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!

 

 

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!

 

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.

 

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.

 

Announcement: 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship Recipients for ASTEP on STAGE!

ASTEP is thrilled to announce that Rachel Kara Perez and Marcus Crawford Guy have been selected as recipients of the 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for their work with ASTEP on STAGE!

ASTEP on STAGE! introduces underserved youth in NYC to the power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. Because ASTEP believes that all young people should have access to the arts, regardless of their backgrounds, ASTEP on STAGE! partners with NYC organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS.

The Fellowship is a unique opportunity for individuals who closely model Jennifer’s values to introduce our students to new art forms and new artists. These Fellows will provide students with the chance to not only try new things, but to discover role models from all walks of life and to dream about a future full of opportunities.


RACHEL KARA PEREZ
I am incredibly moved and humbled. This fellowship is such a beautiful way to honor the memory of Jennifer and the causes she cared so much about, and I am so grateful to be afforded the opportunity to play my small part in continuing her legacy. The work we do is so important, and yes of course while fulfilling on a personal level, it is beautiful, hard, and NECESSARY: in building community, in fostering empathy, in working every day to create more justice and equity in our world, and through my greatest love and passion: the power of the ARTS. Muchísimas Gracias!
MARCUS CRAWFORD GUY
I’m thrilled to be the recipient of this fellowship! ASTEP on STAGE! programming contextualizes my life in New York City in a wonderful way and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have that work recognized and to do it with the spirit of Jennifer’s life and work in mind. It is a huge privilege to be in New York City pursuing a career as an actor, which is a lofty pursuit that I can often feel distant from. My interactions in the classroom offer much more immediate experiences and remind me of the important of work that asks others to communicate, engage and express themselves.

Rachel Kara and Marcus are inspiring examples of how the arts give our students the skills to learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty. We’re excited to share their journey through monthly blog posts so stay tuned!






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.






Announcement: 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship Recipients

ASTEP is thrilled to announce that Kelsey Lake and Marcus Guy have been selected as recipients of the 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship!

The Fellows will be joining a team of 17 ASTEP Teaching Artists, who will lead the creative arts classes at the six-week International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy, using the arts to build English language skills, school readiness, and 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 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenger Fellowship gives this unique opportunity to individuals who closely model Jennifer’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.


Human stories are ongoing, being picked up by one person where another leaves off. It is a great honor to carry on Jennifer’s enthusiasm & skill as a storyteller and use it to inspire a new generation of young voices. The baton passes on, and I commit to working with compassion, vitality and spirit in Jennifer’s name, as Kelsey and I interact with many young students this summer. Thank-you! – Marcus Crawford Guy, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow


I am truly honored and moved to help further Jennifer’s legacy through this generous fellowship and my work at RYSA this summer. I promise to appreciate each moment, dream big, and grasp every opportunity to bring the joy of creativity to my students. Thank you so, so much for your generosity and belief in ASTEP’s mission! – Kelsey Lake, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

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