’t wait to hear them.

 

Week 1: STORYTELLING: Fact not Fiction

By: Marcus Crawford Guy, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

It’s hard to believe that training and week one of teaching at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA) have already come and gone. Lots of information, data and procedures that were learned on paper and through presentation in the training sessions were put into practice, challenged and executed this week. It was so important to be reminded that we can only be trained based on what has happened in previous years and that only serves as guidance for the experience we are currently having. There is no standard way for a student to experience the programming at RYSA. It’s improvised and live and as an actor, I find it thrilling.

Most notably, I was taken aback at the extensive and complex English vocabulary that many of the lower school students demonstrated on the first day of class. It was an incredible gift to be met with students who not only had English language capabilities, but also felt (for the most part) uninhibited sharing them with the group. It was shocking in the best of ways, because Kelsey and I had buffered our lesson plan, almost scripting it, to ensure our use of language wouldn’t be confusing. We were met with lots of raised eyebrows, knowing smiles and nods of understanding that proved our students are ready for the next level of English language immersion, tutoring and acquisition.

In deciding how best to tell and share stories with the students, Kelsey and I decided that we wanted to distinguish between the real and abstract and teach these concepts with clarity. What is real, actual and based in fact — that chair is wooden — and what is fictional, abstract and imagined — there is a blue elephant dancing in the corner of the room. As trained actors, we decided to create two alter-egos, SPARKLES & SPELLSY who accompany us when we are telling stories and really challenge the students to see more than what they are – wooden spoons with pipe-cleaner arms and legs! In teaching our first class, where we learned to introduce ourselves and where we are from, we had a hearty laugh with Lower School 2 (the Flying Arrows!) when the following scene unfolded:

Marcus: Everyone say hi to Sparkles and Spellsy!
Students: Hi Sparkles and Spellsy!
Kelsey: Can anyone tell us where Sparkles and Spellsy are from?
Student A: They’re wooden spoons. They’re not from anywhere…
Marcus & Kelsey: … (exchanged looks – they’ve unraveled our elaborate plan already!)
Student B: I know where they’re from!
Kelsey: Where?
Student B: TOMATO SAUCE! They’re wooden spoons!

We then engaged the students in a dialogue about how it feels to be called the wrong name or incorrectly identified, which proved a useful hook for opening up the idea of imagination and investing in another reality, where we agree upon the circumstances presented to us. Their ability to grasp this idea quickly made it clear to see that our students are prepared to go on an exciting journey with us where they are not only playful, but curious and inquisitive – skills that will serve them well when they enter the school system later next month and that we want to encourage and cultivate.

Next week we will be continuing our exploration of THE SENSES and seeing how Sparkles and Spellsy — who are now so much more than their wooden spoon exteriors — hold up as the students learn more about how to tell stories by describing the world around them (real or imagined) with specific detail.






Guest Blogger: Rockstar Volunteer Rosco Spears, Visual Artist

roscoLast September, I had the opportunity to join the ASTEP team headed to Shanti Bhavan in India as a visual arts teacher during a two week arts camp. Those weeks on the ground changed my life! I had no idea that it was even possible to fall in love with so many different souls in just a week. I also didn’t go into teaching at SB thinking that I would learn so much from my students. They taught me how to be joyful, grateful, considerate, open, innovative and so much more.

The students were so driven, well-behaved, and willing to try new things. These students are a part of a completely different culture than mine, but they had the biggest hearts and were some of the coolest kids I’ve ever hung out with. This was my first time visiting India, and the staff and students of SB made me feel right at home.

Aside from working with the brilliant students of SB and their kind staff, I learned so much from my co-teachers and volunteers that lead the program with me. We participated in a plethora of different team building exercises including meditation, group lesson planning, photo challenges, writing exercises, and more that enhanced my teaching and leadership skills a great deal. Spending time at SB has made me a better teacher, a better mentor, a better team-player and a better student.

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If there are any artists looking to impact a beautiful group of students while learning just as much as you are teaching, SB is a haven of peace that will love you as much as you will love it.

Rosco was part of ASTEP’s Fall Arts Camp at Shanti Bhavan in September 2016.

** Email Aaron Rossini at aaron@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more about the volunteer experience.




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








What’s been going on at our arts program in the Bronx?

ASTEP Volunteer Artist Lucie Baker, Adam Miller, and Kyle Netzeband spent the fall and spring semester leading after-school arts programming at Claremont International High School in the Bronx — visual art, dance, and drumming classes. Since the majority of the students are English Language Learners, the focus of our classes is to engage the students in language development through creative expressions as well as build their self-confidence and critical thinking skills.

This video shares the final project for the visual art class — screen-printing! Check it out!










Creating a safe space for refugee youth in NYC

 

All of the ASTEP programs I’ve worked for are truly remarkable, but the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA) holds a special place in my heart. Each summer, ASTEP volunteer artists partner with the International Rescue Committee and a team of New York City teachers to create a unique summer-school experience for recently-arrived refugee youth.

The goal on paper is clear and direct: strengthen language-skills and self-confidence, and prepare these youth for schooling in the United States. On the ground, however, things are far less cut-and-dry, and far more surprising and wonderful.

With refugees and asylees representing dozens of countries around the world, the teachers end up learning about as much as the students! A group of Nepalese boys performed traditional songs for us from Nepal, a young man from Sierra Leone gave me a chilling history of the diamond trade that no Hollywood film could ever match, and I was taught to count to ten in Japanese.

In return, these students learned about painters like Monet and Rothko and the movements in art they represented, they were introduced to break-dancing and Judo, and they created original poems and dances that told of their journies to the U.S., the challenges they were facing here, or simply the joy they felt at being able to work together and create. And, yes, English skills were improved – through telling stories in Drama class, learning lyrics in Music or simply via casual conversations out in the hallway.

But, it struck me one day as I watched an older boy from Guinea help a younger Tibetan girl with her still-life painting in Art class—that what we do at RYSA goes beyond preparing students for school. We create a safe space that, after six weeks, these students come to think of as home. That sense of belonging, I think, for kids who’ve only just gotten to this country, is truly a gift of immeasurable value.

– Alejandro Rodriguez, ASTEP Volunteer Artist

 

+ Visit Get Involved to learn about becoming an ASTEP Volunteer Artist!

 

Second year partnering with The Kennedy Center!

ASTEP is thrilled to partner for a second year with the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), a national theater program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide, to enhance the quality of college theater in the United States. ASTEP will be leading two workshops, “Artist as Citizen” and “Devising with ASTEP”, and joining a prestigious panel of judges for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. (Check out our 2012 experience!)

Artist as Citizen

Do you believe in the power of Art to transform communities? This interactive workshop will focus on how we can delve beyond our technical training to harness our collective power and begin to build a space where everyone’s stories can be heard. Together, we will explore how we can use our craft as a means of ensuring the strength of our communities, our culture, and the future of the American theater. Come and reclaim ownership of your own artistic fulfillment.

Devising with ASTEP

ASTEP artists live at the intersection of the Arts and Global Justice. In this workshop, we’ll be building original pieces of Devised Theater using ASTEP’s unique process-oriented approach. Drawing from your own personal experiences and ideas, a few inspiring prompts, and techniques for devising that an ASTEP facilitator will guide you through, participants will create pieces around a common theme.

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We’re mid-way through the festival! Sharing updates from each of the eight regions visited so far are returning ASTEP team members:


Abby Gerdts, ASTEP’s Director of International Programs

* Saginaw Valley State University – Region 3 highlights

* American River College – Region 7 highlights

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Mauricio Salgado, ASTEP’s Director of Domestic Programs

* University of Nebraska-Lincoln – Region 5 highlights

* Cape Cod Community College – Region 1 highlights

* Los Angeles Theater Center – Region 8 highlights

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Nick Dalton, ASTEP Volunteer

* Towson University – Region 2 highlights

* Darton College – Region 4 highlights

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Alejandro Rodriguez, an ASTEP Volunteer Artist

* Centenary College of Louisiana – Region 6 highlights

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Crafting their story: creative arts with refugee youth in NYC

ASTEP Volunteer Artists Tajh Rust and Enora Paugam walk us through their class art project with our refugee youth students at Brooklyn International High School. The students worked on creating books about themselves and used prompts such as “I come from…” or “When I was a child…” or “Some day I will…”. The notion of Identity was explored throughout the semester.

Each day, the students had an opportunity to write in their books and were given specific material to use to illustrate their story. Watch the video for a complete look!

ASTEP believes that the adjustment period after a refugee or immigrant child’s arrival to the U.S. is critical to his or her successful adaptation to school and their new community. We use the arts to break down the barriers they face and strengthen the abilities they require to create a new life for themselves in their new home. In addition, our Volunteer Artists serve as trusted adult role models, mentors, and educators who guide refugee and immigrant youth in making healthy decisions about their futures.

+ Learn more about our arts program for refugee youth in NYC.

+ Interested in volunteering? Visit our Get Involved page today!








Saturdays filled with creative arts


ASTEP Volunteer Artists Susanna Brock, Dani Lencioni, and Gladys Pasapera talk about the projects their students worked on during the Saturday Learning Series, a combination of visual art classes for children who participate in the IRC Refugee Youth Program (RYP). ASTEP has been providing arts classes through RYP for over three years and has loved watching the students and volunteers grow together.










Kennedy Center scholarship recipients reflect on their ASTEP experience

This year, The Kennedy Center and ASTEP awarded two (2) scholarships at the Kennedy Center American College Theater National Festival for students to participate, fully-funded, in one of ASTEP’s programs in the U.S. and around the world. This year’s recipients were playwright Louisa Hill and actor, Michael Pfeiffer. Check out their updates: 

 

Louisa is currently volunteering in our program in Quito, Ecuador through partner organization, Project CREO, where we provide in-school and after-school art programs for at-risk youth living in the Central Historic District of Quito.

“Greetings from Quito! I’m writing to extend an enormous thank you…for the grant to work with Artists Striving to End Poverty. I arrived in Quito several weeks ago to work with CREO Arte, an organization that seeks to inspire and empower kids through artistic expression. I’ve been honored to be a witness to the important work CREO Arte is doing and to make global connections with so many others who see the importance of art education. I hope that this is the start of many other collaborations with them and with ASTEP.

Thank you for recognizing the important work that ASTEP is doing and for offering me the chance to join them. I’m immensely grateful for this opportunity.”

 


Michael
volunteered this summer in our Art-in-Action summer camp in south Florida, through partner organization, enFAMILIA, where we provide a six-week arts summer camp for immigrant and migrant youth.

“Volunteering with ASTEP and Art-in-Action this summer truly was life changing for me. ASTEP prepares you to ‘learn as much as you have to give,’ and I feel as though I learned a lot more than what I gave to the youth we worked with. … Many of the kids I worked with had amazing and troubling journeys, and Art-in-Action gave them a chance to dance, sing, act, and paint out their stories. It became a way of expressing and bonding in a very safe and nurturing environment. You as the volunteer artist become a vehicle for all of the youth to play, discover, and grow through the arts.

I would recommend any passionate artist, no matter what your discipline, take the time to experience what ASTEP has to offer. It sincerely is one of the most challenging and gratifying experiences of a lifetime.”

 

 

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