Volunteer Reflection: Emmett Phillips, Jr.

Name: Emmett Phillips Jr.
Age: 24

Where are you from, originally? I was born in Wichita, KS and raised in Des Moines, IA by two beautiful Liberian immigrants named Emmett and Marie.

How did you find out about ASTEP? After landing a lead role in the first play I’d ever done in my life during my sophomore year of college, I was invited to attend The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. I remember going into a workshop at KCACTF that sounded like something I would like and meeting Ali Dachis who told the group about ASTEP. I was so intrigued that I followed up with her afterwards to get more info about ASTEP and we exchanged contact information. About a year later, I got an invite to apply for the Artist as Citizen Conference in 2015 and I’ve been involved with ASTEP ever since.

Which programs have you been a part of? I have been apart of the Artist As Citizen Conference, I have lead an ASTEP Chapter, I am an active member of the ASTEP Leaders Network, and I have completed the ASTEP volunteer training.

Do you have a background in teaching, when you started? I started teaching the arts to youth when I was 19 and working at the Boys and Girls Club. I was really limited with what I could do with the kids there so I longed for opportunities to teach more freely. Once I became a Program Coordinator at Children and Family Urban Movement in 2015, I gained much more creative freedom to the weave arts into after school curriculum. I have gone on to facilitate Hip Hop Summer Camps, lead a poetry workshop within a local middle school, and guide the drama club.

What is your arts background? I am a Hip Hop Artist first and foremost. I started pursuing Hip Hop seriously in 2014. I am a poet and actor as well. I started acting during my sophomore year of college and have done a total of 5 plays (1 collegiate and 4 community).

What challenges did you overcome while on site? My first official ASTEP Volunteer site will be in Elaine Arkansas in July. I foresee that the challenges will be working in such close quarters with 3 other artists and adapting to the culture of a segregated southern town, being raised in the North. I look forward to the adversity though!

What victories did you achieve, while on site? I hope to achieve a deeper understanding of what it means to be a young African American growing up in Elaine. As a Black man myself, I’m excited to be able to be a real life example of artistic excellence that those youth might be able to relate to. If I can help empower, uplift, and inspire them to explore their own creative sides, I will consider my experience an overwhelming victory.

What did working with ASTEP teach you about yourself? Working with ASTEP has taught me the value of being a teaching artist. I grew up in a world that didn’t place much value on artists at all, let alone teaching artists, but ASTEP has opened me up to an entire culture that is committed to the development and proper placement of those who create art and also love to teach it to others. Thanks to ASTEP, I will always search for opportunities to live my truth through my art and teach as many young people everything I have to offer along the way.

What program is next for you? My assignment in Elaine is what’s immediately next for me, but afterwards I would love teach some poetry and Hip Hop in Brooklyn or travel abroad with ASTEP. Either way, the joy of teaching my crafts is a pleasure no matter what space I’m in. The real question is what does ASTEP have next for me?

 

 

 

Spend your spring at a Haven of Peace

Help us make a difference! This Spring, we are sending a team of Volunteer Artists to Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project in Southern India to deliver a multi-week arts camp that focuses on visual and performing arts including music, filmmaking, dance, and musical theatre.

Shanti Bhavan translates from Hindi to English to mean “Haven of Peace”, and we believe the work of our teaching artists will help to create just that. Join us in bringing arts education and application to these students from India’s lowest castes, where we are able to provide them with the space and time to practice communication, collaboration, empathy, and creativity. With ASTEP and Shanti Bhavan, your work will foster a symbol of hope, providing the students with the skills necessary to create and thrive in a brighter, better tomorrow.

Dates: May 23 – June 10, 2018
Application deadline: February 15, 2018
Location: Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project just outside of Bangalore
Who: You! All artists with a passion for making a difference!

** Room and board is provided by ASTEP and Shanti Bhavan for all Volunteer Artists
** Email Sami Manfredi at sami@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!

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.

 

Week 1: STORYTELLING: Fact not Fiction

By: Marcus Crawford Guy, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

It’s hard to believe that training and week one of teaching at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA) have already come and gone. Lots of information, data and procedures that were learned on paper and through presentation in the training sessions were put into practice, challenged and executed this week. It was so important to be reminded that we can only be trained based on what has happened in previous years and that only serves as guidance for the experience we are currently having. There is no standard way for a student to experience the programming at RYSA. It’s improvised and live and as an actor, I find it thrilling.

Most notably, I was taken aback at the extensive and complex English vocabulary that many of the lower school students demonstrated on the first day of class. It was an incredible gift to be met with students who not only had English language capabilities, but also felt (for the most part) uninhibited sharing them with the group. It was shocking in the best of ways, because Kelsey and I had buffered our lesson plan, almost scripting it, to ensure our use of language wouldn’t be confusing. We were met with lots of raised eyebrows, knowing smiles and nods of understanding that proved our students are ready for the next level of English language immersion, tutoring and acquisition.

In deciding how best to tell and share stories with the students, Kelsey and I decided that we wanted to distinguish between the real and abstract and teach these concepts with clarity. What is real, actual and based in fact — that chair is wooden — and what is fictional, abstract and imagined — there is a blue elephant dancing in the corner of the room. As trained actors, we decided to create two alter-egos, SPARKLES & SPELLSY who accompany us when we are telling stories and really challenge the students to see more than what they are – wooden spoons with pipe-cleaner arms and legs! In teaching our first class, where we learned to introduce ourselves and where we are from, we had a hearty laugh with Lower School 2 (the Flying Arrows!) when the following scene unfolded:

Marcus: Everyone say hi to Sparkles and Spellsy!
Students: Hi Sparkles and Spellsy!
Kelsey: Can anyone tell us where Sparkles and Spellsy are from?
Student A: They’re wooden spoons. They’re not from anywhere…
Marcus & Kelsey: … (exchanged looks – they’ve unraveled our elaborate plan already!)
Student B: I know where they’re from!
Kelsey: Where?
Student B: TOMATO SAUCE! They’re wooden spoons!

We then engaged the students in a dialogue about how it feels to be called the wrong name or incorrectly identified, which proved a useful hook for opening up the idea of imagination and investing in another reality, where we agree upon the circumstances presented to us. Their ability to grasp this idea quickly made it clear to see that our students are prepared to go on an exciting journey with us where they are not only playful, but curious and inquisitive – skills that will serve them well when they enter the school system later next month and that we want to encourage and cultivate.

Next week we will be continuing our exploration of THE SENSES and seeing how Sparkles and Spellsy — who are now so much more than their wooden spoon exteriors — hold up as the students learn more about how to tell stories by describing the world around them (real or imagined) with specific detail.






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!

 

 

 

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