Volunteer Spotlight: Michael Lunder

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Michael Lunder!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
I volunteer with ASTEP because volunteer work has always been a very important part of my life and I love the ASTEP approach to supplying volunteers that can help serve all kinds of local missions in various locations.

Why is arts education important?
Arts education is so important because it inspires creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork, self expression, and shows people the power of stepping out of their comfort zone and embracing new experiences and challenges!

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
Picking a favorite memory is nearly impossible, but I think one major highlight of my Shanti Bhagwan experience was watching the graduating class trying to learn how to waltz. We got to watch them grow from awkward and uncomfortable teenagers that were stumbling over each other’s feet into these blossoming, confident, young adults that held their chins high ready for anything the world had in store for them!

How has art impacted/inspired you?
Art impacted me as a teenager by giving me an outlet to express all of the feelings I was too shy to speak up about to anybody. It inspires me everyday to chase impossible dreams and follow my heart in every day situations, and it keeps the passionate fire burning inside of me.

What do you hope your students gain from your time with them?
I would truly hope my students feel empowered to find passion and happiness, gain self acceptance and feel self-worth from their time with me.

What have you learned from your students?
Every day as a teacher reminds me to embrace imperfection. It also reminds me how powerful love and kindness are, and reminds me that there’s always room for fun.

Is there any advice you would like to share for new ASTEP Volunteers?
I don’t think I’m in a place to give any advice, but I guess I’d just say to leave your mind and your heart open and embrace every moment!

Thank you, Michael, for making magic happen in our programs!
We could not do this work without you!


Volunteer Spotlight: Stephanie Hyde

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Stephanie Hyde!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
I believe everyone deserves access to arts education. ASTEP brings arts education to underprivileged communities, and we, as a team, strive to teach kids how to express themselves through the arts. We give students a creative outlet, and we teach them that it is accessible 365 days a year, not just when ASTEP is present.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
Every single time we had even a moment of free time, I would have several students come up to me and say, “Miss Stephanie, can you please, please, please play your bassoon? *Air bassoon*” I love playing my bassoon, but there has been no performance that beats playing for the kids in the music room. Their enthusiasm was amazing. Practicing isn’t the same in the U.S. I miss my audience of amazing kids while I practice.

Why is arts education important?
Arts education teaches you more than facts and figures. The three C’s: collaboration, cooperation, communication are vital to the arts. The three C’s are naturally taught through doing, and they are never explicitly explained, but almost like a positive side effect to the arts. While the classes like math, English, science, etc. are important, the premise of these courses are rooted in facts, theorems, rules, and figures. While there is a technical side to the arts, it is rooted in expressionism.

How has art impacted/inspired you?
Most people within the arts communities just want to see their friends and colleagues succeed. I love being a part of a community full of kindness. There is no room in the world to bring people down, because bringing someone down does not make you any better. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing my friends and kids perform. It is so beautiful to see someone doing what they love, and it is amazing to be able to hear someone’s growth. I love being a part of a community where we love to see each other grow, progress, and succeed.

What do you hope your students gain from your time with them?
I want my students to know they should always, always perform. I firmly believe that music should be performed no matter what the level is. Music should not just be performed if it’s absolutely perfect. Music is beautiful at all stages of development and sharing your music is important. I also want my kids to know the emotional impact music can have. At the beginning of my time at SB, my kids thought the only way for music to have meaning was if the music had words. As a bassoonist, I knew that this was not true, and it was my job to collaborate with my co-teacher, Mr. Michael, to figure out how to lead the students to this conclusion on their own. By the end of camp, the students (!!) composed their own instrumental piece about what SB means to them. It was beautiful and amazing, and they made Mr. Michael and I SO proud.

What have you learned from your students?
First of all, I learned that I am terrible at riddles. The kids of SB are riddle masters. Every single student taught me something important and valuable. For every one thing I taught the students, they taught me five. Teaching and learning is an exchange, and as a teacher, you must be willing to adapt and be pushed out of your comfort zone. Going to SB, I had a huge fear of singing and playing piano in front of people. By the end of camp, I was singing in front of the class, and I was TEACHING piano lessons. The kids pushed me five miles outside of my comfort zone, and I loved every second of it.

Any advice to share for new ASTEP volunteers?
Do not go in with any expectations. Do not worry about not having anything planned beforehand. The kids will inspire you, and they will amaze you. Let your heart and your kids guide your work. (Also pack more snacks than just protein bars…I still can’t even look at one 5 months later).



Volunteer Spotlight: Leila Mire

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Leila Mire!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
ASTEP is one of those special places where arts education and children’s needs are put at the forefront. I volunteer with ASTEP because I love the children and the team. The currency exchanged is through endless smiles, laughter, and creativity.

Why is arts education important?
In my opinion, I have the most important job in the world. Arts education stands for everything that makes a person a contributing member of society. I don’t just teach dance. I teach creativity, acceptance, culture, and teamwork.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
My favorite memory from ASTEP was spending the summer in Elaine, Arkansas. The complete immersion of our team into the community allowed us to fully share ourselves with the culture in an organic, beautiful way.

How has art impacted/inspired you?
Art has shaped my life in every imaginable way possible. In literature, a bildungsroman, refers to a coming of age novel. A künstlerroman is a coming of age novel through the arts. I like to say that everyone has a bildungsroman. If you’re really lucky, you get to have a künstlerroman. I’m blessed to have a künstlerroman that has allowed me to learn, grow, and become who I am through the arts. Teaching allows me to share and contribute to other künstlerromans.

What do you hope your students gain from your time with them?
I hope students grow and become more creative, inspired, passionate people. I hope to ignite a fire in them that can’t be extinguished.

What have you learned from your students?
Smiles go a long way, fort night dances are here to stay, and creativity should never be kept at bay. 😉

Is there any advice you would like to share for new ASTEP Volunteers?
You’re never “just a teacher” or “just a performer.” That mindset is so limiting. The two inform one another. Learn everything. Be open. Give space and be ready for anything and everything to happen and if you’re lucky, it will.

Thank you, Leila, for making magic happen in our programs! We could not do this work without you!





Urgent Update: These people could be anywhere in your community!


BREAKING NEWS: In the past year, ASTEP was responsible for arts programming for almost 4,000 students around the world, taught by over 200 Volunteer Teaching Artists. As we approach 2020, help us spread this powerful influenza to more children than ever before.

Give to ASTEP today.



Warning: Arts education is spreading across the globe!


BREAKING NEWS: Over 4,000 students have been affected by ASTEP’s arts programming in the last year. This means that children are gaining the tools they need to shape their own futures.

We’ve caught the bug- help us spread it by donating today.


Breaking News: ASTEP responsible for rapid and widespread arts epidemic


BREAKING NEWS: In classrooms all around the world, a powerful epidemic is spreading rapidly at an unprecedented rate. ASTEP Volunteer Teaching Artists, staff, and supporters are single-handedly responsible for spreading the arts to almost 4,000 students just last year alone. Reporters embedded within ASTEP say they’re just getting started and won’t stop until every kid on the planet grows up with meaningful access to the arts. If ASTEP receives the support it’s looking for, there might come a day when no kid on the planet will be safe from the life-altering effects…of art.

We caught the bug, now help us spread it!
Donate to ASTEP



There’s a monster in there!

Aaron Rossini, a 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, shares this blog post about his experiences teaching through the ASTEP Arts at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 16 ASTEP Volunteer Teaching Artists are leading the creative arts classes at the International Rescue Committee’s 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.

The theme for RYSA 2019 is PRIDE!

RYSA’s Final Week

By: Aaron Rossini, 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

Heading into the final week of RYSA is, in all honesty, bittersweet. It’s sad to know that our time with the students is coming to an end, and it is inspiring to see how much they’ve grown in what seems like such a small amount of time. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and I am constantly wondering whether or not we could’ve done more. It’s a strange push and pull that teachers need to live inside; we need to meet the students where they are and hope to guide them a little past their comfort zones. We accomplished so much, and it feels like we can do so much more. There is always work to be done.

I want to share three moments that define this summer for me, and I hope can offer some insight into my experience to you:


“I want to be a better actor, so I can be a hero.” – Lower School 3
At the beginning of every class, we ask our students to set intentions or goals for the day. Miss Jasmeene or I might ask something like: “How do you want to grow today?” or “What do you want to achieve before the end of class today?”

On our third class, the Monday of our second week, we asked our students to shout out one goal they want to accomplish. This was met with a flurry of responses, some genuine, some goofy, and one in particular stood out to me. “Mr. Aaron, I want to learn to be a better actor, so I can be a hero,” said a girl in our Lower School 3 class. She went on to say that boys always get to be the superheroes, and she wanted to become a better actor, so she could be a superhero and save the world. To anyone wondering about the value of storytelling, this young woman offered us the case in point.


“Can I tell him in French, so he understands?” – Lower School 2
We often break the students up into smaller, more intimate groups to work on storytelling activities. On the Wednesday of week 3, we had the students break out into three groups of 5 or 6 to work on filling out some word sheets for their Mad-Libs.

Many of the students were super-charged-up at this chance to show off their vocabulary skills. Others were a little intimidated at the prospect of coming up with Verbs, Nouns, or Adjectives. One particular student, whose primary language is French, was very overwhelmed by the activity. When I engaged with him about the task, he shut down even more. This came as a surprise to me, since I had clocked him as able to understand most of my instructions in the previous classes. I looked up for some help, and there was one of his classmates and friends with a big smile on his face, “Mr. Aaron, can I tell him in French, so he understands? Then he will be able to do it in English.”

“Of course and thank you for the help!” Relieved and rescued by a 9-year-old, I saw this young man explain the entire activity– every last detail– in French, then translate it into English, patiently helping his classmate. I was so moved by this demonstration of empathy and patience, that I almost lost track of the fact that the first boy was now deeply engaged and enjoying the activity all thanks to his friend’s compassion and understanding.


“Mr. Aaron, you gotta make sure there isn’t a monster in there!” – Lower School 1
There’s a fun storytelling game called “Box on a Shelf” that involves a Silent pantomime where we pull a box off of a shelf, open it, and act out what’s inside. It can be an ice cream cone or a kitten or a rocket ship, anything the performer wants to make. Toward the end of class, the final day or Week 2, I performed a “Box on the Shelf” that had a monster in it. The monster chased me around the room, and I needed to solicit help from my fellow teachers to get it back in the box. Naturally, this was a huge hit, and all the students had tons of fun. Well, almost all of the students…

The following Monday, I started the day with another round of “Box on the Shelf”. As I reached up to pull a box off the shelf, one of the students screamed at the top of her lungs, “NO! MR. AARON THERE’S A MONSTER IN THERE!!!” I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at her, “Mr. Aaron, you gotta make sure there isn’t a monster in there!” What could I do? Well, I got the whole group to circle around the box and keep their eyes peeled and their monster-catching-hands ready. Fortunately, there wasn’t a monster in the box. This time there were popsicles, and we all had a treat!


This was my second time as a RYSA instructor, my first time as a Lead-Teacher, and my first time working exclusively with the Lower School students. I’m grateful for my time, my students, the IRC, ASTEP, my co-teachers, my peer mentors, my teammates, and for the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship. I hope this summer is a proper dedication to her memory, and I am honored to have shared in it.