Virtual Classroom and sustainable programming

Building Community through the Arts

Building Community through the Arts

We’re very excited about the upcoming launch of our new tool to help provide sustainable arts-based educational programming to individuals across the nation! You can help support this and other projects now, please follow the link to start.

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Jumping in with both feet!

YAMD Artists -Arianna Ross

For 16 years, founding director of Story Tapestries, Arianna Ross has performed and taught across the United States in festivals, concert halls, colleges, libraries, schools, and community centers.

So, after all this time fully immersed in the arts, Arianna is able to confidently jump into sharing and growing the work of Story Tapestries. We started the 2014-15 school year off with a bang- securing over thirty residencies throughout Maryland, Virginia, D.C., North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Florida. AND we continue to work to grow this list every day! We’re passionate about bringing our programming to individuals and their communities around the country.

In addition to leading residencies and our organization, Arianna is attending conferences around the country. She recently attended and showcased at the Performing Arts Exchange in Atlanta, and participated in the prestigious Retreat for National Teaching Artists at the Kennedy Center . The retreat gave Arianna an opportunity to work with fellow Master Teaching Artists to sharpen her knowledge of STEAM best practices, National Core Arts Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. The information gained during this retreat is spreading through the Story Tapestries team and inspiring some very exciting future programming plans!

Stay tuned!!


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Creating Gold

BECAUSE today my beautiful students created GOLD I tell you.  I watched young men and women (who are not considered by the system to be strong students) shine.  MsPallavi Rana and I watched them with tears in our eyes show their beautiful drawings and visual art with pride.  I saw their other teachers look at the art- a mixture of collage, drawing, painting, and writing with pride.  It was a great day to be a teaching artist.


photo 2 This summer Story Tapestries had an opportunity to work with the same set of students for 20 days…..THIS is a rarity in our work.  We often come in, teach and perform for short periods of time.  OR we get to share the tools of the arts with educators through professional development workshops.  BUT this July 2014, we had our own classroom full of eager 4th and 5th graders ready to learn.  Our focus was not performing, but creating visual art.  We used pencils, sequins, markers, collage paper, colored pencils, watercolors, pastels, and yarn.  The students drew pictures, created designs, wrote poetry, and shared their story through art.


MOST importantly:  They shared themselves. At first, we heard this time and time 4again….Am I doing it right?  Can I do this?  Are we allowed to use ……. on our art??  Our answer:  Do you think you are doing it right?  Do you think that would balance out your picture, your words?  OUR goal was to EMPOWER them to make decisions, to show them that they CAN do it.  Our job was to guide them.  We saw many of our students grow into powerful young adults who believe in themselves, who believe that they have the ability to make the right decision for them, who believe that they are capable, intelligent humans.  All I have to say now is…. these 60 youth know what they want, know what they believe and have the skills to make it happen.


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The End of a Residency, the Beginning of a Team

ImageThe last day of a residency is always the craziest. Particularly when doing an after-school program at the end of the school year! The students were full of mixed emotions on our last day: spring fever, excitement for our performance, and sadness since today was the last of our five-session residency. I shared the meaning of the terms “rehearsal” and “performance” and explained that though we would be rehearsing and performing that day, ours was an “informance” (an informal performance) that would show the parents in attendance our warm-ups, our process, and our final product: performances of two different versions of the Thumbelina story.

ImageToday was our only day to rehearse our story after brainstorming it the class prior. Thus, I explained to the students that it was OK to make mistakes, and for me to give directions during the performance since we were still in process. I rehearsed with the two groups  (the younger students and older students) who both created a unique version of Thumbelina. I narrated the younger students’ story about a sick fairy king healed by Thumbelina’s beautiful singing voice which only he could hear. And the older students narrated their own story which involved a world in the clouds, a fairy world underground, and a jealous servant who wanted to take Thumbelina’s place as princess.

This culminating event took everything the students learned over our five sessions together such as the structure of a story, various theatre terms, and working together as an ensemble, pulling it all together into an “informance” that many parents were in attendance to enjoy. It was a great success, even if the time leading up to it was a little hectic! A highlight was when one student who had not been as participatory during the bulk of the residency recited an entire call and response warm-up by himself that the rest of the students repeated back to him. Even with our many road bumps and crazy days, we learned a great deal by working together as a team, by becoming an ensemble.

-Teaching Artist and Story Tapestries Administrative Manager, Allison Bucca

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The Laws of Motion

“Thank you for working so closely with our teachers, being so creative, and inspiring our children to think above and beyond.”  Shelly Cefalu, PTA representative at North Forest Pines Elementary School

DSCN0494The Request: Can you create a residency that engages the students while simultaneously educates the students about the Laws of Motion?

The Answer: No problem. We will use a combination of the elements of Dance, Drama, and Storytelling to teach the students the three basic Laws of Motion. You will be able to assess their understanding of their knowledge of the subject throughout the process by the questions you ask them and the answers they are readily able to give. They will complete the FIVE day residency by creating a live human machine that moves and talks. They will demonstrate how they machine is affected by changes in mass and force through changes in their movement. The students will each write and perform a short monologue from the machine’s point of view. You will notice that all students at all levels will be able to participate. I can guarantee you that not one child will feel left out and all learning styles will be reached. We will use visual, audio, kinesthetic and tactile methods for learning.

The Result: A fantastic STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) residency where learning, collaboration and fun was had by all. One hundred and twenty-five students were taught the three Laws of Motion. One hundred and twenty-five students students choreographed and performed a piece of movement. One hundred and twenty-five students wrote and presented a short monologue using descriptive language. Five teachers and hundreds of parents were THRILLED.

Student Response: THIS is incredible. Can we do this every year? I did not know that science could be easy. Did we really build a live machine? I would go to school every day with a smile on my face if we always had workshops like this.

My Response: I love teaching students using arts integration. It is such a pleasure to watch as the light bulb of learning turns on and they become excited about what’s next.

THE QUESTION: How can we ensure that every school has an arts integrated STEAM program?

THE ANSWER: We at Story Tapestries are working towards the goal of having a STEAM program in schools across the country. We apply for grants, make connections, raise money and partner with administrators to bring these programs to their community.

-Arianna Ross, Story Tapestries Master Teaching Artist & Executive Director

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Gaithersburg Book Festival: Imagination at Play

photo 1It’s 5:15 pm and it’s almost time to leave the Book Festival for the day.  All around it had been an incredible day, starting with the first group of people from the Nationalization Ceremony stopping by to take books and make a small donation to Story Tapestries.  To the children who dragged their parents over to create art using crayons, makers and sparkles.  To the adults who willingly sat down to create art with their child. To the people who simply asked “What is Story Tapestries? Why are you part of the book festival?”  All day long I explained that Story Tapestries believes in the power of the arts to change community, to teach young and old, and to empower the next set of young leaders to step up to the challenge of leading. Writing is an incredible form of creative expression of ideas, beliefs and history. Writers are artists and Readers are those who love to escape, to imagine and to live in the worlds the authors create.

Once again, it’s 5:15 pm and I was thinking about packing up.  Yet, a face popped up around the corner, a child’s toothy smile, “Can I make something?”  My tired mind said “Noooooo!!!!”  My heart said “Of course.”  My heart won and I sat down with the two children who were ready to create.  The mom and the grandma settled into chairs and began to talk.  They loved the art supplies and the simplistic nature of the project.  Thirty minutes later the girls were still going strong. They were uninterested in leaving. Honestly, it no longer mattered that the day was done and everyone around me was packing up. What was important was their smiles, their desire to create, and their focus on the work at hand. They stayed until 6 pm when their adults dragged them away with a promise to make time to do art at home. The mom had told me that she did not like too much mess and therefore rarely let the kids create on their own. However, she was so impressed with her children’s focus and imagination that she was making plans to visit a store immediately and purchase art supplies.

photo 3So often we at Story Tapestries go into a classroom and the teacher explains to us that the biggest problem they have with the students is concentration and imagination. I have heard more times than I can count: “My students have no imagination!!” At the Book Festival this was not an issue, imagination was everywhere, in the people attending the festival, the vendors, and the authors.  The day was full of people inspiring young authors like the two girls in my booth at 5:15 pm.  The day was jam-packed with storytellers and musicians at the Imagination Station  all using story to expand the minds of families. We at Story Tapestries look forward to next year’s “Inspiring More Authors to Discover the Power of the Written Word!”

-Arianna Ross, Story Tapestries Master Teaching Artist & Executive Director

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Teaching the Teachers – The Impact of Professional Development

After a great day of teaching, I feel like there is no doubt that we can change the world through the arts. My students for the day lit up when I was there. They made new connections and their teachers were so impressed at what they had been able to accomplish in such a short time. Then I think about how much we could accomplish with more time! And I think about how many more classrooms there are in that school, and how many more schools there are that have no arts integration presence at all. And suddenly, it all just feels like there is too much work to be done. That’s when I realize that those teachers are really the key. They are there every day with their students, all year round, year after year with a new class. And if they had even a few of the tools I have to help them reach all their students in more meaningful ways through the arts, then the impact of the work we do will go on and on. This is why doing professional development workshops through Story Tapestries is so important.

I recently had the incredible opportunity to travel to Florida to work with a group of educators through an amazing organization called The Learning Alliance (TLA). TLA focuses on improving literacy in their communities’ schools through implementing the latest in scientifically proven successful learning techniques. They believe that it takes the support of everyone in a child’s life…parents, teachers, community leaders, administrators, philathropists…to help them succeed. This is completely in line with the philosophy of Story Tapestries and I am thrilled that we have connected with TLA to help provide the arts integration piece of the literacy puzzle to this work. From their website: “In our effort to radically improve our children’s literacy rates, we are all stakeholders.”

Teachers learning tableau More tableau Teachers learning tableau


For this collaboration with TLA, I worked with their Master Coaches Bridges to Learning program. This includes literacy coaches, elementary school teachers and reading specialists from across Indian River County Florida. The Master Coach sessions had been going on for some time by the time I was brought in to work with them and it was a treat to have such an eager and willing group. As they quickly pointed out to me, they weren’t necessarily theatrically inclined, but they were all willing to give everything I threw at them a try.

Prior to my arrival, I was asked to focus on fluency, a literacy skill that is particularly tricky to teach. Fluency is the ability to read quickly, accurately and with comprehension. I shared with them a variety of vocal and physical theatre techniques that can help with vocabulary, story sequencing and character development as well as fluency; all of these skills flow into each other when you are using storytelling as a way to connect to reading.

Throughout the workshop, they continually expressed newfound connections to work they were doing in their classrooms already. They asked great questions that anticipated the needs and challenges of their individual students, which not only demonstrated a deep commitment to their students’ success, but provided great real time feedback on the activity. By participating in the activities as if they were their students, they found potential pitfalls or challenges, and immediately suggested ways to handle those challenges. This was exceptionally helpful as now, there is a much better chance that they will actually implement some of these strategies, as they have hands on practice and it’s not just theoretical. In fact, it was absolutely thrilling to receive a text of a photograph the very next day of two of the teachers using the tableau technique we had practiced with their students!


Tableau in action!

I will never stop wanting to work directly with students. But there are so many of them, and there will always be more. So if we want this work to continue to grow roots and have a lasting impact in our schools and communities, we need to continue to empower the educators and administrators out there in the schools every day to be able to harness the power of the arts in their own way.

- Debbi Arseneaux, Story Tapestries Teaching Artist & Program Associate

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