Bridges Early Learning Center in Vero Beach – Diane Macklin

As 2015 came to a close, I was incredibly grateful to have worked at Bridges Early Learning Center in Vero Beach, FL in December. I met incredible educators, parents, and others invested in the care and education of our most precious community members – children.


Untitled designWe had a delightful, embedded residency where the teachers made the commitment, as well as the center’s staff, to have a series of planning meetings from start to finish of the week long experience; a Saturday professional development lead by Arianna Ross followed by planning time so the teachers could set goals and prepare for a week that would conclude with them as the lead teacher of a multi-sensory based learning activity; and, the generous gift of a willing spirit and opened doors, allowing me to work with the children as a co-teacher and their teachers as a coach. I am so impressed with what the teachers were able to accomplish in such a short time. I do not believe it would have been possible without their constant flexibility, honesty, and willingness to be creative. Here are some of the reflections by the teachers:

  • The biggest strength of the embedded residency with Ms. Diane was seeing the children smiling and enjoying learning
  • A multi-sensory approach to learning with the children is more enjoyable for them and me!
  • There are many ways to bring a story to life!

Well done, Bridges! I have no doubt that these already incredible educators will just continue of this path of adding strategies that work for them and their children.


Family Literacy NightsMy blessings do not cease with the center. They extend to the families. The children at Bridges have a variety of adults from parents to grandparents, aunts and uncles, who invest in the development of each child. How can such a claim be made in that short period of time? I met many of them who, after working all day, came to the center for a Family Night full of enthusiasm and willing to “go for the story ride” to pick up additional literacy strategies to be extended into the home.  The parents and other family members were as generous as the staff at Bridges, proving to be quick learners themselves and already full of great ideas.  After an interactive storytelling performance, the parents and I were able to have time to find stories among the ones with us at all times – those personal stories about self and family. Here are the sage words of the parents and other caring adults for the children:

  • Grandparents seemed to be the only story tellers, but now I see that anyone can tell a story
  • When we engage and excite the children about a book through storytelling, they learn just as much from it
  • The world teaches my children just as much as I do
  • Children learn just as much through verbal stories as from reading books word for word

Once again, my gratefulness cannot be held back. This was a wonderful experience and I learned from everyone else as well.


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What an incredible Fall for Story Tapestries!!!! – Written by Arianna Ross

What an incredible Fall for Story Tapestries!!!!  Over the last 4 months, we have completed 6 long term residencies and multiple family events in MD, DC and FL. All of the programs were supported by Story Tapestries artists, donors and grants written by the Story Tapestries’ team in collaboration with other organizations. If we wrote about all of them, than this blog would be incredibly long.

Untitled6Recently, we worked with all of Kent Island Elementary School‘s 2nd grade team. Without the Story Tapestries matching funds to support this work, it would not have happened. The PTA paid for a portion and they wrote a grant for another piece of the pie but that still was not enough. We appealed to our donors and raised enough money to spend 4 days with each classroom. It was a powerful experience for both the students, teachers, and the artist. All of the students wrote and presented a “Fractured Folk Tale” based on a story they had read. You may be thinking….WHAT is that? During this activity, students work in teams of 3 or 4 re-writing a familiar story like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” became the “Gingerbread man who cried Candy Monster.” The teacher’s said that they observed during the work students who never shine, who never add their voice to a story, talking up a storm.


At the top of December, we launched a new partnership with The Learning Alliance. In the past, we have always worked with their K-12 program but now, we have been tasked with guiding teachers and early childhood center directors on how to improve the way they use multi-sensory strategies with their 0-5 population. Furthermore, it was expected that we increase the parents’ ability to help their chid(ren) gain the skills to be successful in the future.

We recognized right away that we needed a team of experts on this job so we contracted Diane Macklin and Carrie Sue Avyar as well as myself, Arianna Ross. On Saturday December 5th, I, taught the first Saturday workshop, Harnessing the Power of the Arts: Teaching Literacy, to over 60 teachers from Indian River County. We used elements of storytelling, dance, drama, visual arts and writing to increase the teacher’s ability to develop their students’ emergent literacy understanding, cognitive power, fine and gross motor development as well as their knowledge of the core subjects.

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After the first activity, it was immediately clear that the adults in the room were hungry for more strategies to develop their students. They jumped right in to every activity, asking questions along the way and reflecting with their peers about how to improve their practice as educators. Besides giving the teachers a range of strategies, we found that there was an added success, a community of early childhood educators, who now knew each other at a deeper level, spoke the same language and wanted the same results for their children. One educator asked us if there was a way to receive more frequent support from The Learning Alliance and Story Tapestries.


Our goal was for the team to leave the workshop with activities to support purposeful play, help them meet their FL Gold Standards, and to develop their ability to ask open ended questions.   After reading the evaluations, we saw that our goals had been met… One educator left the workshop saying that now she is planning to incorporate children’s imagination into their learning by asking open ended questions. Another mentioned “I like reading, then acting out, illustrating and surmising what happens after the written word ends.” The overall response to the start of this pilot program was “GREAT workshop!!”
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Success – oh, what a feeling!

Recently we held a Professional Development Workshop at The Lab School of Washington. It was exciting, and at the same time daunting. Here was a group of 50+ teachers and artists who use inclusive arts integration every day. Would we have something more to share with them?  Would we add to their knowledge, or would they feel we were telling them stuff they already knew?The answer was overwhelmingly “YES!” We prepared an 80+ page handbook to train and engage with during the workshop, which will remain with each of them to use as a reference going forward.

We had hands-on activities so participants would not only learn the skills, but also experience first-hand the excitement of group work and being active in learning. The teachers and artists were engaged and threw themselves whole-heartedly into every activity. The buzz of energy in the room was palpable as participants connected with the materials and felt immediately inspired and empowered to put these new experiences into action. During reflection times, you could hear teachers and artists planning how they would incorporate what they were learning into their curriculum for that week.

One activity was acting out what the moisture in the air would look like. One of the leaders, Azure Lea, said this about the experience:


“Wonderful workshop!! I loved becoming the moisture in the air. (These are) great skills to start using right away. Thanks so much!!!”


We appreciate these comments and are so grateful for the opportunity to train and teach professionals new skills. It was the success of seeing the process being adopted by these amazing educators that really made all the prep work we had done more than worth it. Even with many more workshops, professional developments and other events completed with satisfaction this year, we are SO VERY EXCITED about the success of this one and the impact it will continue to have thanks to the teachers that will put what they learned into action day by day, year after year. 


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DC got Funky with Fun!!

Families in DC got funky with the fun, fresh musical approach of Jamaal Collier at a local Washington D.C. School. During a Family Night event, Jamaal used music to engage participants in literacy development activities that had them laughing, clapping and having a ball. Jamaal was welcomed to an atmosphere that was alive with benevolent, rambunctious vitality and the family and community energy present only increased as the evening went on.

Family Night participants were eager with anticipation, excited to hear what the artist had to share with them. Jamaal’s performance addressed how music is all around us, the significance of the culture of Hip Hop and its history. He showed how we do many things with a rhythm and our own unique style, like rhyming. He performed a few original songs, some parodies of popular Rap songs and invited everyone in the audience to create music with him.

Children and adults alike were alert and enthusiastic to share and participate in the call-and-response time near the end. Sometimes when Jamaal would ask questions of the little ones, their parents were so engaged that they would forget he’d asked the kids to respond and blurt out the answer themselves in their excitement.Jamaal had a wonderful time sharing with everyone and left the school with a great sense of gratitude for the power music has to connect us to one another and to our personal histories.

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Dancing with Pathways & Edgewood

Looking back on my PD Workshop and embedded residency with the staff of Pathways (workshop) and Edgewood (embedded), I can’t help but smile – THEY DID NOT WANT TO DANCE. (We did.) And it was great.

Edgewood: The three teachers I worked with were game to try new things – and GAME is the word. For all classes, we made movement a playful ritual that started each class. Armed with painter’s tape, oversized post cards, a sound system, and the curriculum, we set to work.

In math class, we created visual displays all over the room using tape and “walked” our shapes to help determine the area of squares, triangles, rectangles. Memorizing the formulas, measuring shapes around the room (the door, windows, boards, desks, etc) and applying the formulas kept us on our feet and moving through class.

In science, we made large notecards to reinforce the vocabulary words and key concepts from the text on deforestation. Our game was to scatter the notecards on the floor and have each student select a card from the pile until all the cards were selected. Students wrote the definition on the back of the card and shared the card with the class. One by one, we built a word wall that was taped up, large enough for all to see. If a student forgot a word, they could go pull it off the wall, review it, use it, and return it. Eventually, we organized the key concepts into a grid by category and “filled in the blanks”. Students also drew forest scenes and created a dance about a healthy forest, including the animals and brush growth and demonstrated the effects of deforestation through the depopulation of their “stage”.

In Language Arts, students wrote a play as a collaborative process. They learned the elements of a play by creating a play based on their own experiences. On large pieces of easel paper, we defined the plot, setting, characters, and plot sequence: intro, background, rising action, climax, falling action and conclusion. We danced the elements across the floor. We wrote dialogue. And Revised. The process took our time together, I did not see the final product, but I did witness active learning and creating from kids who have a lot to say. Success!

PD Workshop: WHEW! Talk about a tough crowd. Initially, the teachers of Pathways did not want to dance. They. Did. Not. Want. To. Dance. But, minute by minute, the teacher’s melted into the flow of our moving introduction, praising each other’s moves, and getting to see each other in a whole new light. We explored how to teach math through movement. We created a math poem as a group. We moved our poetry and used tableau as a starting point for movement. We laughed. We hugged. We learned. The group came together in a raucous and beautiful way that created some lasting motivation to incorporate movement into the curriculum.

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“Imagine what could happen if we did this all year” Working with The Learning Alliance at Fellsmere Elementary by Story Tapestries Master Teaching Artist Debbi Arseneaux


After an intense week of working in four different classrooms at Fellsmere Elementary in Indian River County, Florida, this past spring, I sat in a debriefing meeting with the four teachers and their principal. I had just completed an embedded coaching residency where I modeled arts based strategies to teach vocabulary and deepen comprehe​n​sion of text,
and then supported the teachers as they tried out these strategies with their students. The teachers biggest feedback was how impressed they were with the level of engagement of their students and their biggest complaint was that they wanted more time with me. The principal, Mr E. (as they call him), was passionate about the impact he saw on their students: “The level of comprehension, their understanding of the vocabulary and the text, the way they smiled when you walked in the room…You were only here for such a short time. Can you imagine what could happen if we did this all year?”

IMG_1295For us at Story Tapestries, that is indeed the million dollar question! We want to help unlock the potential in all teachers to use creative strategies that engage their students in meaningful ways all the time. We want to help all students take charge of their learning and give them reasons to love coming to school…when kids are engaged, they are learning! And when they are working together, they are developing those critical 21st Century skills we know they need: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication.

The school population is largely Hispanic with many English Language Learners. Whereas in many classrooms, teachers are worried about how to reign in the behavior of their students when they get excited and actively engaged in creative activities, in this
school, the teachers often expressed concern that they weren’t sure how to bring the energy out of some of their students. They worried that they might not be able to accurately assess some of their quieter students’ progress in comprehension. The wonderful thing about working on comprehension through movement and drama techniques is that it provides multiple entry points to demonstrate learning, including verbally and physically. The teachers could see immediately if a student understood the vocabularIMG_1292y word or the key detail in the text when they made a choice about how to participate in a tableau, for example.Our process is always to custom tailor our programs to the needs of the school and the meet the teachers where they are at in terms of their comfort level with arts integrated lessons. In this instance, as is often the case, I was working with teachers with a range of skills and differing comfort levels with the arts, but all of them were open and eager to see what I might be able to do to help them improve their practice. The importance of the support of the administration in this cannot be overstated. The energy and enthusiasm I saw in the staff at Fellsmere was modelled and led every step of the way by Principal Ramon Echeverria and Assistant Principal Kimberly Garcia. No one claims to have all the answers, but it appeared to me that Echeverria and Garcia approach creating positive school and classroom culture as a team effort and go out of their way to support their teachers.

IMG_1301I left that school feeling embraced and supported and challenged and like the work I was doing had the potential to make a real, lasting impact on an entire school community. So, soon after that experience, when The Learning Alliance, the literacy organization we partnered with to visit Fellsmere, offered me a full time position to help support more programs like this in Florida, I decided to take a big leap and dive into the deep end. Who doesn’t want to go to work every day feeling that sincerely appreciated and like your work could make a difference?

As of this writing, I am now living in that community, working with that school, and others like it, to make sure students have access to this kind of meaningful learning experience all year.

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This Jazz Man, He Plays…Everything! Working with WPAS at the Sitar Center in Washington DC by Story Tapestries Master Teaching Artist Debbi Arseneaux

I had a blast this summer teaching at the Playful Rhythms Camp with Washington Performing Arts Society at the Sitar Center. WPAS asked Story Tapestries to bring a little drama to this great music and arts summer camp. With campers across a wide range of ages, we took a colorful and fun text and brought it to life using our Actor’s Tools: our body, voice, mind and imagination. The book follows the rhyme scheme of the classic children’s song This Old Man and each number is represented by a different jazz legend playing a different jazz instrument. So for the first day, we created sounds and motions to go with each number from the story, taking the words right off the page. There were Pages from This Jazz Mantrumpets, and drums, and keyboards, oh my! Students worked together in groups to layer the instrument sounds and motions, like they would in an actual band. I was impressed with how well the older students stepped into leadership roles with the younger students when asked to “lead the band.”
For the second day, we created our own jazz band characters, giving them a unique instrument movement and sound that reflected a personality trait decided by the student. They drew these characters and wrote out the sounds of the instruments. We reflected on how important it was for us to work together to make music and how we can communicate through music. Again working in groups to rehearse, they created their own jazz bands and performed for each other. I loved the idea of encouraging each camper to celebrate their originality and to figure out how to jam together. They had to really listen to each other to be able to combine and layer the sounds. Even in summer camp, kids can be learning vital life skills and we can help their love of learning!

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