YMCA Staff Practice Becoming Spoken Word Poets

What’s the best ways to teach students literacy through spoken word poetry? Have the mentors they look up to practice those poetic skills first. On November 11th, I led six Silver Spring YMCA youth workers through different strategies they’ll use to promote active reading, critical questioning, improvisation, differentiation, and peer review— and it was all done through the analysis and lens of spoken word poetry.

The morning began with mentors learning active reading strategies that they used to explicate and discuss a poem. Then the YMCA youth workers wrote, recited, and responded to their own poetry.

Participant Annotating and Writing Poem

Participant Annotating and Writing Poem

Although many of the participants were uncomfortable at first (performing Spoken Word can be nerve-racking!), they quickly jumped into the activities that they themselves will be leading in February with their students. The youth workers got to feel the pressure of writing and reading and performing and also the success of creating work they could be proud of.

The activity that proved most rewarding (and the one the youth workers were most of afraid of)? The freestyle cypher. The Youth workers all circled up and were led through a series of exercises that culminated with them freestyle rapping and rhyming with one another. The goal was to let loose any pretenses of “good enough” and allow for spontaneous creation and collaboration. And as any good cypher session should end, it culminated with laughter and relief that something seemingly insurmountable was accomplished.


YCMA Staff Leading and Participating in a Hip-Hop Cypher

One mentor said, “I can’t wait to see what our students will write. I’m really excited to share this with them.”

So am I! I look forward to seeing how the spoken word poetry strategies will promote students’ literacy and collaboration. Right on, YMCA!

-Elizabeth Acevedo, Teaching Artist

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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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