Beautifying Plummer Elementary School

This past Saturday was DCPS Beautification Day and a team of us from YPT (I, our Program Manager, our board chair and vice-chair, one of our actors and one of our teaching artists) descended on Plummer Elementary School in Ward 7, at 8:00am, to help out. We didn’t know what to expect and hoped we’d be useful.

Boy, were we useful. It ended up being a really fun and full day. When we arrived we were met by Andrea from Kaplan, a company supplying classrooms with all kinds of materials, from bookshelves to dramatic play puppets. There was entire truck to be unloaded and brought into four different classrooms (after the furniture in each had been rearranged). We divided and conquered, with three of us helping to unload while the rest unpacked and sorted the classrooms with the help of a few teachers.

The supplies were amazing and abundant – and so much of it (play sand, doll houses, toy trains, art supplies) made all of us want to run right back to pre-K and play again. It felt great to be directly helping the teachers and students get ready for the opening of school – and to have an activity that brought our staff, teaching artists, actors and board members together to serve the community in a different way and get to know each other better.

After a few hours we had the classrooms ready for the teachers to finish setting up – with less than 48 hours until students arrive. Then we moved on to beautifying the outside – we weeded, planted flowers and mulched the entire front of Plummer, hopefully brightening students’ nervous first few days of school and helping them to see how much we all care. We grabbed t-shirts (provided by Target, apparently) and took some photos you can see here. By two o’clock we were done, thanked profusely by Principal Gray and his staff at Plummer and bidding farewell until we start our In-School Playwriting Program again with the 5th graders in a few weeks.

We’d all been dreaming of lunch for a few hours, so we ran down to Denny’s on Benning Road (one of the only sit down restaurants in my neighborhood of Ward 7) and dared each other to order the Grand Slam. We laughed and talked a lot over lunch and reflected on how much the teachers and school still had to accomplish to get ready for Monday’s opening. And also how great it is that DC students will start this year with so many great resources at their fingertips. It was an exhausting and exhilarating day – we hope to do more soon.

David
Producing Artistic Director and CEO

Nicole Reflects on Summer at YPT

Summer is kind of a weird time for YPT. School’s out, but we’re still here. There’s stuff going on – the Woodlawn project, a great program with Horizons at Maret, our collaboration with Fannie Mae’s Help the Homeless Program – but it’s not nearly as busy as it will be again in September. During the summer, there’s a lot of time to think. Patrick Torres (our Associate Artistic Director) and I are spending a lot of time thinking together about the YPT curricula. Every summer we create a mountain of work for ourselves by refusing to rest until this program is perfect, and refusing to settle for good enough.

Fortunately we have help. We have a lot of vehicles for getting feedback. While school is in session, teaching artists send me workshop reports every week. They let me know what went well and what went wrong. Then we have an official post mortem where we talk through everything, workshop by workshop. We also pass out surveys to the students to find out what they think of YPT’s program. (New and improved student survey: in the works!) Teachers evaluate us too. My job as Program Manager is to synthesize all of this information so we can refine what we do, based on what everyone wants.

It’s exciting. The luxury of time means the luxury to dream. We question everything we think we know. We see the big picture and identify priorities. One of the coolest things we’ve come up with as a goal is that students will have more fun this year. Because writing is fun! Expressing yourself is fun! Being creative is fun! And fun is important. I believe we should be fostering a love of learning in our students. In 20 years, it’s less important that they remember the difference between a monologue and a dialogue, and more important that they remember how awesome it was when they heard their play read by professional actors.

So if any of our future students are reading, you should know that we’re going to plan the heck out of this curriculum. I won’t rest until you are having fun.

Nicole
Program Manager

YPT Summer Plays Are Heating Up!

This summer, YPT has once again joined the Horizons Program at the Maret School. The Horizons program helps students prepare for the next school year by challenging the students academically, and inspiring a love of learning. YPT works specifically with students about to enter the 6th grade, which is a big transition – the leap to middle school! I remember the summer before I started middle school. I was very anxious about the new school building and all of the older students. I would have benefitted from a program like Horizons, so it is a pleasure to spend the summer with these amazing students. The playwrights have been  focused on character development and conflict in drama. They have just spent a considerable amount of time working on creating their protagonist and antagonist, and I have to admit the plays are looking very promising! We have one character who is a movie star, but his agent is withholding all of his money in order to build a bigger house; another character is falling victim to the other women on her basketball team because they don’t want her to be the captain anymore; and there is a Mother fighting to stop her daughter from getting a tattoo because she is afraid it will ruin her child’s dream of being a teacher. I look forward to seeing where all of these journeys end up! If the energy and passion of these students is reflected in their characters, then these plays are going to be incredible!

Patrick
Associate Artistic Director

YPT Collaborates with Life Pieces to Masterpieces to Tell the Story of Historic Woodlawn Cemetery

Over the past three weeks, I’ve had the immense pleasure to work with the young men of Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM) on one of our current special projects, a new play we’re creating with the Ward 7 community about historic Woodlawn Cemetery.  As soon as I knew we’d be working in Ward 7, my home neighborhood, I knew LPTM would be a great partner for it.  LPTM is an extraordinary mentorship program for young men in Ward 7.  They give young men life and art skills that allow them to embrace their past and present and prepare for their future.  The young men explore leadership, responsibility, community and create paintings based on their own life stories.  Our group, the Legacy class, mostly consisting of 11 year old young men, began working with me about two and a half weeks ago on workshops exploring Woodlawn Cemetery, its history and the history of those interred at Woodlawn.  We explored how the site relates to our neighborhood and how learning about some of the extraordinary people buried at Woodlawn can help all of us better understand our history and prepare for our future.  For example, Senator Blanche Bruce, born a slave who ultimately became the first African American to serve a full term in the US Senate, is buried there.  Congressman Langston, first African American Congressman from Virginia and first civilian dean of Howard University Law School, is buried there.  As well as thousands of extraordinary women who were scholars, artists, educators and homemakers — a total of almost 36,000 people, many in unmarked graves, having been moved from previous sites throughout the city.

After we explored the history and the young men took a tour of the cemetery, we began sketching.  They sketched about 15 pictures and then chose 7 of those to paint.  First their teachers set up huge blank canvasses on the wall.  Each young man was given three primary colors and tasked with creating their own rich textures and colors and painting the canvasses freely, resulting in about 12 different colors of canvas.  Once these were dry the next day, the students figured out what figures or shapes they needed to create to convey their sketch onto canvas.  They then picked from the larges canvases they’d painted and drew the shapes on the back, then cutting these shapes out of the canvases.  Then they painted other canvases as backdrops for their paintings and, once they were dry, laid out the figures, symbols and landmarks from Woodlawn they’d created onto the backdrop.  They then sewed these patterns and shapes onto the canvas and stretched the canvases onto wooden frames.

The seven resulting paintings, all inspired by Woodlawn, will serve as the backdrop and setting for our readings of the play we’re creating with the community.  Plus, these young men have created poems and monologues about their insights and inspirations from Woodlawn, all of which will be added into the stew of the play, mixing their voices into a tapestry of voices about Woodlawn that will not only share our history but also our community.   The resulting paintings are extraordinary and inspired — I can’t wait for you to see them and meet these young men at the readings we’ll hold on September 11th at Harman Hall downtown, and at Woodlawn Cemetery, as part of a huge volunteer and service celebration at the site.  I hope you’ll come see us and join in our community!

 

You can learn more about YPT’s Woodlawn Cemetery project on YPT’s website.

You can learn more about Life Pieces to Masterpieces here.

David
Producing Artistic Director and CEO

A Guide to Acronyms and Agencies in DC’s Arts Education Landscape

by Brigitte Pribnow Moore

As an LEA, DCPS is under pressure from NCLB to meet AYP each year. Thanks to Title I of the ESEA, the most underserved schools have more resources to help students meet DCPS Learning Standards when the OSSE administers the DC CAS this year. Isn’t the NAEP happening soon as well? Better consult the OPGD for information on upcoming funding opportunities for arts educators. Hopefully the DCCAH can help this spring. Too bad so few government funders accept the WRAG.

Say what?

Need some help navigating the alphabet soup of DC’s arts education landscape? Here are some handy definitions and online resources:

LEA – Local Education Agency, which may include a school district, or a charter school. 

DCPS – District of Columbia Public Schools.

NCLB – No Child Left Behind, United States federal legislation signed into law January 8, 2002, aimed at improving the performance of U.S. primary and secondary schools by 2014, by:

  • Increasing standards of accountability for states, school districts and schools;
  • Providing parents with more flexibility in choosing which schools their children attend;
  • Increasing focus on teaching every student to read;
  • Re-authorizing the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 (ESEA), a statute which funds primary and secondary education.

President Obama recently laid out his proposal for a complete overhaul of No Child Left Behind, which is currently being considered by Congress. Check out this recent Washington Post article  for more information.

ESEA – Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 – statute reauthorized under NCLB, funding primary and secondary education, specifically for educators’ professional development, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs, and promotion of parental involvement

Title I – First Title of the ESEA, distributes funding to schools and school districts with 40% or more students from low-income families (qualifying under U.S. Census definitions of low-income).

AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress, a measurement defined by the U.S. No Child Left Behind Act that allows the U.S. Department of Education to demonstrate a school’s progress towards reaching the national goal of 100% student proficiency in Reading and Mathematics in all schools by the year 2014. Standardized assessments are used as a diagnostic tool that determines how schools need to improve and where financial resources should be allocated. All K-12 DC public schools are required to demonstrate AYP in the area of reading/language arts, mathematics, and either graduation rates, for high schools and districts, or attendance rates, for elementary and middle/junior high schools. A school that fails to meet AYP for two consecutive years becomes a “School in Need of Improvement”. A school that fails to meet AYP for five consecutive years may be “Restructured”.

DC BAS – DC Benchmark Assessment System, which helps DCPS track student progress and achievement throughout the year for students in grades 3-10.

DC CAS – DC Comprehensive Assessment System, which is administered once a year in DCPS classrooms and demonstrates how well students are meeting grade-level standards in the areas of English Language Arts and Mathematics. Every DC Public School has been assigned an NCLB status based upon its performance on the DC CAS. Every year a school does not meet AYP,  it is “flagged” with a status that requires more attention to that school. If a school does not meet AYP for five years in a row, it enters “restructuring” status requiring a significant school turnaround. The test is taken by students in grades 3-8 and grade 10, and administered each April.

OSSE – Office of the State Superintendent for Education, which sets statewide policies, provides resources and support, and exercises accountability for all public education in DC, including managing the DC CAS.

NAEP – National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is a test that is taken nationally and allows each state to compare its students with students in other states.

OPGD Office of Partnerships and Grants Development, a DC agency that establishes partnerships between public and private, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and pursues financial support and technical assistance from public and private sources toward improving the quality of life for DC residents. OPGD has a wonderful website that shares upcoming DC grant opportunities.

DCCAH – DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, a DC agency with a mission “to provide grants, programs and educational activities that encourage diverse artistic expressions and learning opportunities, so that all District of Columbia residents and visitors can experience the rich culture of our city.” They provide a variety of competitive grants for both organizations and individual artists.

WRAG – Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, which promotes and supports effective, strategic, and efficient charitable investment in the Greater Washington region. They have established a Common Grant Application format, aimed at making the grant process more efficient, which is used by many funders in the DC region.

Hope this list is helpful. Does anyone have any other suggestions for acronyms we should include?

Interview with Katherine Latterner

Theater Educates interviews a different arts educator each month, to get his or her take on our field. This month we talk to Katherine Latterner of Fillmore Arts Center.

What is your current position?

Katherine: I am currently Principal of the Fillmore Arts Center, a District of Columbia Public School.  Fillmore provides the arts education to 12 DCPS elementary schools and serves 2,600 students at two sites.  Artist teachers provide visual arts, music (including strings and band), dance and drama instruction.

How did you become an arts educator?

Katherine: I began studying piano and voice at an early age and began my college career as a music performance major.  I realized that I would not become a concert pianist and switched my major to English.  After college I worked at a non-profit but continued my involvement in music.  When my children were very young, I discovered they had minimal music instruction in school and I began volunteering as a music teacher.  I studied Orff and Kodaly and became a music teacher at Fillmore where I taught music (and creative writing for 14 years).  I obtained a masters in educational leadership and became the Director of Education for the Musical Theater Center, returning to Fillmore as the principal five years ago.

Did you have any mentors in the field? If so, how did they influence you?

Katherine: My family was always involved in music (mother and grandmothers).  My first real mentor was my piano and voice teacher, Lewis Grubb.  We lived in a small town in Delaware, but he had performed in Philadelphia and New York and exposed me to a wealth of literature and experiences (singing with adult groups in Wilmington and Philadelphia).

There is a lot of debate among educators, administrators and policymakers about arts integration vs. art for arts sake. What is your opinion of this debate? Do you favor one side over the other?

Katherine: I think it makes perfect sense to make connections between the arts and other disciplines.  Using the arts to teach numeracy, literacy, social and physical sciences allows children with varying learning styles to more easily access this information and to use both right and left brain modalities.  However, the push has been to have arts education focus in Arts Integration to the exclusion of the arts as important disciplines.  I am a strong proponent of having a high quality arts education for arts sake.

What advice do you give young people who want to make a career in the arts?

Katherine: Pursuing the arts as a career may not be the most financially rewarding choice (except for a very few people), but it is certainly a personally rewarding choice.  If you have a passion for the arts,  you should pursue it.  Examine the multiple ways you can work in the arts (performer, teacher, production, etc.) .

What advice do you give early-career arts educators?

Katherine: Do not neglect the impact of technology on the students of today.  Explore ways you can incorporate technology and please keep your activities interesting and “fun” for your young students.  You job is to foster a love of the arts in your students so they can not only be participants, but also arts audience members and supporters.

Every educator has a different definition of success. Can you tell us about a time when you felt successful as an arts educator?

Katherine: I have had students go on to great commercial success, but it is the everyday successes (the shy child who performs a dance or sings a solo on stage, the class cut-up who really shines as the “king” in the drama performance, the beautiful ceramic bowl made by a child who said he was “no good” in art) that make me feel most successful as an arts educator.