When Anna came to Urban Arts Academy, she was struggling to find stability in her home life. She had been with many different foster families, and what she needed was a consistent environment that would give her the support and tools to express herself as an individual. At first, calming her body was a struggle for her. She had difficulty engaging in group time, and sitting still during quiet time was especially challenging. Her new foster family worked with the teachers to find what Anna needed to feel secure and confident. Now, Anna doesn’t feel the pressure to sleep during quiet time, but instead, she gives her body rest by sitting and reading quietly. She has many friends and loves to work on art projects with them as collaborative pieces. She is a happy preschooler with an infectious smile, and she is always very proud of the art that she has made. Her confidence grows each day, and now she loves to let everyone know, “I’m being adopted!”
Toni Morrison once said, “make a difference about something other than yourselves.” In our classroom we practice art-making with the underlining goal of honoring our humanity. We accomplish this by reminding ourselves that art-making is one method to cultivate shared compassion, respect, and consideration for others. Arlenis is one student who goes above and beyond in exemplifying this practice. For every art project Arlenis is assigned she not only completes the assignment, but she also creates additional artwork to share with those around her. Once, after completing a self-portrait assignment, Arlenis decided to make a “Spanish to English” dictionary for an UAA intern who expressed an interest in learning Spanish. With her thoughtfulness and joyful initiative, Arlenis is one young artist making a difference in the community of our classroom.
In January we learned about Diana Ross and the Supremes, danced and played music, and made band posters. Two kids, Andrew and Finn, got really into making band posters, and have been writing the names of their bands and putting their posters all over the classroom. Their friendship has grown a lot recently, and it seems that this has really cemented it. Today, while having a guest teacher in to sing Diana Ross songs with us, Andrew was given the cymbals and Finn did not have an instrument. Andrew shared the cymbals with him and they each played one, clapping them together. This feels like such a success, especially because about a year ago when Finn started at Urban Arts he usually played by himself and did not have strong relationships for a while.
Kidpower students working with artist Zach Bgaason (Medium)
Release Day Story
During Release Day Camp in January, Artist Zach Bagaason made beautiful music with the students; the result is this CD he shared with them; they are listening to it every day. Listen to 5 of the songs below.
3 New After-school stories
Julio, a kindergartener, began the school year as a student who seemed unsure of how to play with others. In a moment of conflict, his body was his primary tool for solving problems–he lived in a bilingual world and was still developing language skills that all of his peers could understand. As his teacher, I often picked the brains of my colleagues to brainstorm ideas or ways to form connections with Julio and help facilitate experiences he would most enjoy, hoping this would create a stronger sense of security and community for him. With our new, spring term intern group, we created a “buddy system” for Julio: we paired him with an enthusiastic intern with a psychology and art background who could model and facilitate healthy play, help him verbally advocate for his needs, and feed him some consistent 1-on-1 connection and warmth. The day we implemented this new approach, he came out of his shell in ways we hadn’t expected. He showed stronger interest in group games, he smiled and laughed in the company of other students, and he willingly looked to his “buddy” for help when needed. In the classroom, he had always shown passion for making art, but his focus became even more dedicated with the gentle support of his “buddy” nearby. Consistency, warmth, and developing new, positive experiences were the simple recipe for Julio’s social and artistic success!
“Two of our step-up staff, high school students who had gone through our UAA programming since elementary school, have been arriving early to pick-up their siblings. They stay for a up to a half-hour some days of their accord, leading gym activities, demonstrating leadership skills and conflict resolution, and mentoring younger students.”
“An eighth grade UAA student who has been in and out of our art programming since 2nd grade, mentioned in an interview that he uses art as a ‘coping mechanism’ when hard emotions such as anger arise. He has learned from UAA that when he feels very upset, he can go into his room and draw – making one perfect drawing each time.”
Students in two classes, ages 5th-8th grade, have written (lyrics and beats) and recorded two songs with Stefon Taylor thanks to the Urban Music and Technology grant through Best Buy! They are working on their next songs! What an amazing accomplishment! Thank you BEST BUY!
You can listen to the songs below.
After working with our resident music artist, Stefon, for fall semester, a Middle School student ran up to him and asked him to help her record her own album! He said that he would love to, and they have begun working on songs.
The students are enjoying the Urban Music program so much, they consistently choose to work on their song projects independently when the music artist is not even there!
Student Success Story
“Jay” is a 15-year-old student who has been a UAA participant for 11 consecutive years. He and his siblings are being raised by their grandmother in the Powderhorn neighborhood, due to very challenging family dynamics. All of his siblings also attend UAA.
Jay began attending UAA’s Arts Preschool when he was four years old, and he then attended UAA’s After-School Program through 8th grade. When he was about to enter 9th grade, he applied with the City of Minneapolis “Step-Up” paid internship program, and he was accepted to intern at UAA. He showed great leadership by sharing his knowledge, expertise, and care for younger students. When Jay was asked to reflect on some of his favorite memories at UAA, he shared: jamming with artist Stefon Taylor in the Urban Music classes; graffiti art with artist Alfonzo Fernandez; “Fantasy” mural with artist Alicia Martinson; and constructing a giant wood elephant in the UAA courtyard.
Last summer, Jay returned to intern and participate in the middle school leadership program offered in partnership with Project Footsteps. He shared that he never imagined he could be an agent of change, but now he believes that he can have an impact in his school, family, and community.
Jay recently participated in a site visit with a UAA funder, at which one of the interviewers asked him, “You have been with UAA for 11 years – what keeps you coming back?” He answered: “I have a difficult family situation and UAA has been a safe home for me year after year; members of my family came every year to our family nights and discovered a lot about art expression and community. I learned so much about how to express myself through art…and it helped me grow and get confidence.”
One from Preschool:
“My particular success story is all about Daniel. When he first came into class he was a bit timid and shy. He has since broken out of his shell and is a very active and bright young man. Well, we have been working hard on writing his name for some time. He always said “Miss Laura, I can’t do this.” and our response was always, “can you try the D”? and he would try. Well just the other day, Daniel came over to us and said “Look, I wrote my name!” The smile on his face could melt the polar ice caps.”