Latin American Youth Center GED Students Tell Their Stories Through Spoken Word by Elizabeth Acevedo 

Although the GED students at the Latin American Youth Center in Silver Spring, MD had watched a video of me performing poetry before I walked in, I don’t think they imagined that by the end of the week they would be the ones performing for me! Indeed, my proclamation that we would be sharing our stories and performing for one another was met with reluctance by the two different corps I worked with, but they steadily worked on meeting my expectations.

We began the first day by working on listing poems whereby the students free-wrote on the prompts “Where I’m From” and “I am.” These prompts allowed them to incorporate imagery, sensory details, and figurative language as they described their neighborhoods and the person they imagine themselves to be. Some students in the group had once held dreams of being rappers, while others had never found themselves drawn to the written word. But through keeping the goal in mind: connecting the poetry and critical reading skills of my workshop to the real-life and job-readiness strategies they were learning in their GED program, the students pushed on in finding and empowering their unique voices. By the end of the week, every single student wrote…and several even wrote and revised when we were out of session!

As the Friday performance loomed near the students practiced the deep breathing techniques taught in class and each looked nervously around the large classroom where both corps were now seated. Several LAYC staff persons dropped by to encourage and cheer for them. Despite their nerves, it was a powerful event. The students connected to one another’s stories, forced themselves to be brave on stage, and ultimately felt pride in the fact that they could stand up in front of their peers and share a piece of themselves.

Here is an excerpt from one of the student’s writings, titled Life as I saw it.

I come from a place where success was never seen,
There are human beings that shiver in the cold who look like phenes,
There are violence that was committed and seen with the naked eye,
There are young ones who choose their friends that will destroy their lives,
There are brothers and sisters who fail to see the bright side to survive.

As for I who look blind but in my mind I could find a way to rewind,
Despite the fact that I did time and owned things that wasn’t mine,
And as for fun I’ve done dangerous chores which made an old lady cry,
So as for now, I just think of life to reach for the sky,
As for when I speak, I feel like a lion,
I am brave and have courage which shows I am not lying,
My future broke down and look as if it was dying,
And like a young bird I flapped my wings and started trying.

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Making Arts Integration Work, One Classroom at a Time – Author Debbi Arseneaux

“I look at this text and I feel like I just have to get through it” sighs a frustrated third grade teacher.

“My kids love goofing around and are very creative, I just need help fuzing their experience of an activity to comprehension of the subject” says an enthusiastic fourth grade teacher.

“This is very uncomfortable for me, but I know my students respond to these types of things, so I’m trying to make it work” says a hesitant media specialist, who works with various grade levels.

These are just a few of the comments made in my initial planning conferences with teachers at Sebastian Elementary in Sebastian, Florida. These teachers and I were about to embark on a week long embedded residency process to help them better be able to incorporate theatre arts strategies into their non fiction units. I don’t think any of us anticipated what a rewarding week it would be!

It was clear to me at this point that each residency would look rather different, as the teachers had a range of comfort levels with arts strategies and their goals for the week were consequently different. This presented quite the challenge for me, but a welcome one, as I don’t believe there is a one size fits all approach to successful professional development, just like there is no one magic way to reach all our students.

So each day of the residency, we brainstormed and shaped drama activities that would engage their students and move them toward mastery of specific Florida Language Arts and Science standards. In all three classes, we had grade level appropriate space and Earth sciences related texts. We looked at each text and each grade levels’ specific literacy goals and together we extracted activities to support those goals. I spent time both modeling and supporting them leading these activities in their classrooms. I also gave the teachers tips and techniques to be able to implement the activities without me.



In the third grade class, for example, we created a space shuttle with our bodies and voices through an activity called Machine. Every student was a part of the machine. When it was done, we asked them to go to the text and see what else they could learn about rocket ships. We watched the students race to their desks and start eagerly flipping through the text. We had hooked them, and given them a reason to read. The teacher glanced at me and we shared a gleeful moment of success…look at those students wanting to read that text she had been dreading!

In the fourth grade class, the students spent time looking at images and reading text about the phases of the moon. They gave each phase a distinct personality trait and physicality. Then they got up in front of the class and gave each phase “character” a voice. The full moon held his belly and moaned, “I’m so full!” while the waning gibbous moon shrank and said “I’m melting!” Presented in sequence, the students were able to demonstrate understanding of the cycle of how we see the moon in its phases. The teacher and I were extra pleased that ALL of her students participated successfully in this activity, particularly a couple who had frozen during warm up activities.

Showing Excitement in Learning

Showing Excitement in Learning

In the fifth grade class, we had students researching the reasons why Pluto is no longer a planet. They used information in the text to replicate the discussion astronomers had to determine the definition of a planet and created a role play in which they presented their reasons for redefining Pluto. They also created tableaus to represent the history of how we learned about Pluto. It was during this tableau activity we saw students really step up into leadership roles and figure out how to work together as a team in a way the teacher said she doesn’t always see. And those students now have a strong physical connection to the way objects move through space, as they had to represent orbits and rotations with their bodies.

We saw student successes in each classroom, each day. We saw small victories in engaging students who they tell me don’t typically demonstrate such enthusiasm, and large victories in watching students who don’t generally engage at all getting up and sharing something they just learned.  The teachers asked their students if they wanted to more activities like they had been doing this week and they were met with a resounding “YES!”  In fact, each one of them told me that they had already tried out at least one activity in another class, and one of the teachers had already set up a planning meeting with the other teachers in her grade team to collaborate around how they can implement some of the strategies in the next unit.



By the end of the week,  I saw the teachers go from hesitant, but curious, to enthusiastic and excited. They saw first hand the powerful impact the arts can have on engaging and empowering their students with standards based learning, and without taking time away from mandated schedule chunks.

“It’s been eye opening. I can’t wait to try this out with the next book” says the newly energized third grade teacher.

“Before I was clueless and excited, now I’m focused and excited. I’m excited about things that weren’t really exciting to me before” gushes the thrilled fourth grade teacher.

“I just need practice. It helped to see how they responded. If you are in drama, you are using the same skills as reading” says the optimistic media specialist, making a commitment to push through her hesitation.

We as teaching artists can’t be in every classroom, but if we can keep turning the light on, one teacher at time, then we can reach more and more classrooms, slowly shifting the climate. These teachers then become the best advocates for more arts integration in their schools, and the more we can empower them, the more that light gets sparked in their colleagues. And ultimately, the more students we can all reach and more fully engage in their own learning.

This is how we change our education system…one classroom at a time, with thoughtful, passionate and caring teachers who never stop learning themselves.

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Dancing in Florida

Hello StoryTapestries Folk!

It’s k.k., a.k.a. Kelly King. I’m a dancer human doing work with StoryTapestries to further the mission of getting more people moving as a critical part of the learning process.

I spent a week in Florida this fall doing some of my favorite work. In parthership with StoryTapestries and the Learning Alliance, I was invited to present a Professional Development talk to schoolteachers in Vero Beach and spend two days imbedded with four teachers at one elementary school.

I taught 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th grade language arts classes using a dance-based curriculum. IT WAS AWESOME. The kids were incredibly engaged, curious, focused, and productive – everything an educator could dream of and more!

The PD happened at the BEAUTIFUL Vero Beach Museum of Art. 110 teachers from across the district came, danced, listened and learned with me. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I hope to replicate it over the coming years.

Vero Beach Museum of Art

I realized while there, that I got my first teaching job when I was 15 – a sophomore in high school. I have now been a dance educator for 21 years. The week in Florida was an amazing way to celebrate 21 years of sharing this incredible art form.

Thanks to StoryTapestries for being a vital piece of the puzzle that makes this artful dancing life possible!

The video is a balcony dance – you can hear the waves in the background. I was so busy teaching, I only got to visit the beach on my last day. So, I just had to celebrate the sounds of the waves and the warmth of the air here. I hope you enjoy!

Kelly King makes dances for theatre, film, stage, and street… and all the places people go in-between. She serves the creative community as a dancer, educator, choreographer, consultant, advocate and audience member. Kelly has choreographed and performed all over the world, from the finest of stages to the muckiest of crosswalks. She is the Artistic Director of Contradiction Dance, based on Washington DC.

As an educator, Kelly has taught all levels from pre-K to undergraduate levels of dance across many genres in studios and public and private institutions including: Contradiction Dance (Founder), CityDance Ensemble (Associate Director), Joy of Motion Dance Center, and St. Mary’s College. She has led arts integration efforts in schools in Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland. She has consulted for the DC Collaborative helping schools integrate all arts into their core curriculum. Currently, she is a teaching artist for StoryTapestries bringing her expertise to students across the country.

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STEAM – Dancing out Mathematical Concepts

Ms. Ross,  “LOOK, LOOK, I created a number line dance for 6/12+3/12………”

Ms. Ross, “DID you see my “Choreography” of the ordered pairs…..wasn’t it out of this world!!”

Ms. Ross, “I can do it.  I wrote a word problem by myself and answered it by myself.  Okay not by myself entirely but almost by myself.”

The power of the arts strikes again….. at Kenmore Middle School and Greenwood Elementary School.  For the past 3 weeks, we at Story Tapestries have had the honor of working with teachers on how to use the arts, specifically dance and story, to teach math.  At first, when we proposed the idea of teaching  fractions and graphing ordered pairs of numbers using dance, we were met with skepticism.  However, by the closing day, both the students and teachers enthusiasm was huge.  The 4th graders at Greenwood got it, they understand both at a math and a kinesthetic level how to add basic fractions.  Within one 45 minute session, they acted out a word problem, solved one, and wrote their own.

Dancing out her understanding!!

Dancing out her understanding!!

On the other hand, at Kenmore Middle School the students we were there to support have cognitive and developmental needs that requires a variety of adaptions.  YET again, the teacher at Kenmore MS stepped up to the plate.  She blew our mind away with her creative ideas and passion for helping her students grow. We taped out a “LARGE size” Graph on the floor of her classroom.  We completely rearranged the desks.  EVERY idea we had, she always said yes, never no.

Through our work, the students began to develop a stronger comprehension of positive or negative integers on a graph.  Finally, they had a full body experience learning how to graph a series of ordered pairs.  It was not an everyday lesson.  They had to write out the pairs, graph the pairs and finally dance their graph illustrating to us their understanding of the parallel arts and math objectives.  It was powerful to see students who are not always considered successful, who have difficulty remembering details, instead creating, rehearsing and finally performing a 4 phrase dance blocked on a graph.

As we sit here right now formulating this blog, it is with the knowledge that it is not, what Arianna Ross, the Executive Director, did with the information that caused it to be so impactful but again the power of the arts to take a relatively basic lesson and make it exciting, engaging and educational.  For many people, this blog may  feel out of the ordinary but the truth is that this is what we do EVERY day at Story Tapestries, we bring the arts to the community with a new power approach.

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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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