Volunteer Reflection: Rosco Spears

Name: Rosco Spears

Age: 30

Where are you from, originally? Detroit, MI

How did you find out about ASTEP? A good friend of mine referred me to the program. She is a performing artist and she told me about the amazing things she heard about ASTEP.  After a bit of research, it didn’t take much to sell me on the organization.

Which programs have you been a part of? ASTEP on STAGE! at WIN and CHOICES Alternative to Detention as well as ASTEP Arts at Shanti Bhavan.

Did you have a background in teaching when you started? I did have a background in teaching when I started volunteering with ASTEP. I taught business technology for 2 years at a high school in Grand Rapids, MI and I also led an after school, art enrichment program in Newark, NJ for a year.

What is your arts background? I do not have any formal training in art. I began sketching as a kid, and I created a signature design at the age of 13. During college, I brought some of those drawings that I created during middle and high school to a local art gallery.  The owner, Reb Roberts, practically forced my hand into painting after I told him that I was not interested. He was able to convince me to create a piece with him and the rest is history. I fell in love with painting.

What did working with ASTEP teach you about yourself? Working with ASTEP taught me that there is so much that you can learn while working as a teaching artist. I’m pretty certain that I’ve learned more from the children than they’ve learned from me.  I’ve learned how to move through adversity. How to excel through rough circumstances. How to creatively work in a group with others. How to take risks and try new things. I’ve learned how to communicate without words. Working with ASTEP showed me what I should be doing for my life’s work. Nothing on this earth makes me happier than working with children as a teaching artist. Especially working with kids who are impoverished in any way.

What victories did you achieve, while on site? On occasion, I’ve worked with kids who were in a program as a form of punishment, and they did not want to do any of the activities that were placed in front of them. These are the kids that are most interesting and challenging to me (also my favorite to work with). At the end of both experiences, even if it was just getting a kid to take their hood off during class or to pick their head up off of the table, I felt accomplished. If they actually participated in an activity, I felt like I won a million dollars.

What program is next for you? As I have recently relocated to Los Angeles, I am unsure! I would love to get back to Shanti Bhavan in the near future. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.






Week 5: Successes Large + Small


By: Marcus Guy Crawford, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

Success at RYSA comes in all forms: students standing quietly in a circle; hearing a student’s voice for the first time; or bringing a student back to neutral after an experience that has triggered something traumatic, and often yet to be articulated or grasped. Our students are brave in ways I will never be — their early childhood experiences have shaped them sturdily and as much as I hope I have impacted their young lives in America, I know that they have affected mine immeasurable. Today one of our assistant teachers (tactlessly, I might add), told the students that the end was nigh… and while I think the language barrier protected many of them from this truth, it got me thinking about their triumphs and there are a few I want to document because they were moments where I too was learning.
 
A student in our youngest group (we’ll call him Austin) has been engaged since day 1. Sometimes Austin wanders, sometimes he is a little despondent and at times he has acted out, but his intention has always been clear — he wants to learn, even when that process is challenging. Today Austin was full of beans – unable to stand still, incredibly verbal and just a little hyper. In spite of this, he was engaged more than he has ever been in the classroom. The excess energy and noise was not problematic because, though untamed, it was allowing him to engage in the work and demonstrate knowledge in a new way. Kelsey and I worked with it, acknowledging that though the behavior will eventually need corrected, it was better to celebrate the positive improvement in his work. The skills can’t coalesce all at once and that’s OK! It strikes me just writing this that this is a lesson I need to teach myself in my own professional and creative endeavors – thanks Austin!
 
Next up: Corey. Corey is incredibly sensitive. The slightest sense of negativity or disappointment from a teacher will send him spiraling – he huffs, he needs to leave the room, he cries and he shuts down. But I think it is born of a pressure that I have noticed in many of our students — a need to impress, to embrace this new opportunity and to succeed, with positive reinforcement, in every moment. I can relate to this. An over-achiever from a very young age, the most potent moments of my young life, even now, are the ones where it feels like I am on the brink of letting someone down that I respect. For me, it is important to just keep Corey involved, to take his answers even when they are incorrect, and to listen to him offering correction, redirection and opportunity where possible. Corey is an active learner, and so when he is left to sideline, or his behavior is treated as “bad” or “disruptive”, he recedes and regresses. The arts classes at RYSA allow us the time and space to celebrate these differently able learners and engage them in ways the traditional classroom may not.
 
Finally, there’s Bethany. Bethany started class today with a statement not dissimilar to, “This class is rubbish!” If an adult spoke to me with this apathy, I’d likely walk the other way, but in the classroom with young students, its an invitation to engage more carefully with that student’s experience. What is this a reaction to? And how can I, the teacher, or leader in this environment, guide this student towards success, achievement and growth that will alter that negative response? I let her know how that made me feel, and asked the entire class to engage in one particular value of the RYSA program — respect. As soon as Bethany sat down today, I verbally narrated all of her positive behaviors, making clear that her successes were not going unnoticed. I respected her adherence to the classroom code of conduct, and in turn, she respected the work we were doing. She participated thoughtfully, and though she might not admit it herself, she even cracked a smile and enjoyed herself! This small interaction reminded me that it is much easier to engage with students with positive attitudes, but that good behavior + work can be culled from any student and it is the teacher’s duty to find a way to activate this kind of positive teacher-student relationship, even when resistance is offered.
 
The RYSA experience is so much larger than the classroom spaces we occupy for 6-8 hours a week. For me, it has sparked a continual assessment of the way I engage in all of my professional and creative interactions. Am I present? Am I positive? Am I willing? And can I do more? The answer to all of these questions always has to be yes, especially when I am in the drivers seat and a young person’s education, development and growth is in my hands.

Week 4: “I-We-You” Learning Process


By: Kelsey Lake, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

This week at RYSA included a few challenging moments but culminated in some exciting and encouraging progress. Marcus and I were very excited about the prospect of our classes working as teams to create stories on their own. We wanted to see at what degree of independence they could accomplish this is at the RYSA graduation performance. So, we gave them a Mad Libs type story structure, set a five -minute time limit, and for the older students told them they had to complete the group story without communicating verbally.

We had practiced filling out Mid Libs-style sentence stems and stories together as a class, but we didn’t realize that the task we actually set for the students was one they didn’t have much practice with – working as a team, without teacher supports, in the specific context of Storytelling class. The class quickly got a little chaotic: there was conflict between students, confusion about how to complete the task, and frustration as some students took leadership roles while others felt excluded and shut down.

Yikes! We let the timer run out and decided to spend time reflecting on “what went well” and “what could go better next time.” Most of the answers received – “listening to the teacher,” “doing better next time,” “not talking” – were rote responses about classroom behavior, instead of the reflection on teamwork that Marcus and I were driving towards.

Once Marcus and I had a chance to reflect, we realized we had set a task that many adults find difficult to achieve. Though we still believe firmly in the students’ ability to work as a team in Storytelling class, we realized also that we’d skipped an essential step of the “I-We-You” learning process. In fact, we had jumped all the way to the “You” phase, asking them to independently model a task and demonstrate comprehension of a concept that we hadn’t explicittly modeled ourselves or practiced with them in class activities.

So, for Thursday’s class, we decided to take a conscious step back and focus on reinforcing the storytelling and language concepts we’d been working on, but also including conversations, observations, and examples of how being part of a class was similar to working on a team – it includes compromise, respect, and listening as essential ingredients.

We temporarily lost sight of a main RYSA objective – to help students develop interpersonal skills. To get back on track, we made such skills part of our process, instead of expecting them to magically appear in class without practice or exploration. Students started embodying these teamwork principles in different ways; one very prominent example was the students putting their hands down after another classmate was called on, showing respect and giving space for other ideas. These small moments at RYSA are actually the big victories, helping students understand “school rules” from a perspective of teamwork and leadership skills, instead of just learning rules by rote.

As we helped the students learn, we had breakthroughs as educators. Sometimes, for one step forward, you take two steps back. But, if you refocus on the learning process rather than any products you’re driving towards, students and teachers together can grow in their understanding of teamwork and leadership skills in the classroom.

 

 

 

Week 2: Storytelling: Rapid Transformation

By: Kelsey Lake, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

Last week, the newness of RYSA was a lot for everyone to take in! It definitely took some time for everyone to warm up to one another. Many students were shy, others stood out as natural leaders, and everybody was trying to learn so many new names!

As Week 2 comes to a close, I can confidently say that the students of RYSA have moved through that stage! They are boldly stepping into a new phase of more confident exploration and creative risk-taking in the classroom, and this thrilling new energy has led to some beautiful breakthroughs in Storytelling class.

One student’s rapid transformation sticks out clearly in my mind.

Last week, one boy (let’s call him M) came into class and did his very best to hide. He shrunk away from our silly warm ups; if he started raising his hand, he’d catch himself, his hand shooting back down again. Once, when he did speak up, his frustration with finding the English words to express his idea made him hide his head in his hands and back into the corner of the room. Marcus and I could see him following what was going on, and knew he had all sorts of thoughts and feelings about class, but we struggled to find an opportunity that could help him shine.

Then, this past Tuesday, something completely unexpected and delightful happened. Halfway through the class, it was time to “wake up” Sparkles and Spellzy, our puppet friends who have helped us learn so much about the power of imagination.

“How can we wake up and welcome Sparkles and Spellzy?” we asked.

M raised his hand! Marcus and I were thrilled to see he wanted to participate and quickly called on him.

And then, out of NOWHERE, M started to sing. He came up with a fun, short song to help wake Sparkles and Spellzy, belting it out confidently in front of the entire class. It was brilliant! We asked him to teach it to the rest of the class, and it became a fun new way to bring the puppets into the room.

Since then, M’s light has been shining so brightly. He offers creative ideas, gets up in front of his classmates to act out silly skits, and sticks it out when he struggles to find words for what’s going on in that creative mind of his!

Alongside M, we’ve seen many students take their scattered, incredibly high energies and focus them into leadership roles. Other students are taking their English language acquisition to the next level by volunteering to read our stories out loud with growing confidence! It’s incredible to see how quickly these students are learning to trust their own voices and imaginations; they all have such unique, riveting stories to tell, and I can’t wait to hear them.

 

Join ASTEP in southern India this fall

This might sound crazy, but fall is right around the corner… can you believe it? It’s going to be here before you know it, and ASTEP has the an awesome opportunity to cure any and all of your post-summer blues.

This September, ASTEP is sending a team of Volunteer Teaching Artists to Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project in India to deliver a week-long arts camp that focuses on music, theatre, filmmaking, dance, and visual art. Together, ASTEP and Shanti Bhavan teach students that their voices matter, that their ideas have value, and that they are capable of transforming India and their communities. By bringing the arts to these children from India’s lowest castes, ASTEP provides students with the opportunity to develop their social and emotional skills and to imagine a world where anything is possible. All volunteers receive room and board and live on campus with the children.

Dates: September 5  – September 18

Application deadline: July 28,  2017

Location: Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project just outside of Bangalore

Who: All artists! We need a diverse team and hope that you are a part of it!



** Room and board is provided by ASTEP and Shanti Bhavan for all Volunteer Artists

** Email Aaron Rossini at aaron@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!




Announcement: 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship Recipients

ASTEP is thrilled to announce that Kelsey Lake and Marcus Guy have been selected as recipients of the 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship!

The Fellows will be joining a team of 17 ASTEP Teaching Artists, who will lead the creative arts classes at the six-week International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy, using the arts to build English language skills, school readiness, and coping and self-regulation skills within this vulnerable and underserved population——tools they need to thrive in school and to help build a new life in their new home.

The Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenger Fellowship gives this unique opportunity to individuals who closely model Jennifer’s personal values and skill set and ensures newly arrived refugee youth will experience the transforming power of the arts, much as the arts impacted Jen’s life.


Human stories are ongoing, being picked up by one person where another leaves off. It is a great honor to carry on Jennifer’s enthusiasm & skill as a storyteller and use it to inspire a new generation of young voices. The baton passes on, and I commit to working with compassion, vitality and spirit in Jennifer’s name, as Kelsey and I interact with many young students this summer. Thank-you! – Marcus Crawford Guy, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow


I am truly honored and moved to help further Jennifer’s legacy through this generous fellowship and my work at RYSA this summer. I promise to appreciate each moment, dream big, and grasp every opportunity to bring the joy of creativity to my students. Thank you so, so much for your generosity and belief in ASTEP’s mission! – Kelsey Lake, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

TAKE ACTION this summer to support immigrant + migrant youth

This summer, ASTEP will send two Guest Artists to support Art-in-Action in partnership with enFAMILIA. This 4-week arts summer camp is for elementary and middle school students in South Florida. Primarily coming from low-income, immigrant and migrant families, students at Art-in-Action learn not only the arts, but healthy relationship skills, nutrition basics, stress and anger management, and confidence to be the best possible versions of themselves.

APPLICATION DEADLINE: ASAP
DATES: June 12 – July 15, 2017
(training starts on June 12, camp begins on June 19)
WHERE: Homestead, Florida
WHO: All artists! We need a diverse team!

** Airfare, room and board are provided by ASTEP and enFAMILIA for all Volunteer Artists
** Email Aaron Rossini at aaron@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!

 

 

 

Guest Blogger: Rockstar Volunteer Rosco Spears, Visual Artist

roscoLast September, I had the opportunity to join the ASTEP team headed to Shanti Bhavan in India as a visual arts teacher during a two week arts camp. Those weeks on the ground changed my life! I had no idea that it was even possible to fall in love with so many different souls in just a week. I also didn’t go into teaching at SB thinking that I would learn so much from my students. They taught me how to be joyful, grateful, considerate, open, innovative and so much more.

The students were so driven, well-behaved, and willing to try new things. These students are a part of a completely different culture than mine, but they had the biggest hearts and were some of the coolest kids I’ve ever hung out with. This was my first time visiting India, and the staff and students of SB made me feel right at home.

Aside from working with the brilliant students of SB and their kind staff, I learned so much from my co-teachers and volunteers that lead the program with me. We participated in a plethora of different team building exercises including meditation, group lesson planning, photo challenges, writing exercises, and more that enhanced my teaching and leadership skills a great deal. Spending time at SB has made me a better teacher, a better mentor, a better team-player and a better student.

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If there are any artists looking to impact a beautiful group of students while learning just as much as you are teaching, SB is a haven of peace that will love you as much as you will love it.

Rosco was part of ASTEP’s Fall Arts Camp at Shanti Bhavan in September 2016.

** Email Aaron Rossini at aaron@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more about the volunteer experience.




Mary-Mitchell Campbell honored by Transport Group Theatre Company

Katherine Nolan Brown; katherine@asteponline.org | 212.921.1227


MUSICAL POWERHOUSE
MARY-MITCHELL CAMPBELL
HONORED BY TRANSPORT GROUP THEATRE COMPANY
ON FEBRUARY 6th

Founder of ASTEP Honored with Performances by Tituss Burgess,
Raúl Esparza, Debra Monk, Melissa Errico,
Sierra Boggess, and More

February 7, 2017 – The Transport Group Theatre Company – which last night celebrated their 2017 Annual Gala with “An Evening with Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Friends” – honored the accomplished Broadway musical director and arranger with an evening of songs featuring the pianist herself at The Times Center.

Several of Campbell’s Broadway collaborators lent their talents to the evening, including Tituss Burgess; Raúl Esparza; Debra Monk; Melissa Errico; and Sierra Boggess. Video greetings were sent from Kristin Chenoweth and Jonathan Groff, who were unable to attend. Each performer told a short story to honor their friend, citing not only her musical talent but more importantly, her giving and loving nature and “for bringing so much love, music and grace into the world” through her efforts with ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty) the non-profit arts organization founded by Campbell in 2006.

Jack Cummings III, The Transport Group’s Artistic Director, choked up when speaking of Campbell’s involvement of their first-ever project, the 2002 production of Thornton Wilde’s Our Town, for which Campbell composed, arranged, and directed the music. Citing her contribution as having arranged an entire score incorporating the Shaker song “Simple Gifts,” he said she created an expanded universe of sound for the production, and as this was the inaugural effort for The Transport Group, she was in effect their “birth mother” and they her baby, with her music ushering forth a brand new theatrical entity.

Mary-Mitchell, on accepting the award, thanked all her teachers who guided and supported her, and all the artists and directors with whom she had worked. Referring to ASTEP, she said “art has the power to transform lives …..” and that now, more than ever, “we need to make art.”

ABOUT ASTEP:
ASTEP was conceived by Broadway Musical Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Juilliard students to transform the lives of youth using the most powerful tool they had: their art. Today, ASTEP connects performing and visual artists with underserved youth in the U.S. and around the world to awaken their imaginations, foster critical thinking, and help them break the cycle of poverty. For more information, please visit www.ASTEP.org.

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Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship

Jen play

ASTEP is honored to announce that the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship is now accepting applications for 2017 summer programming. This Fellowship will take place from July 1 – August 18 2017 in the position of a storytelling/theatre Teaching Artist at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy in New York City.

For the eighth consecutive summer, ASTEP will support the 2017 Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA) in partnership with the International Rescue Committee. ASTEP designs, implements, and oversees RYSA’s creative arts classes, which focus on visual art, dance, music, and storytelling for 120- 130 refugee youth aged 5-25 years old. RYSA is a six-week summer camp, held five days a week from July – August; from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and culminates in a graduation ceremony and performance for students’ families and their community.

The Fellow will be joining a team of 16 ASTEP Teaching Artists, who will lead the creative arts classes at RYSA. This Fellow will work to build English language skills, school readiness, coping and self-regulation skills within this vulnerable and underserved population——tools they need to thrive in school and to help build a new life in their new home. The Fellowship responsibilities include:

  • Curriculum building and lesson planning for three (3) classes, each to meet twice weekly.
  • Planning and teaching age-appropriate and culturally-appropriate lessons that focus on English Language skill building, school readiness, and the development of soft skills.
  • Preparing a 2-4 minute performance piece in each class, or for visual art, preparing a showcase of student artwork, to be shared at graduation on August 18.
  • Regular collaboration and communication with IRC and ASTEP staff members for a cohesive camp experience.
  • Support and implementation of camp-wide behavior management techniques in the classroom.
  • Support and implementation of both ASTEP and IRC methodology and pedagogical techniques in the classroom.
  • Implementation of ASTEP evaluation tools in the classroom.
  • Full participation in ASTEP and IRC training sessions.
  • Full participation in ASTEP post-program surveys.
  • Weekly blog post to share experience with the ASTEP community.

Applicants must have experience in teaching English Language Learners, teaching in a school environment, and teaching art in culturally diverse classrooms. This Fellowship requires complete commitment and artists must be available for all training and camp days.

The Fellow must be available for the following dates:

  • ASTEP Team Training: July 1-2, 2017 (tentative)
  • RYSA Training: July 5-7, 2017 (tentative)
  • RYSA Dates: July 10 – August 18, 2017

From July 10 – August 18, the Fellow will teach six (6) hours per week and should plan to spend at least ten (10) hours per week on site.

The accepted Fellow will receive a stipend and materials/supplies budget.

This Fellowship is named after Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger, 1976-2016, a loving soul who valued the arts. She inspired everyone she met with her quick wit, compassion for others and passion for the dramatic arts. Jennifer’s love for drama started early in life in Kansas City when at the age of four, her mom took her to the musical, Annie. The live stage and sound of music captured her heart, and the thrill of the theatre and her admiration for all things related to drama was a hallmark of her life.

The Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenger Fellowship gives this unique opportunity to someone who closely models Jen’s personal values and skill set and ensures newly arrived refugee youth will experience the transforming power of the arts, much as the arts impacted Jen’s life.

If you are interested in applying for the Fellowship, please complete the ASTEP Volunteer Artist Application, making note that you would like to be considered for the Fellowship.

** Email Aaron Rossini at aaron@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!

Deadline to apply is: April 15, 2017




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