Young Audiences Arts for Learning New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania (YA) has a mission to inspire young people and expand their learning through the arts. YA works toward a future where all children in the region engage in quality arts learning that nurtures creativity, expands cultural awareness, and fosters the development of critical thinking skills.
YA is a valued school partner providing programming led by teaching artists across all artforms and numerous cultures. They provide arts experiences to students directly by bringing professional teaching artists to schools. This eliminates barriers to participation and makes the arts accessible to students of every socioeconomic background, geographic area, and ability. YA delivers programming in formats designed to complement the workings of a school, including workshops, residencies, performances, and teacher professional development. All programming is designed to meet school-defined needs.
The Grunin Foundation met with YA back in 2016 to discuss solutions to chronic absenteeism in our schools. They introduced us to their Arts Lab program, which harnesses the power of the arts to reduce chronic absenteeism. YA had applied for the All Kids Thrive grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation so they could establish the Arts Lab program in Mercer County schools. We agreed to match this $300,000 grant if they received it, and they did! We then began discussing implementing the program in Toms River. After meeting with Toms River Regional Schools administration and the Young Audiences team, it was decided that Silver Bay Elementary would be the home of the Arts Lab program.
Through performances, workshops, residencies, professional learning and family arts & creativity, YA worked with school administration, teachers, parents and students to tackle attendance issues and other challenges.
Arts Lab Pre COVID
Before the pandemic hit, Silver Bay Elementary students experienced Arts Lab in the classroom or as part of school assemblies. Here are just a few of the Arts Lab programs the Grunin Foundation team had the opportunity to visit in person before Covid hit…
Hip Hop Fundamentals – Hip Hop Fundamentals is an award-winning team of diverse professional breakdancers dedicated to Hip Hop Education, and the world’s only breakdance education company combining academic and social content with the world’s most dynamic dance form. Their mission is to educate, engage and empower. Hip Hop Fundamentals teaches academic and social content through the lens of Hip Hop dance. They honor the Black cultural roots of Hip Hop by upholding traditions and teaching diversity. Students (and teachers) not only get to watch and learn, they also can join Hip Hop Fundamentals on stage to show off their newfound Hip Hop skills!
Burble Fizz Kaboom – These are super energetic performances by theatre artist Rand Whipple, where students learn about the world of science through fun, humor and maybe a marshmallow or two. The unique ways in which chemical reactions, solutions, molecules, and phase changes are presented, keep students engaged and jumping to participate. They are able to be a part of the experiments and by the end, they are shouting out answers to scientific questions.
Dance to Learn – This program uses the art of dance to encourage students to explore, internalize, and transform classroom learning while developing their individual creative voices. We had the opportunity to watch a few Dance to Learn classes including the grand finale, where students acted out elements of their assigned theme (Ocean, Rain Forest, Safari, Jungle) using their own artistic interpretation through dance. It is an incredible way to integrate the arts as a learning tool for language arts, mathematics, science and social studies, physical education and music curriculums. Diversity, equity and inclusion is also at the forefront of Dance to Learn, which prioritizes excluded and systematically marginalized dance styles, and student populations.
Shifting Gears During Covid & What’s to Come
As we entered the Covid shutdown, YA quickly created a virtual roster for the Arts Lab programming. All Arts Lab teaching artists were prepared to deliver virtual programming by the fall of the 2020-2021 school year.
The pandemic has taken its toll on everyone, and addressing the mental health outcomes will be critical. The Arts Lab program will focus on Social-Emotional Learning, which can help improve positive attitude towards self and others and increase students’ academic performances. Programs will also focus on joy, fun, connection, learning and equity & inclusion by integrating the arts into the curriculum.
While we can’t wait to see these programs fully return in-person, we love how Young Audiences has kept everything going during Covid. To stay up-to-date with Young Audiences and Arts Lab, visit www.yanjep.org.
Special thanks to our friends at Young Audiences Arts for Learning New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania (YA) for all they do to keep the Arts Lab program running successfully!
Michele Russo - President & CEO
Ann Betterton - Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Liz Winter - Education Operations Director