Growing Minds in Transitional Times

A major focus of Arts Corps’ programs is supporting healthy transitions to and from middle school.  Why? We all understand that routine is secure and comfortable, while change is unpredictable and risky. Transitions can require difficult adjustments. Recent research shows however, that the effects that difficult transitions have on youth (especially in the middle school years) can last much longer and have much greater impact than we once thought.

"I can be very creative and amazing if I apply my ideas and practice them, as well as try even though I could fail."-- Arts Corps Student
“I can be very creative and amazing if I apply my ideas and practice them, as well as try even though I could fail.”– Arts Corps Student

Without intentional efforts on the part of teachers and mentors, the path from elementary to middle school can negatively influence students’ academic performance, motivation, engagement, and behavior. Studies have shown that in addition to their immediate detrimental effects, poor middle school transitions are directly correlated with lack of success in high school and beyond (Schwerdt & West 2011). According to a study performed in Philadelphia in 2006, “40 percent of eventual dropouts could be identified on the basis of poor grades, attendance, and behavior as early as 6th grade” (Neild & Balfanz 2006).

"I can focus and achieve if I try."--Arts Corps Student
“I can focus and achieve if I try.”–Arts Corps Student


So how can we help support healthy and successful transitions during the middle school years? One way is to work toward instilling a growth mindset in our youth through intentional educational practices. A growth mindset, one of four elements of an “academic mindset” proposed by Farrington et al. in 2012 at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, is a belief in one’s own ability and competence to grow with effort. As supported in a study by Blackwell, Trzesniewski and Dweck in 2007, a growth mindset can save a student from spiraling down a path of self-doubt during a time of transitional insecurity.




While a growth mindset can and should be developed in all content areas, we believe arts education is particularly well-suited for cultivating confident and engaged learners. Through Arts Corps’ Creative Schools Initiative (CSI) we integrate arts learning with academic subjects such as history, science, and language arts. In this middle school-focused integration program we encourage a growth mindset by:


"I am stronger than I imagine, and if I work hard, I can do anything!!"--Arts Corps Student
“I am stronger than I imagine, and if I work hard, I can do anything!!”–Arts Corps Student
  1. Encouraging students to set project goals, experiment with different mediums, fail, & learn from their failures.
  2. Emphasizing the practice & development of new skills by introducing new artistic techniques.
  3. Discussing the malleability of intelligence while teaching students that they can grow their abilities in the arts, reading, math, etc through practice and effort. Talent is developed, not born.
  4. Implementing peer & self-evaluation by requiring that students draft their work & evaluate it until it is the best that it can be.
  5. Critiquing students’ work with specific feedback & examples so that they understand not only what worked & what they can improve on, but also how they can make those improvements.

How will you instill a growth mindset in today’s youth ?

The Art of Listening

Liz and Shelby
Fellow AmeriCorps members Liz and Shelby practice field recording

At Arts Corps, we take time to learn from each other’s art forms to develop our own creative perspectives. In this spirit, the AmeriCorps team took turns facilitating Artist Development workshops this year.

Collectively, we expressed with written and spoken word, experimented with visual art, and examined our auditory senses.

I enjoyed leading a workshop on the basics of field recording – getting the team to learn how to use audio equipment, as well as spending an afternoon creating soundscapes with field recordings.

At the heart of these workshops, and at the heart of audio production itself, is an emphasis on critical listening.

I modeled the same theme for my students this year, beginning my Digital Audio Project lesson for Washington State History with a discussion of the difference between hearing and listening. Some students were utterly confused.

“There is no difference” some of them said, instinctively. It was quickly debunked that hearing is something you do without thinking about it; listening, on the other hand, involves active participation and attention to how something sounds.

They took this skill into their project research, examining songs from the 1960’s and 70’s with social justice themes, such as “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday, “Choice of Colors” by The Impressions, and “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud,” by James Brown. The students chose one song to research and reinterpreted the song to show a connection to current events in their community.

After months of meticulously planning the curriculum, I thought I was ready to perfectly execute an integrated arts lesson without a hitch! But as it goes, many barriers changed the way my structured curriculum played out. We collided with testing season, which made the computer labs inaccessible to the class for several days, we experienced software failure on the computers, and ultimately, I underestimated the time that was needed for students to effectively complete their projects.

Nizala An 8th grade student works on their final audio project

After a few adjustments in the requirements and nearly a two-week deadline extension, I’ve learned that there is so much more planning and care that goes into building an experience than the lesson plan itself. In addition to adapting to institutional challenges, you meet individual minds, with individual learning styles and individual personalities. Then you have to adapt your content and teaching style to suit the needs of those individuals. You, as the teaching artist, become the catalyst for informing and challenging the unique perspectives in the room, so that everyone walks away with a richer sense of purpose within the art form.

I’ve found that middle school students (and all students for that matter) can have trouble breaking out of their established school routine. They are often taught that their grade depends on a final product, but the importance of the drafting and planning processes is often lost. In the creation of art, no matter the form, the initial drafting and planning process is integral to a final product, and bears a great weight on its success. For my Digital Audio Project curriculum, I made the project requirements clear before any work began – the proposal, research, presentation, and self-evaluation would all hold equal weight in the final grade. In this way, students needed to be accountable for themselves – do the research, form the presentation, keep their documents organized, and self-reflect in order to succeed on the project.

Arts integration has served to bring a new mode of thinking and learning into the classroom. It gives students the power to make their voice and perspective relevant to their learning. It has given me the opportunity to show how my non-traditional art form is relevant to young people. It shows students that there is in fact a difference between hearing and listening.

Listen to students reflect on their year in this audio case study:

Arts at Madrona K-8 – audio case study by Amy Pinon

This year, I recognized my personal power to be an agent of social change. With my non-traditional art form being misunderstood and underestimated by the school system, I had to fight to be able to develop my own audio-integrated curricula. Through this, I have learned how to effectively design curricula to set students up for success in completing a project. I have also learned how to be flexible and adaptable to accommodate the standards and schedule of the school system, while still upholding my own standards as well as advocating for the relevance and impact of my art form.

The higher vision that I aspire to in my work is to make audio production and recording technology visible and accessible to young people. I recognize it as a tool for youth engagement and empowerment when often times, youth voices are lost in an oppressive, adultist institution. I am humbled that Arts Corps chose me for this position, knowing that my art form is not one that is so easy to execute or that people will so readily accept as an art form. Through this opportunity, I have been able to bring to light the ways in which sound and recording are relevant to our lives – not just for the students, but for fellow teaching artists, classroom teachers, staff, and my AmeriCorps team. Arts Corps took a risk on me, and I think my work will serve as a platform for audio production to obtain the merit it deserves as a powerful art form alongside all the rest.


AmeriCorps Artist-in-Residence

Call for Teaching Artists: Summer 2014

Arts Corps is hiring part-time teaching artists for our 2014/2015 roster with experience facilitating music, dance, theatre, or visual arts for K-12 residencies, arts integration projects and after school programs.

550897_426557344043574_922544699_nArts Corps strives to offer equitable access to excellent arts education in partnership with public schools, community centers and youth serving organizations in Seattle and throughout King County.

We are seeking candidates that are exceptional creative role models with strong youth development skills and a commitment to social justice. Arts Corps is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity.  Teaching artists of color are strongly encouraged to apply.

Arts Corps


E-mail info and materials below to Arts Corps’ Faculty Development Manager:

Please designate TEACHING ARTIST APPLICATION in the subject line),  by FRIDAY, AUGUST 15th, 2014.



Name:______________________________    Phone:___________________________


Email:________________  URL(website):_____________________________________


Mediums you teach:______________________________________________________


Communities you have worked in: ___________________________________________


  • Resume.
  • Personal teaching artist mission statement.
  • Class proposal. (Short description of the course you would passionately like to teach for 8 weeks, including target student age preference).
  • A sample curriculum or lesson plan.
  • Reference list.


Arts Corps Program Team is on a summer hiatus and will reply after August 22nd to all applicants. More info on Arts Corps, our programs and philosophy:

Youth Speaks Seattle + Arts Corps is seeking our new generation of Spokes Leaders!

We’re launching our second Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute (ALLI)  and are looking for teen artists and activists, of all mediums, 14-19 years old, to take on a 9-month commitment of leadership.  Spokes will help us drive our teen programming, develop professional skills and organize our teen events: Open Mics, YSS Slam Series, Writing Circles and MORE!

Please pass this on to any young folks who might be interested.

Complete the paper application, bring in or mail: 2014.15_SPOKES.application

**(copies are also available in the Arts Corps office, at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center)


Complete online:

DUE Friday, September 30th!

#powerpose is the new #selfie


We are living with the most documented generation ever.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and more keep track of everything from our meetings to our vacations, our pets to our dinner.  Is there a place for powerful portraits of people anymore?  Or are selfies now considered art?  In an age where “let me take a selfie” and “#shamelessselfie” are common phrases on the Internet and social media, are portraits and powerful candids obsolete?


As I led a group of nearly a dozen middle-schoolers through an after-school photography club, I gleaned some insight into these questions.  My number one goal for my first-ever photography club was that it be student-driven.  I told students that I wouldn’t give them assignments, or require them to take pictures of certain things.  Mostly, I wanted to guide them through an experience that would expose them to the traditional art of photography, while also letting them guide the club through their own middle school lens.


The first day, I created a diagram of all of the buttons on the camera, and numbers on the screen, and how to adjust for light on a manual setting.  The auto setting was off-limits.  They wanted to take pictures of their food, their friends, and most of all, themselves.  I was not, I repeat not, going to teach a class on selfies.  No no, I was much too much of an educated artist to allow that, and I owed it to the photo club to teach them about history, controversy, and the difference between what we see and what really is.


I showed them portraits taken by well known and little-known photographers, and suggested that they practice taking candid and posed portraits of their families and friend groups.  I quickly learned that this was not the best way to promote curiosity and persistence in photography.  I realized that the students were telling me that doing, going, seeing, and experiencing was how they wanted to learn.  So I learned with them.   We went to the p-patch down the street to capture flowers with the macro setting, created a photo studio in the classroom for some posed portraits of each other, and even walked to Starbucks one day to practice wide-angle shots…and get extra venti mocha frappuccinos… the first of the summer!


In the room next door to Photography Club is Drama Club.  Donte, the 7th and 8th grade Social Studies teacher, introduced me to Power Poses this fall, as I lent my photo skills to drama club rehearsals as they practiced getting into character.  We would put on Eye of the Tiger, get in a circle around the room, and jump into a character of power once in front of the camera.  Power poses, however, were not limited to the drama club.  Parents, teachers, the 6th graders for their Many Cultures One World project, the entire 7th grade for their film fest credits, and now Teaching Artists, have experienced the magic of the power pose.


All these selfies- in Power Pose form- taught me that a selfie is not as narcissistic as older generations might think.  We all love to feel powerful, and a selfie is just that: a power pose.  It’s a statement.  It’s empowerment.  It’s self-acceptance.  (What if everyone in the world refused to take pictures of themselves because they thought they were too ugly?  Now that would be a project for the teaching artists out there!)



As reflect on my year at Orca, I think about all that I have learned about teaching, learning styles, empowerment, flexibility, patience, empathy, self care, and creativity, I will remember power poses.  I will remember students jumping at the chance to use the big DSLR camera.  I will remember my photographs of students included in the MLK day slideshow.  I will remember starting a photo club.  I will remember my photo club students’ final slideshows that included flowers, friends, and frappuccinos!  I will remember how I was encouraged to contribute my creative gifts and talents to an inclusive community of educators that embodies a culture of creativity and empowerment.

By: Liz Farmer, CSI Artist in Service


Please Give a Big Arts Corps Welcome to Estevan Muñoz-Howard!

Dear Arts Corps Community,

I am very excited to introduce Arts Corps’ new Development Director Estevan Muñoz-Howard. Estevan holds great expertise in community organizing, social justice philanthropy and arts advocacy, and shares his creative energy and warm smile with everyone he meets. I am certain that Estevan will have a great impact on the sustainability and growth of Arts Corps, and we could not feel more fortunate to have him on our team.
Estevan Pic

Prior to joining the staff at Arts Corps, Estevan worked as Development Director with Social Justice Fund NW, a public foundation that makes grants to support community organizing projects throughout the region. He currently serves as president of the Washington Bus Education Fund and chair of Fair Elections Seattle, two organizations that work to increase representation and fight for equity in our political system. He also serves on the advisory board of Bailadores de Bronce, an arts organization that celebrates the rich history of Mexican culture and dance. He has previously served on the Seattle Arts Commission, and is excited to help grow Arts Corps’ capacity to provide quality arts education to all of Seattle’s young people. Estevan lives in South Seattle with his amazing wife, Elisha, and their two awesome kids, Aurelio and Benito.


A Message from Estevan: I’m really excited to join the staff at Arts Corps! I’ve been a big fan for several years and am eager to do what I can to help grow the Arts Corps community. Arts Corps works at the intersection of art and social justice–a powerful space that provides us with immense capacity to transform lives and communities. Just as the personal creation of art can be a profoundly liberating experience, so too is the process of cultivating a generation of people who have unlocked their own creative power. This is what I’m excited about, and what I hope to foster in my role on the development team.


Spirit of the Slam: How Our Community Agreements Shape the Competition

Spirit of the Slam: How Our Community Agreements Shape the Competition

If you weren’t there or didn’t hear about it through our many Twitter hashtags, I want to tell you that the 2014 Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam was an explosively tremendous night. Poetry and community intersected between the stage and the bursting pews of Town Hall Seattle. Fierce young poets from across the greater Seattle area graced the mic with their realest truths, let loose, raw and whole through their throats. From carpets to ceiling, there seemed to be a collective agreement to be present and in appreciation of all the stories shared.


To me, the Youth Speaks Seattle Slam Series is a prime example of how a community can honor a competition and loving interconnectedness at the same time. This is not to say that it’s an easy tension to navigate. At a local and national level, the Youth Poetry Slam Movement is constantly discussing how we can hold the gimmick of this game called slam within the sacred space of community. At Brave New Voices (the international youth poetry slam festival), there is ongoing negotiation on how to handle and discuss the scores. At most slams, you can hear the audience, yell “Screw the scores!” or chant in unison, “The point is not the points, the point is the poetry!”. It’s even written in to the slam spiel and history repeated at most poetry slams across the country: The founder of poetry slam, a construction worker named Marc Smith, wanted to give poetry back to the people so he made it into a game. As a slammer of 8+ years, I have explained to countless new participants, “Scoring is our way to trick people into coming a poetry event. And you’re here, aren’t you?”

As a young person, I was more clumsy poet than athletic jock. Slam was a way for me to honor competition and magical team experiences without struggling through sprints. And yet, many believe putting numbers on people’s experiences is running in the opposite direction of community. How do we hold both? Competition can be respectful, fun, motivating and EPIC. It can also prove to be poisonous to an authentic and supportive community if not handled with care. I believe that community must carry it with what some call “the spirit of the slam”. That spirit is one that holds each voice as visible, valuable and a catalyst for shifting culture. While we agree to a scoring system, we also agree to recognize the truth and agency of all voices on the mic. Our experiences cannot be quantified. We agree that we are powerful. Our truths in all their complexity and depth are powerful. Indeed, naming these collective pacts might be key to creating a space where we can make them a reality.

A huge lesson from my first year at Arts Corps and Youth Speaks Seattle was around the importance of creating a set of community agreements. It’s a regular practice of Arts Corps teaching artists to establish community agreements when they are working with a group of young folks. I’ve gotten in the habit of having it be nearly the first thing on the agenda, after learning names and gender pronouns. Teaching artists have different approaches to facilitating the creation of agreements. Ranging from paper snowball fights (where students write their needs in a supportive creative space and throw them across the room to be shared by a peer anonymously) to interviewing in pairs on their requests for the classroom, teaching artists find ways to ask every youth to contribute their voice into how the space will operate.

Whatever way it’s discussed, the creation of community agreements is a special opportunity. It’s a place where young folks get a say in how they get to show up to a space. We live in a world where interlocking oppressions often dictate the “rules”. Creating agreements is a way to pushback against these norms.  While obviously adultism, racism, sexism and all ‘isms still exist in our communities and classrooms, community agreements are one way to recognize and challenge them. Agreements can range from “Be respectful” and “Honor all voices” to “Oppressive dynamics will be challenged” and “Take Space, Make Space”. In the magical and intense context of poetry slam, these types of agreements are essential.


Holding all these tensions, one of the first acts that the 2014 Youth Speaks Seattle Slam Team did together was a creation of community agreements and goals for our team experience. The team of five poets (Carlos Nieto, Evelyn Fitz, Deqa Mumin, Travis Thompson and Koha Farr) and two coaches, YSS mentor Troy Osaki and myself, talked through the balance of competition and community. We looked at the amazing legacy that the Seattle team has for always giving love to all poets who share their work at BNV. All this in mind, some of the agreements we created were:

  • Show Love.
  • Safe & Brave Space.
  • Do Our Best!
  • Rep Seattle! Be Proud!
  • Be Audience Members AND poets!
  • Believe in our stories, voices and values!

We continue to revisit these agreements as BNV grows closer. On July 15th, we’ll take off for Philly to connect and compete with teams from all over the country and the world. We know that the scores we’ll receive have value, but they don’t outweigh the friendships we’ll cultivate, the vulnerability we’ll share and certainly not the movement we are helping to build.


- Shelby

Youth Speaks Seattle & Teen Artist Program AmeriCorps

To receive updates from the Youth Speaks Seattle team while they compete at BNV, follow us on Twitter:

And look out for some BNV vlogs on our Facebook page:

Song Writing and the Creative Process

One of the biggest perks of my job as a teaching artist at Orca is that I can practice being a teacher with the support and resources of several other educators at my side. I get to receive feedback, try new approaches and strategies, and assess how I am doing professionally on a daily basis.

Each day during first period, this dynamic works in my favor during the song writing class that I co-teach with the AWESOME sixth-grade teachers, Jeff and Tanisha.  In the classroom, I get to work through my own creative and professional process alongside those of my students and colleagues.

Our classroom culture aims to create an open and authentic space to write about what interests you. A typical day in song writing (if there is such a thing) might include any of the following: dance warm ups to Justin Timberlake songs, a get–to-know-you game based on Musical Chairs, a presentation on recording via Garage Band, a game of The Human Knot, a visit from fellow CSI teaching artist and song writing guru, Amy, and sustained time to work on writing lyrics.

While teaching artists consider myriad aspects of creativity and education, for now I want to focus on critique, feedback loops, and assessment because there is an element of each in the others. Critique is essential for any artist to hear new perspectives on their work and have the opportunity to engage in something they hadn’t considered. Feedback loops are the result of critiques. For example, “my classmates said the piece wasn’t relateable, so I will tone down the echo effect that makes my lyrics incomprehensible.” Assessment is trickier to define. Arts Corps’ definition is to “make student learning visible and give young artists reflective time.”  In no way is assessment a grade or judgement of a final product.  It is a chance for students to decide how their skills, understanding, behavior, and attitude have changed over the course of the class or project.  In a nutshell, feedback from others and the willingness to receive and create multiple iterations from that feedback is critical to how they will assess their own learning.

For the most recent project, we decided to try a new method of peer evaluation and feedback: post-its.  Since I am from Minneapolis, I decided it was good to keep my fellow Minnesotans employed by requiring each of our 20 students to give feedback to each of the 10 partner groups, including themselves, on post-its.  (I’ll leave the math to you.) After each song, we took a few minutes to write what we heard that we liked, and how we thought they could improve for the next project. This was the result:

photo 1


photo 2


















Suggestions, critique, feedback, and compliments were stuck to each laptop so that we all had the chance to receive feedback. For self assessment, we asked students to write (again on post-its. You’re welcome, 3M.) responses to the prompts, “one thing that was awesome about the way I worked was…” and “one thing I would change about the way I worked was…”  Their thoughtfulness was impressive:  “I helped pick out tracks. I would want to give more ideas.” And, “I tried new things and pushed myself to step out of my comfort zone.  I would change how I worked by pushing myself a little further to sing maybe.”

At a time of transition in my life, my Uncle Dave told me to, “Measure your success in ways that are meaningful to you, not what others might think.”  I have it written on a (virtual) post-it on my laptop screen as reminder to myself of what is important as I experience new identities in various stages of young adulthood. As a rookie artist and educator, evidence of my learning is visible in how I encourage students to be honest and vulnerable, create stories from potentially nebulous ideas, risk putting them on display for peers, and stand tall in their own definitions of success— and to do the same things myself.

-Liz Farmer
AmeriCorps Artist-in-Residence

Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam 2014



Arts Corps presents
Youth Speaks Seattle GRAND SLAM 2014

Doors at 6:30pm / Show at 7:00pm
@ Town Hall Seattle (First Hill)
1119 8th Ave, Seattle, WA 98101

10$ youth / 20$ adults
// Homie discount for groups of 5+ youth = 7$ per ticket
Buy Tickets here:

Hosted by Ela Barton, of Rain City Slam
Featuring Prometheus Brown aka Geo, from the Blue Scholars!
& Romaro Franceswa from YUKMOB
Also featuring YSS alums Raven Taylor (as sacrificial poet) and Donte Johnson (as voice of god)!

Competing Poets:
Evelyn Fitz
Janessa Durden
Koha Farr
Kay Barker Wong
Josie Rimmer
McCall Kipling
Travis Thompson
Acacia Salisbury
Carlos Nieto
Deqa Mumin
Carlynn Newhouse
Keoki Lau

Culminating of the 2014 Youth Speaks Seattle Slam series, 12 finalists will grace the final stage to create a transformative night of poetry. These are some of the finest, most brave and talented young poets in Seattle. At the Grand slam you will witness stories of love, loss, resistance and survival, told through the raw medium of spoken word. The truth will change you.

All poets will perform original works, without the use of music or props. Each poem is scored by a panel of judges from the community–after the 3rd round, 5 poets will be named the 2014 Youth Speaks Seattle Slam Team and for on to represent Seattle at the 2014 International Brave New Voices Festival in Philadelphia in July.

The Grand Slam is Youth Speaks Seattle’s biggest annual fundraiser. In order to continue providing incredible youth-led programs such as our writing circles, open mics, poetry slams and paid internships, we need you to support us!

For more info:
contact shelby handler at

What place does audio production have in the classroom?

Sound is all around you. It manifests in music and alongside visual media; in espresso machines and drops of coffee filling your mug, in freeway traffic, in dog whistles, shouting bats, and cell phone transmissions – it exists as vibrations in the air even when we believe it to be silent.

Upon waking every morning, we are bombarded with sensory information but are not often taught how to wield the power of our senses to create new understandings of the world. This is the culture that audio production fosters.

Audio production includes your favorite CDs and vinyl records. It includes video game sound effects and everything you hear in movies. It is at the heart of live concerts and podcasts and broadcasts and the reason you can hear sound coming out of speakers. Audio production is the process of capturing sound and reproducing it back to an audience – or perhaps to document and archive to retrieve in the future.

In my personal process of integrating arts into the classroom at Madrona K-8, I have been striving to give audio production equal weight as an art form and as a tool for students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic in an unconventional way. To demonstrate this, I recorded and edited my own podcast to represent my own understanding of the unit topic: Poverty.

I worked with a fellow AmeriCorps member at Arts Corps to record one of their spoken word pieces that deals with privilege and opportunity, and then included an interview portion where they talked about the meaning and intention behind their piece. Not only did I end up with a great podcast example, but I managed to show multiple levels of art – not just the artistry of the podcast itself being put together, but the art in crafting words to create meaning and the power this has in a recorded medium.

For the poverty unit, my fellow teaching artist and I collaborated on a rubric to include the choice between a visual project, an audio project, or another mixed media project. Many students took to the idea of using audio recorders to perform a rap, song, or commentary that showed their understanding and interpretation of the poverty unit theme.

There is a certain fearlessness that young people possess when it comes to giving them choices. Too often, the school system institutes rote procedures that allow little room for creative exploration and personal expression. One project really struck me as an example of what we may have never learned about two students’ unique expressive ability had we not given them this creative choice in the classroom.

Poverty project – rap

Audio production teaches young people how they can use their voice as a mechanism to express ideas, how to practice and plan for the moment of recording, and eventually transcend the fleetingness of time by contributing their voice to recorded history.

In the end, it can just be a playful process where students have a means to demonstrate their understanding of a topic in an unconventional way that now has a chance to be shared and celebrated.

AmeriCorps Artist-in-Residence