December 03, 2013
Cornish Students, Youth Groups Discuss Outreach to At-Risk Youth
: Cornish student Ali Maricich (DA '15) shares a laugh with UTB dancers Tonchai Saetern (right) and Jimmy Vongsamphanh. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: UTB breaker Andre Ruth performs. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: UTB break dancers Jimmy Vongsamphanh (left) and Tonchai Saetern watch Aura Yo Vongsamphanh do a handstand as Ron Hertel, Anne Banks and Cornish students (l to r) Julia Sloane (DA '16), Bobby Brandon (AR '14) and Sophie Franco (TH '15), watch. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: Spoken word artist Elizabeth Jetton watches herself in video, a moving piece about losing her mother and the emotional stress that followed. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: Youth 'N Action rapper Kevon Beaver. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: Jessie Dorsey of UTB speaks prior to performing, Brittany Davis in background. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: UTB's Brittany Davis performs with microphone assist from Michelle Lao. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: UTB president Terrell Dorsey uses masks representing the face of frustration and the face of calm to illustrate effective vs. ineffective communication. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: Youth artists, Cornish students and state education experts have fun in warm-up, meet-and-greet excercise. Photo by Mark Bocek.
Cornish class in community arts witnesses music, dance, spoken word and digital storytelling from youth groups reaching out to at-risk youth.
Cornish students are used to performing for other people, but roles were reversed this past week. “On stage” in a Main Campus Center rehearsal room were youth leaders from two local organizations, Youth ‘N Action and Unleash the Brilliance (UTB). The young dancers, musicians and spoken word artists turned adjunct professor Caroline Brown’s Intro to Community Arts class into a showcase of their talents. The youth in both groups acknowledge experiencing trauma at an early age, have turned their lives around through their art, and now use that work to reach out to other at-risk youth in public schools, detention centers and treatment programs.
Finding ways for artists to serve the community is a high priority at the College, and it is also very popular with Cornish students. Intro to Community Arts and similar classes are the “boot camps” that have led a number of students and alumni to community work, including groups such as The Platform, which was recently featured on this site. The class not only allowed Cornish students to see the kind of work the two groups are taking to at-risk youth, but also to enter into a conversation with them about the kinds of things they can do to help promote the work both individually as a college.
Caroline Brown recounts the round-about way the day’s performances came to be. “Last winter I connected with Ron Hertel, program supervisor of Student Mental Health and Wellbeing, at the state superintendent’s office as a result of a conversation that I had with one of his colleagues at the Arts and Social Change Symposium at Seattle Center,” she says. “As a part of his work, Ron works with compassionate schools, and he explained to me that the nature of this is to train teachers and administrators in K-12 public schools how to take into account adverse trauma that many children suffer from at a young age, and how this can affect their learning styles and capacity later during adolescence and beyond.
“He expressed interest in starting some sort of partnership with Cornish and was in particular curious as to my students’ ideas as to how art could be used to support compassionate schools.”
Hertel’s interest dovetailed perfectly with the interests of the students in Intro to Community Arts. According to Brown, Improving K-12 education “is an issue which really resonated with them.” Brown contacted Hertel about starting a dialogue on compassionate schools in her class. Hertel, in turn, suggested that his colleague Anne Banks, arts program supervisor in his office, and Tamara Johnson, the program director of Youth ‘N Action take part. They were soon joined by Terrell Dorsey and Unleash the Brilliance.
Youth ‘N Action’s Tamara Johnson and UTB’s Terrell Dorsey gave presentations on their organizations and their work. Performing representing Youth ‘N Action were rapper Kevon Beaver and spoken word artist Elizabeth Jetton; from UTB were Michelle Lao, musicians Jessie Dorsey and Brittany Davis, and break dancers Andre Ruth, Jimmy Vongsamphanh and Aura Yo Vongsamphanh led by Tonchai Saetern.
Brown sees many possibilities coming out of the class. “Many of my students were also very proactive in talking to the youth about how they want to partner individually beyond the course, or even beyond graduation,” she says. “The directors of the youth groups, folks from the superintendent’s office and I are planning a follow-up dialogue about ways to formalize relationships between Cornish and public schools from here.
“In the meantime, I am deeply grateful to have witnessed the work of those who visited us from the community. I am also very proud of how forthcoming and eager our students were to bridge partnerships and lend their skills and compassion in support of reaching out to at-risk youth.”
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