Access for All: The Way YA Nourishes My Students

By Edward Massagli, Assistant Principal of Dickey Hill Elementary Middle School

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As a child, I wanted to emulate my hero, Pete Seeger, a legendary American folk singer, by learning to play the Banjo. I saw an exciting advertisement in the newspaper that was promoting Banjo lessons. I signed up immediately, took the first train out, and nervously knocked on the front door to the instructor’s apartment. With a warm welcome, he asked me to play something for him. I anxiously placed the money down onto the table, took out my banjo, and proceeded to play the only song I knew. Just as I was starting to get into the rhythm, he yelled “STOP!”

The instructor stammered with frustration “I can’t do it! You’ve gotta tune your ears, Son. Here, take your money back and please leave.”

That was a sad moment for me.  With the proper guidance, leadership, and encouragement from that instructor, I could have flourished in music, but that experience traumatized me so much that I left and sold the banjo. That type of discouragement is something educators should never to do to our children. Instead, we should be inspiring children with opportunities to explore new art forms in a safe environment where they can comfortably fail, but then with the proper support and encouragement, they can pick themselves back up and try again. The arts are an opportunity for our children to see the world in a different way, perhaps escape their current circumstances, and possibly ignite skills that will help to develop their future careers. If I had the authority as an assistant principal of Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle School, I would have my children exploring the arts every single day, but unfortunately, our abilities are limited.

Dickey Hill has been deeply affected by education budget cuts, year after year, which led to losing our visual arts teacher. While YA is no replacement for the ongoing sequential learning that arts specialists provide and our kids deserve to have as part of their education, YA’s partnership with Dickey Hill has become more critical to us in this challenging time.  YA annually provides us with an Access for All Grant, which provides significant underwriting support for YA residencies, in-school performances, and a recurring culminating performance at our annual Day of the Arts event.

Dickey Hill proudly celebrates our twelve-year relationship with Young Audiences through our annual Day of the Arts, which is dedicated to musical productions, visual art displays throughout the hallways, and finally, a Young Audiences’ culminating performance. The traditional aspect to the event is something that the children can always count on, look forward to, and say “I want to participate in that.”

My favorite moment during the Day of the Arts is always the final culminating performance given by Young Audiences. When the entire student body and their families get to see their friends, sons, and daughters perform up on that stage, the energy is inspiring. Young Audiences’ artists, like Ssuuna, who completed an African dance and drumming residency with Dickey Hill last Spring, make an incredible difference for our Day of the Arts every year. The students exhibit such enthusiasm and really let them selves go through the art forms.

The arts allow opportunities for our children to see the world at a wider span and we must continue to include diverse activities in their everyday lives. Think about the significance of the arts through this analogy:

If I were only providing you with chicken broth for meals everyday, it wouldn’t nourish you very well, but it would sustain you enough to survive. Now if I fed you a rich soup that included a mixture of colorful vegetables, thick noodles, and juicy chicken, then the soup would do more than just feed you for survival, it would completely nourish all of your basic needs in order to grow.

As educators, we must provide our children with rich and nourishing opportunities in the arts to help sustain their basic development needs. Young Audiences and their artists are that rich, colorful and nourishing soup the children and adults need in our schools.

On that note, YA has just released the Fall 2015 Application. I am committed to giving every child at Dickey Hill Elementary Middle School the opportunity to experience as many hands-on arts learning activities as I possibly can, so of course I will be applying.

They have committed to raising $119,000 dollars this year and provide more than 50 Access grants to schools like mine. Dickey Hill has found success, hope, and continuous support through Access for All and our relationship with Young Audiences; we are eternally grateful to the donors that make Access for All possible.

*Access for All:  Through Access for All, Young Audiences artists and programs are available to high-need Baltimore City Public Schools at up to 80 percent off of the cost of delivery. This opportunity helps principals with limited resources provide hands-on learning in the arts to supplement and enrich their curriculums. Access for All is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, the Louis B. II and Josephine L. Kohn Family Foundation, the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, and the Alison Rose Tunis Fund.