Young Audiences in Oregon and Southwest Washington Use the Arts to Re-engage Students: Sharing Season 2021

When Principal John Pede began planning for the return of the students to Hillsboro’s JW Poynter College, he was worried. Stopping the pandemic has been difficult for students and parents around the world, but teachers have reported that some children are having real difficulty adjusting to distance learning. Pede was concerned that they would not re-engage in traditional classroom teaching.

So he called Young Audiences from Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Founded in 1958, the Oregon branch of the nation’s largest arts in education network was once best known as a presenter of classical music performances in schools. Since then, its programs have reached over 4 million students. But while its mission – “to inspire young people and broaden their learning through the arts” – remains constant, Young Audiences has become a provider of hands-on programming in a range of artistic disciplines and cultural traditions, and an important resource. for educators. and artists.

Young Audiences’ annual budget of $ 1.8 million comes from fundraising, national, local and regional grants and revenues generated by school districts. Its 13 employees are supplemented by 20 volunteers.

The nonprofit is a beneficiary of the Oregonian / OregonLive 2021 Sharing Season Vacation Fundraising Campaign. It undertakes to devote all the funds collected to what has become its flagship program: the Right brain initiative.

> Donate to Young Audiences from Oregon and Southwest Washington or at the General Fund of the Season of Sharing

Founded in 2008, the Right Brain Initiative infuses the arts into other areas of education. This can be particularly effective for children who do not thrive in a traditional, passive, conference-oriented format. Dance can be used to help teach number theory, visual arts to improve reading comprehension. Instructors work with students and teachers in professional development courses. According to Young Audiences Executive Director Lauren Jost, the Right Brain Initiative has become “a national model for bringing about substantial cultural change school-wide.”

In a 2012 performance, grade six students at Quatama Elementary School in Hillsboro show off what they learned through the Right Brain Initiative.Oregonian / OregonLive file photo

Poynter Middle School had been involved in the Right Brain Initiative for three years. But after last year’s pandemic stress, Principal Pede knew the school needed the program’s more engaged learning approach more than ever. He integrated it into a two-week summer program designed to ease the transition to live teaching.

“We targeted students who did not have good relationships during distance learning,” he explained.

Pede wanted one particular program: Korekara Taiko, the educational arm of the Portland Performing Arts Group Souzou Unit, who has been involved with the Right Brain Initiative since 2014. Co-directors Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe have been teaching artists for 15 years, and their performances included storytelling, visual arts and dance as well as taiko, music from Japanese percussion ensemble featuring a range of drums. This multi-faceted approach fit well with RBI’s emphasis on integrative learning.

Children of course love to play the drums, but taiko is so much more. “Taiko is exciting and motivating, but it also has its own lessons and deeply held values,” said Fujii. Including respect. Before students were allowed to start hitting objects, they had to soak up the traditions of music and learn to approach them with respectful attitudes.

Another taiko value is community, not least because music requires exquisite coordination between players. The value of cooperation became evident when the students were finally allowed to play together.

“That first drum roll brought them on,” Fujii recalls. “It was transformative. When they felt the power that they all had together, they achieved all they could do when they all embraced the process as peers. When they come together there is this sense of accomplishment inherent. And for many of them, it was a place to re-establish trust and relationships. “

Two taiko drummers perform.

Michelle Fujii (left) and Toru Watanabe are Portland-based taiko artists who participate as artist teachers in Young Audiences of Oregon and SW Washington’s Right Brain Initiative program.Oregonian / OregonLive file photo

The couple also met with teachers from Poynter, showing them how drum exercises can be incorporated into physical education, math, storytelling and more. And they showed teachers how to extend community building in the taiko classroom to the rest of the program.

Pede marveled at the impact on the students. “A lot of the kids we had in our summer program were disengaged,” he said. “Some have struggled with distance learning. Some were reluctant to come to school. Now they are all there almost all the time. Attendance and grades are where they’re supposed to be. I have seen engaged and happy children. By the time they were done they were like, “It was awesome, it was easy, it was fun. “

Jost believes the pandemic has heightened the need for the kind of learning that younger audiences foster, which aligns with recent Oregon policy changes that focus on investing in the whole child.

“We have learned that social and emotional learning is just as crucial for young people as arithmetic,” she said.

Jost believes that the creativity inherent in the arts will be even more valuable in the new economy.

“Oregon needs creative thinkers, kids who will think of new ways to tackle these issues that have blocked us. It is up to us to give them all the tools to help them do so. This means including children excluded from traditional routes. My own experience is that some of these kids have the best ideas.

What your donation can do

$ 25: Provides art supplies for a school workshop.

$ 50: Offers a day of training for teaching artists.

$ 100: Send an artist teaching to a classroom.

> Donate to Young Audiences from Oregon and Southwest Washington or at the General Fund of the Season of Sharing

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Corina C. Butler

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