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 #1:
July 17, 2018
Week 1 | RYSA: Some may say I’m a dreamer
Greetings! I’m Pablo Falbru, one of the recipients of the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship. It is truly an honor to be selected for this Fellowship and contribute to the legacy of Jennifer. I was picked to be the head music instructor for the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA), and have been brimming with excitement since I got the call. We just finished week one of the program, though my journey started at the end of June. I spent the last weekend of June meeting and training with the ASTEP team, followed by a week of training with the RYSA Team. Over the course of that training period, the importance of this work grew even clearer for me.
The scope, circumstances and challenges that these kids face really puts our lives in the U.S. into perspective. Certainly we face our own challenges of poverty, violence, and oppression. But the sheer scale that this happens in the countries that the RYSA students come from is staggering. So first and foremost, this has been an opportunity to put my privilege in check. To reflect and be grateful for everyone and everything I have. And to practice infinite kindness and understanding of the students I teach, the strangers I meet and of my own friends and family.
As I mentioned, we just finished week one and I couldn’t have asked for a better start! I have three classes, each translating to roughly Kindergarten-1st Grade, 2nd Grade-3rd Grade and 4th Grade-5th Grade. In some classes, I could have as many as 4 different languages being spoken, not counting English. So that is hands down, the most challenging part of the job. But I’ve always been a fan of languages, so I’m using this as an opportunity to learn something new. As with any class, some students are stronger than others. So finding ways to empower and inspire each kid is a delicate balance. They have all responded well to everything I’ve put forth and it’s rewarding to see their eyes light up when something clicks.
One of my favourite things that happened this week was when a “challenging” kid from the K-1st class…(this student had been reprimanded earlier in the day in another class)…played the djembe with confidence and consistency. As he played I could see he had a natural talent for music, in particular rhythm, and he was so happy to show me what he could do. These are the moments that remind me of the transforming power of the arts. How a creative outlet presents an opportunity for the “challenged” to excel. To show the dimensions and range we have when given the space to explore and express freely. So for me, having the chance to cultivate that and create an environment that everyone can shine, makes my life all the more worthwhile. So thank you to the administrators of the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for the honor of carrying the torch that keeps the inspiring legacy of Jennifer alive, namaste.