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.

In the shoes of a therapist for kids who have caused sexual harm

(For your information: the following stories contain potentially heavy or upsetting material. They are modifications and conglomerations of stories from nearly 200 kids and families throughout North Carolina. The identifying information and situations are fictional and could not be linked to our clients, past or present.)

Caleb, Stage II, Affect regulation and Attachment, Family

Caleb and his dad both report that they have never gotten along. Caleb’s older brother, Shawn, is currently incarcerated for selling drugs. Shawn coerced Caleb into watching pornography from the ages of 5 to 8 with him and would laugh when Caleb said he didn’t like the show or wanted to watch something else. Caleb was really close with his mother who died of cancer three years ago. A year after his mother’s death, he approached a classmate in the bathroom and touched him inappropriately. He has been in treatment for the last 5 months. Since Caleb’s offense, dad confided in you that he wants to be more involved in his son’s life. Caleb is currently living in foster care and he spends his time playing video games during home visits. Caleb’s dad does not want to stop Caleb from playing video games so there is little interaction during home visits. Family reunification is critical for treatment success and it is promising that Caleb’s dad is engaged in the treatment process.

Welcome to our bi-weekly TASK (Treatment Alternatives for Sexualized Kids) Program staff meeting where we discuss case files of our clients. TASK is a treatment model designed to meet the complex, heterogeneous needs of youth who have caused sexual harm. As the newest member of the team, you will be presenting background information for your 4 kids and current barriers you are experiencing in treatment. We will offer guiding questions to develop an action plan that could overcome the barrier. Your current clients are Matthew, Samantha,  Albert, and Rashawn. Go ahead and tell us about how treatment is going:

 

Matthew, Stage V, Risk mitigation, Affect regulation

Matthew, age 17, is in Stage V and has led conversation and offered honest responses to others during group therapy. His primary caregiver, grandma, is supportive and cooperative. She has mastered strategies on how to enforce boundaries for Matthew while still encouraging him. He wants to get a job but his grades are well below average and he is skipping class every few days, a violation of his safety plan. He told you a neighbor offered him a job mowing lawns. You would like him to be able to get a job but know that he has a pattern of starting projects and stopping halfway. You are excited about the overall progress throughout the past year of treatment and want to set him up for success as we approach his program graduation date.

Questions and action steps offered by the clinicians:

Review his safety plan and utilize motivational interviewing. Does he recognize any connection between skipping class and the rigor involved in maintaining a job? What are some of his big goals? What obstacles, like poor grades, might prevent him from reaching his goals?

Does grandma have influence in his life? Is she able to challenge him to attend school?

Has he established supportive friendships since starting treatment?

 

Samantha, Stage III, Conflict resolution and healthy sexuality, Family

Samantha is 13. She called last week during school and told you she felt like she was going to have a panic attack. You deescalated the situation by phone and she was able to function the rest of the day. During this week’s family meeting, you realize that adopted mom and dad are unaware that Samantha has struggled with anxiety. Instead, they are upset that she has not cleaned her room every day and washed the dishes like they had discussed.  They spend the first 20 minutes of the meeting describing everything Samantha has not done since your last meeting. Based on your conversations with adopted mom and dad from early on, they have tightened up their discipline and increased Samantha’s chores considerably. After 40 minutes have passed, mom announces that they caught Samantha with inappropriate pictures on her phone 2 weeks ago. Since then, they have checked Samantha’s phone every night before bed. Lastly, Samantha told them she might be interested in a boy in her class but mom and dad inform you that she is not allowed to talk to him anymore.

Questions to consider:

Have you had a conversation with mom and dad about their perspectives around healthy relationships and attitudes towards sex?

Can you provide mom and dad with specific suggestions about how to handle crises?

At the end of the meeting, inform mom, dad, and Samantha that you are going to work together to review Samantha’s safety plan in the next family meeting. Provide time for all 4 of you to contribute and ask questions. Ideally, a reviewed safety plan will address the insecurity and doubt felt by her adopted parents, provide age-appropriate autonomy to Samantha, and ensure she is progressing towards her stage goals without causing harm.

 

Albert, Stage II, Family, Affect Regulation

Albert lives with his aunt and uncle. He is in Stage II and this is your 3rd family meeting. From the beginning, aunt has requested he be moved to therapeutic foster care, unaware that some of Albert’s mood fluctuations are a result of the family system. Albert has been diagnosed with ADHD and has broken a few dishes and a chair since you started meeting with the family. The uncle drinks frequently and Albert’s outbursts coincide with alcohol related outbursts. Additionally, Albert has a history of abandonment and his parents are no longer involved in his life. During individual therapy, Albert admits he is often unable to control his anger and has had trouble sleeping recently. He has a few friends but no one he is close with. When you try to gauge whether the aunt and uncle have motivation to change, they impatiently bring up the idea of foster care.

Questions to consider:

Are there pro-social opportunities in which Alex can get involved? Would he consider joining a sports team or other intramural activity? How can he gain a sense of belonging outside of home?

Have you tried talking to the aunt and uncle about their lives apart from Alex? Showing interest in them could foster an engaged relationship that would allow them to feel more comfortable participating in the treatment process.

Could there another diagnosis besides ADHD? Could you screen for other signs of depression or bipolar?

 

Rashawn, Stage II, Crisis at school, Trauma

At school this week, Rashawn got angry during class and walked out. He was not cooperating with his teacher and the teacher grabbed him and tried to make him sit down. Rashawn responded by screaming and cursing and nearly punched the teacher. The school called you after Rashawn had calmed down a little bit and was sitting in the principal’s office. Rashawn was verbally and physically abused by an aunt from the age of 7 to 9. He has no other trauma history as far as you know.

Questions to consider:

Is the school and the teacher aware of Rashawn’s safety plan?

Have the teachers had trauma-informed training on how to handle crises?

Does Rashawn recognize when his emotions are escalating?

Does he feel comfortable or able to call you or another support person when his emotions start escalating?

 

After this meeting, you have time with Samantha and her family,  Matthew and his grandma, and with Rashawn, individually. Additionally, you have group tonight so after staffing, you get ready to hit the road to meet up with Samantha. You take a few minutes to make sure you and the other therapist are on the same page about the group agenda tonight. You are excited to hear updates from the kids. Looking forward to a full day!

Thank you for reading more about what the day to day is like for our TASK clinicians. The research projects are still underway. We are currently revising the project plan in order to incorporate more preliminary steps before a more rigorous investigation. The therapists, business team, data team, and countless others have become a cohesive, engaged working group as we bring together our questions, experiences, and expectations for this project!

Leaving my Mark on the Organization by Leaving their Mark in the Community

The Carolina Thread Trail is a planned regional network of greenways, trails and blueways that will ultimately connect 15 counties, 2 states and 2.3 million people. With the tagline of “Weaving Communities Together” the Thread Trail works to link people, places, cities, towns and attractions together. The Thread Trail preserves our natural areas and is a place for exploration of nature, culture, science and history. This is a landmark project that provides public and community benefits for everyone, in every community. It is creating a community and conservation legacy that will give so much, to so many, for so long.

In my first few months as a Davidson Impact Fellow for the Carolina Thread Trail, I haveCompleted stencil 7 oaks spent most of my time learning and listening. Although the Carolina Thread Trail is an organization based so close to the college with trail segments in the town of Davidson, I was not fully aware of the organization and its mission until I heard about it through the Davidson Impact Fellows program. Within my first days at the organization, it became apparent that I was not alone in my lack of familiarity with the Thread Trail. The Thread Trail is a relatively young organization, with its beginnings in 2007. For the first years of its existence, Thread Trail staff and advocates worked with communities to establish and adopt a planned route in each county. Now, seven years down the road, the thread has over 220 miles of completed trail segments spread out throughout its footprint and two “blueway” paddling routes along the South Fork and Rocky River. Despite these resources, the fear of the lack of familiarity with the organization in the community was a central theme in my conversations with my co-workers.

My one-year fellowship with the Thread Trail will focus on measuring the current level of community awareness and work on smallprojects designed to increase that level of awareness. One of my first projects involves signage and trails. Signs are expensive, but necessary to inform trail users they are on a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail. My task was to try to research alternative ways of marking trails in a more cost-effective manner.  The result of the work so far is a pavement stencil with the Thread Trail name and logo. This stencil could be used to mark many of our paved section of trails incommunities where other signage opportunities are limited. After testing paints, my co-worker and I were able to put the first stencil on the ground at one of the Thread’s signature trails, the Seven Oaks Trail in Gaston County. Although it is only some paint on the pavement, stenciling the Thread Trail’s logo has been a tangible way my work has contributed to the goals of the organization—and made a very literal mark on some of the local communities as well.

The Most Powerful Thing So Far…

By Cakey Worthington ’13photo[1]

It is crazy to think that I am already two months into my year as a fellow and two months into my first job. It’s big; it’s exciting; and it’s going by so fast. Through the generous funding of the Davidson Impact Fellows program, I am a research fellow at the Carolina Thread Trail under the organizational umbrella of the Catawba Lands Conservancy. I live a comfortable 20 minutes from Davidson in downtown Charlotte, a wonderful city many students never get to explore.

The Carolina Thread Trail is a non-profit trail project connecting communities through greenways, blueways, trails, and sidewalk-connector paths. The organization currently has over 120 miles of developed trail with many more adopted connector paths and will eventually develop into a 1,500 mile trail network across 15 counties in North and South Carolina.

My primary goal in this position is to determine the economic impact of the Carolina Thread Trail across the region, although I intend to work on a diversity of projects in the office with the Catawba Lands Conservancy as well. So far, I have innovated and will soon launch several survey studies with local business owners, trails users, and realtors, in order to begin to piece together the economic impact story. All of the people I have talked to in my short time here have been enthusiastic and energetic about this economic impact initiative.

I have met with government officials, non-profit leaders, and trail users and supporters throughout my eight weeks so far. It is in meeting all of these people that I have determined what the most powerful thing about this fellowship is. This “Davidson Impact Fellowship” is what its name implies; it is truly an impactful thing I am doing here. Right out of the starting gate, it was clear to me that everyone I talked to was excited and motivated by the work I would be doing. The economic impact story of these trails will become a tool for all of these people, a tool to fortify what to some is obvious: that trails are good for the community, the environment, and the economy. Trails and greenways are a triple-win; but in a time of reduced government spending, funding is harder to come by for continued development of this project.

I know how helpful my work will be, and that is my favorite part of this job. In many ways, it has been both intimidating and motivating. After the tremendous responses from all the people I’ve met, I felt a bit of pressure make sure my end products are truly useful. It is that realization that I may have a real impact that encourages me to work hard. When I think about what I want to accomplish, I remember that I only get one year to make it all happen. I’m already two months in and time is certainly flying. Luckily, I feel that I have a good handle on my vision for these projects and how to work within the year-long timeline. Additionally, I am given hearty encouragement and sound advice from my program mentors: my boss, Executive Director of the Catawba Lands Conservancy, Tom Okel, and the Davidson Alumni Director, Marya Howell. It is with the help of these sage guiding individuals that I have been so successful already.

As I delve into the heart of my work here, I hope to be thinking and acting deliberately so that each thing I do here, no matter how small, can contribute to the greater impact I have both on this organization and in the Thread Trail’s footprint as a whole.

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