Light Bulb Moments: Impact and Expansion in Early Arts Learning

Have you ever heard an autistic, mute, 4-year old speak for the very first time? Neither have I, but our Wolf Trap Teaching Artists frequently work these miracles in Pre-K classrooms. So what’s the secret? How do these light bulb moments happen for children of diverse backgrounds? The answer is simple: arts-infused learning.

Let me first explain the wonders of Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts. The Arts & Science Council is a state affiliate that administers a program developed by the “mothership” up in Vienna, Virginia. The program places professional teaching artists in partnership with classroom teachers in Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms for 7-week arts residencies. The professional development program gives these classroom teachers performing arts skills that help to ignite creativity in their students and spark an interest in learning – the fun way.

I’ve had the great pleasure of witnessing the joy, smiles, and authentic excitement for learning that this program awakens within Pre-K students. A typical classroom in CMS can include many non-English speaking students, students with a range of learning disabilities, and students that are living at or below the poverty line. Wolf Trap uses the arts to create a more equitable learning environment for these students.

This program is not a flouncy add-on to what teachers must accomplish in a school year. No, Wolf Trap uses the arts as a vehicle to enhance the literacy, math, or science learning that’s already taking place. Take, for example, a math residency in music. Did you know that a young person’s memory span can only handle seven items of information at a time? Defying these limitations, music works to string together three or four times the amount of information by using a melody that is much more easily recalled. In the case of a Pre-K math lesson, students learn songs about shapes that are easily recalled because the information is attached to a catchy tune.

North Carolina Wolf Trap is rapidly expanding and bringing more educational equity to students and schools across the state. What once was a one-county residency program ten years ago now has the capacity to offer over 85 residencies in five counties. The ESL (English as a Second Language) and LSES (Low Socioeconomic Status) students in classrooms with Wolf Trap now have a more equal opportunity to be successful in school due to the solid foundations Wolf Trap lessons provide. These arts residencies allow more students to read on reading level by the time they get to third grade.

Did you know that the number of newly constructed prison cells each year is based on the number of students that cannot read in third grade? Let that ruminate in your brain for a moment….

I feel exceptionally lucky to work at a place like ASC that prioritizes programs that move the dial on important issues in our education system.

Nature Matters… and Advocacy Does Too

My time at the Arts & Science Council (ASC) has been spent doing things I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do in a professional setting. So far these things have included hiking, promoting a documentary, observing teaching artists in Pre-K classrooms, managing a professional web designer, event planning, and learning how to code. These four months on the job have been a whirlwind of excitement and growth. To state it simply, I’m feeling an immense amount of gratitude for these diverse experiences and the DIF program overall.

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The DIF position at ASC is situated in the Education Department. Our team of seven is split between two locations due to our offsite, out-of-school program called Studio 345 which offers free classes for high school students in music, screen printing, mixed media, photography, and film. It takes everything in my power to stay away from that place (read: you can find me there most afternoons). During the summer, Studio 345 offers the Journeys Program which is also free to students but relies on an application process to select its participants.

I was fortunate enough to participate in this program as a mentor to fifteen deserving, creative, extraordinary high school students from Charlotte. Our local hikes to Crowders Mountain, the RibbonWalk Nature Preserve, kayaking on the Catawba River, and a weekend spent at Appalachian State University prepared the students for a week spent at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. There, the students were immersed in outdoor education sessions where they tested water quality, practiced orienteering, participated in a University of Tennessee citizen science research initiative on Salamanders, spoke with Park Rangers, all while developing a newfound relationship with the outdoors. The lack of cell service forced students to turn to alternate sources of entertainment. Most nights I found the whole group playing a rowdy game of Uno or singing loudly, accompanied by our resident troubadour Ukulele player.

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Over the course of one summer spent in nature, these teenagers transformed. I saw it with my own eyes. From a lifestyle devoid of walking and with much of their time spent buried in their phones, these young city people have now experienced the wonder of a quiet forest and the serenity of a mountain stream. Many of them now hope to attend Appalachian State University after having spent time in a college dorm room. Most of them have created art inspired by these trips that they’ve shared with family and the greater community. Most notably, one of our students wrote her college application essay about the things she experienced while on the Journeys Program this summer. Here is a quote from her essay:

“[Over the summer] I learned that I desire to be an outdoor educator just like ones we met at Tremont. I learned that I want to take others out into nature and give them the experiences that the wonderful Tremont staff gave to us. Before entering Studio 345, I had no idea that my life would take a completely different turn. I transformed from a misplaced person to a focused individual in a single summer. This is all thanks to the summer I spent with the Studio 345 Journeys Program.”

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Last year’s Journeys Program spent their culminating week at Yellowstone National Park and took a film crew along. The students’ transformative experiences are documented in ASC’s second advocacy documentary entitled Nature Matters. I was proud to organize the film’s premiere just two weeks ago where it was viewed by a sold-out crowd. I’d encourage everyone to attend an upcoming screening in order to witness the benefits of exposing a nature-deficient generation to the wonder of the great outdoors. For more information and to see the trailer, visit NatureMattersFilm.com.

How Do We Achieve "Culture For All?"

The Arts & Science Council’s (ASC) mission is “ensuring access to an excellent, relevant, and sustainable cultural community for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Region.” In this role, ASC strives to ensure that the cultural community is truly open to everyone, and not just a select few. Recently, ASC has adopted the tagline “Culture For All,” a clear indicator of the kind of future we hope to create for our community.

But, how can we accomplish this? How can we make culture accessible to people who lack the resources to seek out and participate in cultural events?

While this is a big challenge, my work at ASC has taught me that an important first step to guaranteeing a future of “Culture For All” is removing the barriers that stand in the way of being able to participate in the cultural sector. When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance, recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts, found that the three most commonly cited reasons for not attending arts events were:

1)    a lack of time

2)    the high costs of attending cultural events

3)    difficulty getting to the event’s location

According to the study, these barriers not only discourage people from attending cultural events, but actively prevent people who would otherwise be interested in attending. This means that cultural events are often inaccessible because of a lack of resources. In order to create a world where culture is truly available to all, we must first address these and other practical barriers that exclude a significant portion of the population.

As a member of the ASC Education team, I have gotten to witness firsthand the ways in which ASC strives to remove these barriers for the students of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Region. For example, Studio 345, an out-of-school time youth development program for high school students, removes the two biggest barriers to participation for its student: cost and transportation. The program operates completely free of cost for the youth and all necessary equipment is provided for each student to use for the trimester. Additionally, each high school student is provided with a free round-trip bus pass that they can use to travel to the studio and back home. Because of this, Studio 345 is able to provide its services to students who would have otherwise been excluded due to cost or lack of transportation.

Another way that ASC Education works to overcome barriers is by bringing high quality cultural experiences to students in schools throughout the region. For example, North Carolina Wolf Trap places trained teaching artists in Pre-K classrooms across Charlotte-Mecklenburg for residencies that use arts strategies to teach academic and developmental concepts. Through this program, young children are being exposed to the arts as part of their normal school day. This and other in-school time programs provide excellent opportunities to remove the barriers that might prevent students from having cultural experiences in their free time, guaranteeing access to the kind of vibrant cultural experiences that ASC strives to provide for the entire community.

In it’s effort to ensure that everyone has access to a vibrant cultural community, ASC works to remove some of the barriers that discourage participation in cultural events. My work with the ASC Education team has provided an up-close look at the ways that students throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg have benefitted from cultural experiences that they otherwise may not have been able to participate in because of a lack of time, money, or reliable transportation. These steps help ensure that the arts, science, history, and heritage can be a part of everyone’s life whether or not they have the means to easily access them and help move us toward an ideal future of “Culture For All.”

Musings from the Mountain

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During my time at ASC, I have had the opportunity to attend two retreats with my team. Initially, I was very apprehensive about this experience and the thought of spending three days on top of a mountain with zero cell service and zero personal space.  Nonetheless, I packed up my car, and my work, and prepared myself for a few days of intensive analysis of our intersession camp at Wildacres. Although I returned home exhausted, I found that there was a major benefit to spending some time away from the office. Here are some of my reflections on the experience:

1.) In the modern workplace, technological tools have advanced our ability to organize, communicate and work. And while this technology serves to make us more efficient workers, many times the constant bombardment of email requests, calendar reminders and text messages can stall productivity. At Wildacres, wifi and cell phone service (not to mention LTE) is virtually non-existent. Knowing this from our Fall retreat, I chose to unplug completely and turn my cellphone off for the duration of our time. This decision certainly increased my professional productivity, but more importantly, I found this break from likes, swipes, and push notifications to be highly refreshing. NOTE: If you choose to do this, be sure to text your mom & let her know that you made it to the top of the mountain safely first.

2.) Do not underestimate the importance of socializing with your team. Although I was admittedly anxious about sharing breakfast with my coworkers before at least two cups of coffee, I think the informal moments on our retreat were very beneficial to our team dynamic and rapport.

3.) The Arts & Science Council works to build appreciation, participation and support for the arts, sciences, history and heritage throughout Charlotte, with the hope of creating a vibrant cultural life for all. I have found that ASC is equally invested in fulfilling this mission and cultivating creativity within our workplace. On our fall retreat, I got to spend time in the lapidary studio cutting rocks. In the spring, we did evening multi-media and paint projects. In my opinion, opportunities to play and create help us become innovative leaders and creative problem solvers.

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The Importance of Early Education

Standards and Guidelines

Nationwide, less than one-third of 4-year-olds participate in preschool programs (US Department of Education, 2014). Compare this figure to global statistics, and the United States ranks 25th in the world in early learning enrollment (US Department of Education, 2014). Even more staggering is the reality that of this fraction of American students receiving a preschool education, the majority come from an economically advantaged background. According to a 2014 report from Child Care Aware of America, “the average annual cost of enrolling an infant in a center-based daycare program is more than a year’s worth of tuition and fees at a public college in that state” (Time Magazine, 2014). In the Northeast for example, preschool can run up to $22,513 a year. While costs are variable depending on location, and program quality, these exorbitant tuition fees make programs inaccessible to many young learners and their families.

Yet, research shows that early education is critical to a students’ success.  High quality early education provides the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Early education has been linked with lifelong positive cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes. Furthermore, the Perry Preschool Project conducted a longitudinal study of at-risk students. They compared a group of students receiving a high quality preschool education with a control group that did not. Forty years later, their research revealed that those students receiving a preschool education had higher earnings, longer employment, were less likely to commit a crime, and were more likely to receive a high school diploma (The HighScope Perry Preschool Study, 2005).  President Obama validated these and other findings, pledging to commit to early childhood education during his tenure, “If we make high-quality preschool available to every child, not only will we give our kids a safe place to learn and grow while their parents go to work; we’ll give them the start that they need to succeed in school, and earn higher wages, and form more stable families of their own. By the end of this decade, let’s enroll 6 million children in high-quality preschool. That is an achievable goal that we know will make our workforce stronger.” Earlier this month, President Obama made fiscal progress on this goal announcing a $1 billion investment in preschool education.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is not one of the 18 beneficiary states of this funding. Nonetheless, high quality preschool programs are active across our state. I have recently taken on more responsibility with ASC’s affiliate North Carolina Wolf Trap program, a regional branch of the nationally acclaimed Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts Program. Through a partnership with CharlotteMecklenburgSchools and the Wolf Trap Institute, North Carolina Wolf Trap brings the performing arts into the Bright Beginnings Pre-K program for seven-week residencies with a cadre of local teaching artists. By integrating common core standards and CMS’ literacy curriculum with performing arts, Wolf Trap provides both students and classroom teachers with an engaging and enriching experience. Active in Charlotte since 2006, this program illustrates the power and necessity of the arts in early education.

While North Carolina did not receive funding in this recent federal allocation, it is imperative that we continue investing in early childhood education programs, such as North Carolina Wolf Trap. Every child has exceptional potential – an investment in their education is an investment in our future.

Studio 345 Students Celebrate Park Journeys Trip

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On November 18, 2014, Studio 345 students, parents and staff convened to celebrate the Studio’s partnership with Park Journeys, Inc. Park Journeys, Inc. is a youth development organization which seeks to educate, energize and empower urban and rural youth. Last summer, ten Studio 345 youth were selected to participate in a 16-week program which integrated exploration, wellness and civic engagement into a transformative journey. The three-piece journey began locally in Charlotte, when participants were charged with addressing a community-based need – youth homelessness. Participants made three trips to The Relatives – the only local organization focused on providing homeless youth with shelter and support services. The Studio 345 students worked together with Relatives’ clients to plant shrubbery and trees, and paint a “Safe Place” mural. As the culmination of this civic engagement component, the group selected Justin Ratchford to travel to Washington, DC to advocate for the issue at a higher level. As the group’s delegate, he sought to find national support and solutions for youth homelessness in his local community. The final component of the program was the

1966773_10152486135066027_7005002464604114988_ngroup’s trip to Yellowstone National Park. The students were challenged physically and socially throughout the trip, as they embarked on strenuous hikes and participated in many team-building activities. Chaperone Emily Pfahl reflected, “The students worked together, worked through their differences and grew throughout the trip – they emerged more confident and ready to take on foreign places.” Tuesday’s celebration included reflections from students, a rap performance inspired by the trip, a video slideshow and gallery exhibit of student photography. The festivities ended on an exciting note with a grant announcement that will make this trip possible for m ore Studio 345 scholars.

 

Spiral Bound

Spiral Bound Key PremiereBefore starting my fellowship, I spent much of the summer wondering what exactly I would be doing as the “Cultural Education Special Projects Fellow” at ASC. Sure, my job description provided a glimpse of my daily responsibilities – “supports the ASC education team by providing logistical and managerial support in the area of special projects” … “manages ASC advocacy strategy relevant to special projects” … “creates data representation associated with special projects” – yet the vague language of job descriptions provided little detail of the nature of these “special projects.”

Needless to say, I was relieved when one of my first “special project” assignments gave me the opportunity to collaborate with Davidson to plan a campus screening of our arts advocacy documentary Spiral Bound: Living & Learning through the Arts.

Last summer, my boss Dr. Barbara Ann Temple, ASC Vice President of Education, partnered with Davidson to serve as an internship site for an Education Scholar.  The Davidson Education Scholars program aims to drive change at every level of our education system through the integration of workshops and immersive internships.  Barbara Ann was inspired by the program’s mission, and immediately saw an opportunity for a point of connection between these scholars and high school students from ASC’s arts-based youth development program, Studio 345. Over the course of the summer, these two cohorts examined our educational climate through intensive dialogue, team building and a trip to Washington D.C. Spiral Bound captures their experience, and throughout the film we see the Studio 345 and Davidson College students become education activists and emerging artists. While this summer program serves as the impetus behind the film’s narrative, Spiral Bound’s reveals the importance of equity, access and opportunity in public and higher education on a national level.

Planning the campus Spiral Bound screening was a wonderful first special project. I got to collaborate with a variety of campus offices and was excited to see the reaction of the Davidson community. In addition to providing me with an abundance of interesting projects, Spiral Bound served as an excellent orientation to the impact the Arts & Science Council is making in the Charlotte community and beyond.

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Transitioning to Impact

 

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Spring 2014: I am a second semester senior, on the brink of graduation, yet I still have no idea what direction I want my life to take. I am a psychology major with no intention of becoming a clinical psychologist and though I have deeply immersed myself in many extracurricular activities, none of them point me towards a particular career path. Nonetheless, after a fall full of career services appointments, information sessions and interviews, one fundamental criterion emerged from my job search: I am longing to have a sense of purpose in my post-grad life.

In fact, I am searching for this sense of purpose that permeates every aspect of campus life – from the orientation service walk to classes designed around civic engagement – Davidson fosters a connection between students and the surrounding community. While President Quillen has succeeded in coining this experience (“Transition to Impact”); this phrase simply encapsulates Davidson’s longtime commitment to preparing students for impact. The Davidson College Statement of Purpose asserts, “The primary purpose of Davidson College is to assist students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service” – i.e. “transition to impact.”

Fall 2014: I have just started my Davidson Impact Fellowship at the Arts & Science Council (ASC). On my first day, I saw “Transition to Impact” programming in action, as Davidson Education Scholar Scott Cunningham ’16 provided me with a comprehensive overview of the importance of out-of-school time programming – a topic that will become a major focus of my own work here at ASC. During my year-long fellowship at ASC, I will be working on special projects on the Education team. While I do not know what the next year will bring, I am very excited to be a part of this program, and I am looking forward to sharing my experiences on this blog!

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