Firing up the engines of imagination

Jasmeene Francois, a 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, shares this blog post about her 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.

ASTEP’s Team of Volunteer Teaching Artists model collaboration during their training sessions!

Magical Play Dough

By: Jasmeene Francois, 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

How time flies!!! It is almost time for graduation and students will be showing their newly gained storytelling skills they have worked on for the past 5 weeks. This is my first experience with RYSA and I co-teach Storytelling for Lower School with the awesome Aaron Rossini. Even though I have been teaching for a few years, I was nervous about the first day of RYSA. The information we gained during the training laid a strong foundation before we started, but would I remember everything? What if I forgot the lesson plan?

However, my teaching partner, ASTEP and IRC colleagues were always at the helm with support and encouragement.

The students brought so much energy and creativity to storytelling class every time. I was able to witness many students in Lower School 1, 2 and 3 come out of their shells. There was an activity that I did during my full time theatre teaching position called Magical Play Dough and I was able to introduce and implement it for the class warm-ups. There are multiple aims of this activity. It serves as a movement activity while firing up the engines of imagination. With the Lower School classes we created rockets ships to outer space and beyond, mystical (and real life) creatures, and cars and boats to take us to our dream destinations. Usually an activity I did with the youngest of my students, I loved the enthusiasm of the older students as they molded this imaginary piece of play dough into something they might use everyday.

As the last week of RYSA draws to a close, I am full of joy and gratitude for my students, teaching partner, and ASTEP and IRC team. Thank you to the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for the incredible opportunity to work with the wonderful and
creative students at RYSA.

 

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.

Thank you to our 2019 Summer Volunteer Teaching Artists!

We are so grateful for our team of Volunteer Teaching Artists, who work endlessly to bring transformative arts experiences to the children we serve. Thank you for making our programs possible this summer!

ASTEP on STAGE! (June 1-July 10):
– Marcus Crawford Guy
– Will Thomason
– Mariana Fresno
– Maria Kowalski
– Angela Joy Morgan
– Ali Dachis
– Susanna Stahlmann
– Tiffany Ramos
– Grace Canahuati
– Becky Baumwoll
– Gabby Serrano
– Esme Lytle

– Kaveh Haghtalab

Shanti Bhavan:
– Marcus Crawford Guy
– Rosco Spears
– Lindsay Roberts
– Morgan McGhee
– Emily Kindred
– Evangel McVicker
– Caity Gwin
– Austen Bohmer
– Stephanie Hyde
– Michael Lunder

RYSA:
– Marissa Palley Aron
– Brigid Transon
– Jordana Rubenstein-Edberg
– Tyrone Osborne-Brown
– Leila Mire
– Kretel Krah
– Tiffany Ramos
– Ruhi Radke
– Meg Smith
– Juanita Castro-Ochoa
– Aaron Rossini
– Jasmeene Francios
– Anna Falvey
– Catt Melendez
– Maya Sokolow
– Raymundo Gutierrez
– Rachel Keteyian

Arts-in-Action:
– Adriana Ochoa
– Kelly Burns

Arkansas Pilot Program:
– Nate Rothermel
– Susanna Stahlmann
– Morgan McGhee

artsINSIDEOUT:
– Yazmany Arboleda
– Thembile Tshuma
– Stella Boonshoft
– Ryan Kim
– Violet Mmbidi
– Stompie Selibe
– Victor Geraldo Colon
– Roelf Daling
– Will Macadams
– Mosoeu Ketlele
– Kedren Spencer
– Thapelo Keorapetse Pule
– Lizzi Gee
– Shawn Mothupi
– Thembeka Mavuso
– Dumisani Khanyi
– Elia Monte-Brown
– Lorraine Ketlele
– Alannah O’Hagan
– Danny Mefford

Volunteer Spotlight: Gabrielle DiBenedetto

This week, our volunteer spotlight is on Gabrielle DiBenedetto!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
The work at ASTEP combines three of my greatest passions – the arts, working with children, and helping others. I believe that performing opens so many doors for allowing children to express themselves and to learn the importance of collaboration, community, and creation.

How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP?
I just started volunteering with ASTEP in the summer of 2018!

What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP?
This past summer, I co-taught dance classes at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA). I have also participated in an open mic night at the Incarnation Children’s Center.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
My favorite memory from RYSA was graduation. Seeing how much the students came out of their shells, how much more confident they were, how their personalities shined onstage made me feel like their summer at RYSA had been truly transformative. Each one of the students truly transformed something in me. I was and am so proud of them!

Thank you, Gabrielle, for volunteering with ASTEP! We cannot do this work without you!

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy, click here.

For all Volunteer Inquiries, email ASTEP’S Manager of Programs, Sami Manfredi, at sami@asteponline.org

VOLUNTEER WITH US AT REFUGEE YOUTH SUMMER ACADEMY!

Come join us and be a part of the Refugee Youth Summer Academy – RYSA! Partnering with the International Rescue Committee, RYSA is a 6-week summer academy that welcomes youth seeking refuge in the US into their new lives in NYC. ASTEP Teaching Artists at RYSA offer classes in Storytelling, Music, Dance, Visual Arts, and Filmmaking. An ASTEP at RYSA classroom focuses on school readiness, English language skill building, and coping skills – all through the arts! Our classrooms embrace our unique differences and give students an outlet for self expression and fun, all while setting up a routine for them to be best prepared for an NYC public school setting in the Fall. Come join us and create a classroom catered to growth, acceptance, and endless possibilities! We use art as a tool to show students that they can be proud of who they are and thrive!  

APPLY NOW!

Tentative Dates: June 29th – August 16th

Application deadline: May 1st

Location: New York City

Who: You! All artists with a passion for making a difference!

People of color, LGBTQ+, those with disabilities, and anyone excited to work with us are strongly encouraged to apply.

Stipends available based on position and experience.

Email Sami Manfredi at sami@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!

Photo by Brielle Bonetti

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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.

Pablo Falbru’s blog: We Started From The Bottom Now We’re Here


Pablo Falbru, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about his experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 13 ASTEP Volunteer Artists lead the creative arts classes at the 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.


 

Blog Post #3

August 22, 2018

Week 6 | RYSA: We Started From The Bottom Now We’re Here

We’re in the home stretch of the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA). It has been quite an experience in all the good ways. As we gear up for graduation performances, the reality that my time with these amazing students is coming to an end starts to sink in. Seeing each class grow in confidence not only in the fundamentals of music, but in self-expression and vocabulary, has been an honor and a privilege.

The joy and excitement they have when they come into class reminds me of the power each of us has to impact someone’s life. My co-teacher Nick and I reflect on our classes at the end of each day and we are always blown away by how fast our students grasp the lessons. It inspires us to push ourselves in our own work outside of teaching. For me, it’s also a reminder that we have the capacity to grow and do more. And that we should set mindful intentions so that we can be the best version of ourselves.

One of the most heartwarming things that happened during the program was when a new
student was added to the class. There was always a “veteran” student that supported the new
kid. Helping them get their bearings, teaching them what they knew and just being there to
support them. It’s adorable to watch and witness unbiased kindness really does something to
ya. I have no doubt that it’s going to be an emotional final week. I’m proud to have been a part
of their lives and feel blessed to experience their love and gratitude. I learned a lot from them
and will keep the joy, wonder and kindness they emanate in my heart.

We could all learn something from the innocence of a child. Some of these kids have had
experiences that I couldn’t imagine having to go through. Yet, they are full of love, excitement
and understanding. If more adults had this mindset, the world would be a better place. So thank
you, students of RYSA. You have made me a better man. And thank you to the administrators
of the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for the opportunity to grow, give back and
honor Jennifer’s legacy.

Be loved, inspired and live your best life,

Pablo Falbru

Brigid Transon’s blog: The Adventure Continues


Brigid Transon, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about her experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 13 ASTEP Volunteer Artists lead the creative arts classes at the 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.


 

Blog Post #2:

August 22, 2018

RYSA: Week 4

Hello this is Brigid again. I cannot believe that RYSA is four weeks in! This summer has flown. Before RYSA I could not have imagined how fast this summer would go by.

This past week was one of my favorite days at RYSA. It was international food and fashion day, students brought in food from their home countries and wore traditional clothing. It was incredible to see all of the students feeling proud and walking across the stage.  Not only were the students proud, but the cheers ringing through the audience created an amazing culture of support.  After the fashion show I could not help but smile
for the rest of the classes that day!

More from RYSA since my last post includes incredible creativity seen through the dance class.  Each and every one of the 6 classes of students choreographed their own dances with various levels of support. For the youngest students we divided them into two groups and had them pull cards with movement on them. The students then got to make the card their own. For example, the card may have said jump, then I would ask the student what kind of jump we should do as well as how many. The oldest students started by working in small groups. Each group chose four movement cards and making a dance with these four movements. From there they added their own movement.  Once the groups were solid we combined groups, making the dance longer and longer!

I am extremely excited while simultaneously dreading the last weeks at RYSA. I cannot wait for the students to show off in the talent show and showcase their creativity and art during the graduation ceremony. I am dreading the ending because I will miss the students, the positive environment and my coworkers. There is an incredible feeling of family that exists at RYSA, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

 

Pablo Falbru’s blog: This Is How We Do It


Pablo Falbru, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about his experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 13 ASTEP Volunteer Artists lead the creative arts classes at the 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.


 

Blog Post #2:

August 22, 2018

Week 3 | RYSA: This Is How We Do It

Ahoy! Pablo here, feelin’ and doin’ and movin’ and groovin’. We are now halfway through the Refugee Youth Summer Academy and my oh my, how the time flies! Thinking back to how I felt after week one, when a day of classes felt like a three hour nonstop performance. There’s a noticeable difference in my energy, as well as the kids. I’m feeling conditioned for the back to back classes, while the students are feeling complacent and trying to test boundaries. But the good thing is, aside from typical kid outbursts, they are very respectful and comply when being called out on their behaviour. All in all, it seems like they enjoy being there. You can see it on their faces that they’re excited to come to class and participate. And I love that they are more comfortable expressing themselves and gaining confidence with the material.

I start every class with a few simple warm ups, i.e. face stretches and lip trills. In the beginning
of the program there were a few students who couldn’t really do the exercises. After
encouraging and modeling the exercises along with their peers and mentors, they started
getting better at it. It sounds like a small thing but some of the main goals of the program is to
promote confidence and a growth mindset. Giving them this small win at the start of class
makes them feel good and translates to more confidence throughout the lesson. That
confidence shows as more and more kids are raising their hands to ask and answer questions.
They are proud that they know what we are talking about in class. One of my favourite things is
after a weekend off from classes, they come in saying the music vocab terms from the week
before. It’s awesome that they remember these words and the definitions. Even if they don’t
remember parts of the terms, they try hard to figure it out, often using synonyms which I have to
give credit for.

As we jump into the second half, I’m excited to start working on our final performances. I’ve
been incorporating a small performance called “ImprompTunes” at the end of each class to get
them used to being in front of people. The goal of the activity is to create a song on the spot
using what we learned that day. So they pick the qualities of the song (i.e. Forte/Piano,
Presto/Largo, Legato/Staccato etc.) they pick the key and they suggest words that can be used
as lyrics. I lay down the foundation and they add onto it until we have something that resembles
a tune. It’s probably their favourite activity. Most are intrigued by the gear I have and a few just
like the opportunity to be in front of the class and all the attention. It’s a fun way to show them a
tangible example of the days lesson and review all of the ideas we’ve covered during the
program. We shall see how this all translates to the final performance! Until then…well, until my
next Blog Post, be well, be inspired and live your best life, namaste.

~Pablo Falbru