Story Tapestries at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

By Yvonne Oh, ST Communications volunteer

Good weather greeted our setting up of the Story Tapestries booth. It had rained a few days before, and while the ground was still soggy and with friendly earthworms popping up to say hello, the sun warmed up the day as we set up our booth.


On Saturday, May 20, 2017, the Gaithersburg Book Festival offered all kinds of activities and exhibits to bring literature to children, adults, families and friends. There were book readings and signings, writing workshops, and so much more. At the Children’s Village, where we had set up the Story Tapestries booth, visitors could hear story times in different languages, meet with authors of children’s and young adult fiction, view many performances and participate in a multitude of other activities.


Executive Director Arianna Ross brought boxes and boxes of pre-loved books for the donation table. Visitors to the booth were encouraged to take home a few books for donations of “a quarter up to a $1 million – I’m sorry we can’t make change!”



There were also two creativity tables for our younger visitors to show their artistic side. Our young visitors didn’t hold back on their imaginations as they put color, glitter and sequins on their pictures.

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The Story Tapestries booth had many visitors interested in learning more about the arts education work we do. And also old friends who showed support by dropping by.


Ariana happily shared how she used elements of music, story, and dance to entertain and educate.  Story Tapestries is passionate about the work we do in organizing artist-in-residence programs to teach creative writing and storytelling, often combining subjects like STEM with arts strategies, and equipping educators with innovative ideas to engage their students.


We had a great time at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, raised $225 with the books, and ran out of glitter glue! If you didn’t get the chance to visit us at the Festival, you can still learn more about Story Tapestries on our website and follow the work we do on our blog or Facebook page.



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Arts Partnerships Help Students Succeed

We asked our fabulous Communications Volunteer, Yvonne Oh, to tell us a little bit about what inspires her to support Story Tapestries and arts in education.  Yvonne is a regular and invaluable contributor to our blog and social media.  Here is her take on why Arts Partnerships Help Students Succeed.


My mother is the most dedicated teacher I know. She became a teacher after we kids were almost into our teens. No longer having to watch over us gave her time and opportunity to dive into a passion which we didn’t realize she had. And she was a very good teacher. In fact, she sometimes said it was a shame that she didn’t get to apply her knowledge of early child development with us – how brilliant we would’ve been! 



She’s retired now, and I thank her for the appreciation I have for teachers like her –  teachers who made sure lessons were creative and imaginative so that students were inspired to learn. Mind you, she’s happy to hear that I have been volunteering with Story Tapestries and doing my bit to help create positive learning environments. Retirement never stops a good teacher.



Story Tapestries has been a creative, dynamic partner to schools, community organizations and cultural institutions. Our mission is to help introduce creativity and imagination in everyday lessons. Story Tapestries has provided teacher training programs for professional development and arts integrations, teaching artist residencies and community workshops and performances.




I recently stumbled across an interesting article, The Art of Partnerships: Community Resources for Arts Education, that looks at ways to initiate and develop successful partnerships for arts integration in public academic curricula. A strong arts education has proven to benefit reading and language skills. Students also learn critical thinking and social interaction skills. Overall, there is a stronger motivation for learning.


Lend your support to Story Tapestries and encourage partnerships and cooperative programs between schools and arts organizations.

-Written by Yvonne Oh, ST Communications Volunteer

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Weaving Tapestries of Support for Youth

– by Katie Sill, Program Manager

We recently came across a Research Brief from the Center for Promise titled Defining Webs of Support: A New Framework to Advance Understanding of Relationships and Youth Development that discusses the frameworks of webs of support that are effective in positively impacting youth. This report, written by Shannon M. Varga and Jonathan F. Zaff, defines “Webs of Support” as the “intersection of a multilayered ecology filled with a network of relationships that provide social supports.”




The report helpfully breaks that down for us:

Relationships with people

Relationships with institutions

Relationships with their broader environment




This concept is what drove us to shape our Ideal Program Model, which is to bring together schools, parents, and other adult community leaders like librarians, museum docents, seniors and others to build networks that support youth in ongoing, positive ways.   When Story Tapestries connects with a community in need, we work together with that community to develop a strategy based on the following model:

IMG_0054Observing the community and working together to Assess what they Need

Come in to do a Series of Workshops culminating in some form of Community Event

Work with educators through Professional Development workshops

Work with parents and community members through Community Engagement Events

Reflect on the success of the program by Measuring the Impact

Our network of teaching artists, educators, and community leaders come together during this process to focus on literacy strategies, STEM, 21st Century Skills, and/or social development, depending on the unique needs of the school, utilizing art forms such as storytelling, hip hop/rap, poetry, theatre, dance, visual arts, and much more. We envision this collaboration forming a tapestry weaving together the needs of the community with the creativity and innovation that the arts provide.

One of the ways we’ve seen how the ARTS can be used to weave a tapestry of support for the children we work with is through the impact on LITERACY. The arts are languages that all people speak – they cut across racial, cultural, social, education, and economic barriers and enhance cultural appreciation and awareness.  This means the arts can be used to facilitate communication between students and teachers, between parents and schools, and between community members.


We’re excited to see the Center for Promise further developing and growing this idea of youth being supported by a network of relationships with the individuals, institutions, and environment that surrounds them.  The more we know about the complex environments that shape the lives of youth, the more tools we have in our toolbox to support them.  You can download the full report here.


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Exciting steps toward our Virtual Classroom!


What a week! Story Tapestries just submitted two major grant proposals that, if awarded, will help us take significant strides toward our Virtual Classroom – a brand new website that offers curated arts-integrated lessons and activities for educators, parents and concerned adults.

Story Tapestries is an advocate and a ymca-kids-and-mecollaborator for building a blueprint for success through our network of artists, educators, families, organizations, businesses, presenters and community leaders.  The core principle of what we engage in is Arts Integration which means that we use the arts as a tool to teach with, learn from and develop the community.  We recognize that the keystone in the bridge that we are often building is the arts, but we need to incorporate other pieces of the puzzle (curricula, conflict resolution, financial literacy, community service, etc) to truly create change.   We want our website to be a community resource center – a place for people and organizations to collaborate and connect with a variety of diverse resources.  

The grants we just applied for will help us start building the foundation of our Virtual Classroom, which is our new website.  To take this first step, Story Tapestries decided to partner with a local marketing firm in Maryland, Marstudio, to help us build and design our new framework.  The initial design and building phase for our new website is being tackled from January to June 2017. Then, in July/August 2017 we will be ready to take the next steps toward the Virtual Classroom itself.  Although now that feels like all the time in the world, we know it will be summer before we know it!

Photo Jan 09, 11 43 39 AM  jpeg  Beachland Grade 1 (7)

Marstudio is an award-winning and experienced Strategic Branding & Creative Marketing Firm located in Rockville, MD, and they conduct business locally (Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia), nationwide and internationally.  After researching many options throughout the DC metro region, we realized their commitment to local non-profits while bringing a national and international perspective was exactly the fit we were looking for. We’re excited to be able to partner with a local company to undertake this project.

Although our Virtual Classroom can be used as a tool for teaching all curriculum areas, its benefits for STEAM are particularly exciting.   It will encourage familiarity with crucial modern technologies such as computers and tablets, providing opportunities for children in remote or underserved areas to build computer and internet skills while engaging with the arts.


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“Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” – by Mandela Harmon

Greetings Fellow Bibliophiles,

I recently found myself trying to remember what age I was when I started reading for content instead of just for pleasure. You remember it, right? The 5 W’s…and the H of course! Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.


Anyone who has ever had the luxury of spending time with a young child knows that the “Why” is the first question they seem to discover naturally and attach to everything in the universe!

It’s all too easy as a tired, busy, generally overwhelmed parent to answer, “Because! That’s why!”


My mom never had the luxury of a college education, but she was an avid reader and always “self-taught” herself anything she needed to know; and back in my day that meant with books.  She always expected my sisters and I to be willing to find the answers to our questions, and I can still hear her in my head to this day saying, “let’s look it up!” I still don’t know to this day, as she is no longer here to tell me, whether she knew the answer already, or if by looking it up she didn’t have to admit she didn’t know. Either answer works for me as I still always double check what I believe to be true before I share the info with my daughter.ymca-kids-and-me

As adults, we don’t need to have PhD in everything, we just need to take a moment to help our children learn to find the facts; whether we know the actual answer ourselves is irrelevant. It gives us a chance to grow each day along with them.

In the digital age it is easier to just have our children “go look it up”, but there is so much misinformation out there it’s hard to discern fact from fiction.


So, in this blog I’d like to share with you my favorite series of children’s reference books to help you answer the five W’s and the big H, even if you’ve forgotten the answers and don’t want to admit it.

My Favorite Reference Books for the Very Young (Ages 4-7):

I’ve been a fan of the “I Wonder Why?” series by Kingfisher Publishing from the first time my daughter grabbed one off the shelf in a bookstore!  These books cover just about any topic young minds can posit; everything from “I Wonder Why the Sea Is Salty: and Other Questions About the Oceans” to “I Wonder Why the Sun Rises: and Other Questions About Time and Seasons”. I’m not going to lie about this, friends; many of the questions I bumped into in this series I really didn’t know all the answers to, so I’m glad we “looked it up!”



My Favorite History Series for Grades 3 and Up:

I like the “Who was, What is, and Where is…” series by Grosset & Dunlap Publishers. The books explain not only the facts about the topic, but have fascinating single page inserts that address historical facts that help young readers better understand the challenges faced by the subject during the time they lived in. I like that they also include biographies of living figures so that children understand that their present is part of history; ex. “Who Is Sonia Sotomayor?”


I also still adore Mike Venezia’s biography series “Getting to Know…”, with colorful images and playful illustrations, he covers a diverse range of fascinating people; artists, scientists, composers, and more.  They are appealing and less intimidating to reluctant readers, because the layout of the pages is like a picture book, but still has the same value content as the “Who is…” series.

What also make them unique is that they cover a wide variety of individuals not available in the “Who was…” Series: ex. Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer), Diego Rivera (Mexican 20th Century artist), Daniel Hale Williams (1st African American heart surgeon), etc.


Historical Reference for Middle Grade Readers (Grades 4-7):

I love DK reference books, but I have another favorite I swing towards for Ancient History. The “Navigators” series by Kingfisher Publishing is as jam-packed with facts as the “Eyewitness” series by D.K., but the pages are more vibrant and inviting. The books also have active internet links to safe accurate websites; so if the copyright date is old the site will still have new info.


Lastly friends, I ask you, is “The Guinness Book of World Records”, or the “National Geographic Kids Almanac” (insert year) worthy of being called a real reference book? Totally! Both books are great for grades 3-7 and easy to read aloud piecemeal to younger audiences. They are a healthy break from the heavy reading of school. A book of facts that can just be picked up, randomly opened, and enjoyed when you find yourself stranded on a long car ride, or anywhere else you just want to chill unplugged.


Check them out of your local library, or give them to that classmate you don’t know who invited your kid to their birthday party. Your gift may not seem the “Belle of the Ball”, but I promise once toys and crafts end up piled in a corner, that book will find its way into their hands and keep them captivated more often than you think.

Keep learning, keep reading, and most importantly keep making the time to “look it up!” together with the children you love.

Sincerely Yours, Mandela



About Mandela:

Born in Maryland and raised a little bit of everywhere, Mandela Harmon is a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and giver of bear hugs who currently lives in Monrovia, Md. Mandela attended Hood College to work on a degree in philosophy. She is a lifelong bookworm, and has worked in sales as a children’s book specialist on and off for 15 years. She likes blustery snowbound days reading by a fireplace drinking Earl Grey, hot.

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Learning Through Stories with Carrie Sue Ayvar

-Written by Yvonne Oh


“I just love stories!” says Carrie Sue Ayvar, award-winning storyteller and longtime friend in a recent interview with Story Tapestries. She was explaining her enthusiasm and love for storytelling.


Carrie Sue remembers telling and listening to stories since she was little. Her inspiration to become a storyteller comes from her grandfather whose stories she listened to while visiting him during summers.  “If I came to him with a problem or something, he always had a story to tell. That’s how he encouraged me to figure things out,” she says.

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She is a firm believer of using her art to educate and communicate. “My grandfather taught me that it’s hard to hate someone whose story you know,” she says.


Her stories are traditional and international folktales, with a sprinkling of
her own anecdotes. She regularly incorporates other languages, especially Spanish into her stories.

“Children easily adapt to be bilingual but adults may not be as fluent,” she says. Using familiar stories with bilingual elements help non-native speakers grasp a new language. As these parents continue telling the stories, they can improve on their language skills through using rhyme, rhythm and repetition.


Through her stories, Carrie Sue has been able to incorporate both language and math concepts.  She regularly conducts professional development classes to train teachers to integrate arts into the curriculum. “These things do work.”

Untitled designIn fact, according to the National Assembly of States Arts Agencies (NASAA), the overall effects of arts integration can benefit both English language learners and native English speakers through being able to communicate better. (More about the NASAA findings, here.)

“Everyone should learn one story to tell,” she explains.”Telling a story empowers a person…giving that confidence to speak in front of others.”

Ever busy, Carrie Sue is already looking ahead and preparing programs for the new year. “I’m so lucky to do the things that I love…listening and telling stories.”


You can watch Carrie Sue telling a story about Goldilocks and the Three Jazzy Bears, here.















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Looking back on 2016, Looking forward to 2017!


With only 9 days left in 2016, we’re taking a few moments away from our end-of-year campaign to reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the last year and get ready for the year to come.  We just hit 79% of our goal! This means we still have 20% left to go, or about $4,000.  As we reflect, we are reminded that reaching our goal means empowering Story Tapestries to reach over 1,300 more community members with custom-designed arts-integrated programs.

img_0054We’ve had some wonderful successes, and we’ve also had some wonderful “teaching moments,” and both of those types of experiences are valuable!  One recent success was a residency led by our Executive Director, Arianna Ross, in partnership with teacher Mary McGinn and other educators at Stedwick Elementary.  Arianna kicked off the program with an assembly for the entire school, and then she worked with the individual third-grade classes over the course of five days using theatre, writing, movement, and visual art strategies to help students define elements within a story.  Arianna and the teachers at Stedwick Elementary worked in true partnership to co-plan and co-teach in order to identify and best meet the needs of the students.


During the residency, it became clear that the students would be able to shape the lesson, and the teaching artist and instructors were able to act as a guiding force.  Additionally, the teachers expressed that the process was successful in helping them feel valued through the successes of the students, making it clear that their efforts to integrate arts into their lessons were successful and meaningful.

By the end of the residency, the students had integrated all of the different curriculum standards into the creation of a devised opera that they will work on for the duration of the school year.  At the end of the year, they will have the opportunity to perform their opera at The Kennedy Center, where it will be live-streamed to students in Spain! It was a true privilege for Story Tapestries to play a role in this project that starts with an individual school but will eventually cross national and continental boundaries to create a truly global connection.

About the Artist:


Arianna Ross creates dynamic, educational programs that weave together dance, theatre, creative writing, music and spoken word. For more then 12 years Arianna has performed and taught workshops for all ages both nationally and internationally in many diverse venues. Each program is tailored to the specific age group(s) in attendance.

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