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!

 

Volunteer Reflection: Gabby Serrano

 

Name: Gabby Serrano

Age: 28

Where are you from, originally?  New York City!

How did you find out about ASTEP? Referred by a fellow volunteer. Shout out to Luz De La Cruz!

Which programs have you been a part of? ASTEP Arts Camp at Shanti Bhavan and ASTEP on STAGE! at the Incarnation Children’s Center and CHOICES Alternative to Detention program.

Do you have a background in teaching, when you started? No!

What is your arts background? I’ve been a visual artist for as long as I can remember. It all began with two of the finest mediums, crayons and paint (I’ll include fingers, as it was finger-painting to be exact). Early on, I realized that I truly enjoyed taking the time to freely express myself and continuously build off of previous efforts. Like many adults, life happened, and my passion lay dormant for a few years. It wasn’t until I decided to take an elective in sculpting that I found myself drawn back in and reacquainted with my long time love of the arts. I continued to create at my own leisure and pushed myself to explore different mediums and forms of art. A friend took notice to my artwork and recommended that I check out an organization that she had recently volunteered with in Florida. It wasn’t long after that conversation that I found myself on a flight heading to ASTEP’s art camp in India at Shanti Bhavan to teach visual arts. I currently use art regularly as an outlet and as a challenge to encourage myself to keep learning new and fun ways to create.

What challenges did you overcome while on site? There were times when we had additional attendees at a workshop and limited art supplies. One particular activity required drawing your neighbor’s portrait. Because there weren’t enough utensils to allow each child to choose their own medium, the activity underwent some impromptu revisions. We asked each child to randomly exchange mediums throughout the lesson, so that each child had a chance to explore a different medium while creating a single portrait. This essentially encouraged them (and I) to improvise and foster resourcefulness.

What victories did you achieve, while on site? There have been several occasions where people (both children and adults) have communicated their dislike or difficulty with visual arts prior to starting the activity because they feel that “they’re just not good at it.” It has been an ongoing learning experience for me as a teaching artist to find innovative and empathetic ways to help others overcome that self-proclaimed barrier, which can potentially influence their ability to thoroughly try. There was one particular instance, when a teenager didn’t want to partake in the activity for the same reason. However, after sharing a short chat with him that I realized he just needed some additional guidelines to work off. Once I provided him with some helpful hints on how to create a proportionate face, he really got into the assignment and created an amazing portrait. He was so proud of his work and even his fellow classmates took notice to his artwork. He’s a visual artist–he just needed some tools and encouragement to see his own potential.

What did working with ASTEP teach you about yourself? I’m currently a social work intern with a passion for visual arts. ASTEP is largely accredited for encouraging me to continue to pursue the arts and integrate it into my future career.  I’ve learned that I can combine my two passions and that it is totally possible to create whatever it is you envision.

What program is next for you? As an intern, I have fortunately been able to still partake in some of the volunteer opportunities in the tristate area. Some of the new, and more recent ASTEP programs are Women in Need and CHOICES. Once I graduate, I’d love to return to Shanti Bhavan and try other international and statewide opportunities.

 

 

Rachel Kara Perez’s blog: Paint on the edges


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 #2:

May 10, 2018

It’s always amazing to see how quickly things can change and how at times they stay remarkably the same. For several months I had much of the same core group of students, and then while somewhat knocked out of commission due to being sick this month, I came back and it felt like I had to start all over again, earn their trust again, explain why I had been absent, deal with the guilt of unexpectedly needing to stay home to rest. Then learn someone from the core group, one of the little ones (which is how we affectionately refer to the younger class), left while I was gone. The turnover struggle is real, and you would think it gets easier with time.

Recently we had a class working with body and face paint, and the children really got into it. Maria, our Teaching Artist for this particular lesson had worked with the children before, and those who had been there, remembered her favorably. We had a large group of older students, and bunched them in at the tables.  We had some newer students who came in a little late, as they were completing their orientation. No matter, the more the merrier, and for whatever reason, at this site I’ve observed that the children take particularly well to the visual arts, and are good sports about sharing materials and space.

I always find it interesting how the confidence of very small children is something to be envious of. Perhaps it is not even what one would call confidence, more a disregard, or a lack of self awareness, a beautiful naiveté that leaves them refreshingly unguarded and willing to try something new. Working with children ages 5-17, I notice that self-conscious behavior can often set in as early as 10. I say all this because in the younger group, I had a little girl and boy saying they couldn’t paint a heart, even after I saw them do it, and wanted me to do it for them. They wanted it to be perfect. A new child, 5 years old and all smiles (also the younger sibling of the little girl) not only did not care whether he could make the perfect heart, he was not interested in it. He proceeded to paint his entire arm green with such dexterity, he would have painted his sleeves had I not jumped in to roll them up. Una casa! he proudly proclaimed. If only we were all so confident in our renderings, in what we create. There is always much we can learn from the little ones.

He proceeded to wipe off his arms and paint over and over again, enthusiastically creating new temporary masterpieces, marvelling at the fact that he had transformed his skin into a canvas. There was a lot of laughter, and his sisters kept telling him not to get it on his shirt, as I repeatedly rolled it up and he repeatedly painted to the edge (he definitely got it on his shirt, but it washes off easily). If I could give the students one thing only, it would be the ability to never lose that innate curiosity so many little ones have. To maintain that spark, that eagerness, that imagination, that beautiful naiveté, and fearlessly transform it into art. To not worry about getting paint on the edges.

 

 

 

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.

 

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