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In 2019, after being an affiliate of the international network of the VSA and Accessibility Department of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, VSA Michigan now faces a new and exciting challenge of being an independent non-profit organization-- and the need to change its current name.
Whatever their name, my storytelling and theatre work with them is only one of the many arts disciplines they offer to classrooms and community programs for work with children and adults with disabilities. For example, I helped young adults with autism put together and perform a puppet show of Snow White and the Dwarves for their school district's early childhood programs. They may have learned a bit about theatre, but I learned a bunch, too, from them.
Beyond that I worked as a storyteller in residence over a semester at two locations in Genesee County at five classes with students, culminating in a Show and Share. Additionally Flint's Institute of Arts hosted Project Choice with several of us as teaching artists involving school groups from the Genesee ISD. That county is part of 10 Affiliate and Partner organizations throughout the state with programs conducted annually reaching more than 25,000 individuals annually.
When I mention their focus, it's upon ability, not disability, and upon creativity and achievement. With some students non-verbal and possibly with severe movement impairments, it's been challenging as I worked for audience involvement. When I say challenging, I'm still learning and seeking to learn even more because I want to bring stories that enrich the student's lives, or as VSA Michigan says:
•Every person deserves access to appropriate learning experiences in the arts.
•The arts promote understanding and communication for everyone.
•The arts are more than a product, they are a process – it’s the journey that counts.
•The arts in their many forms enhance a person’s humanity.
When I tell people about their work, I find myself recommending people get in touch with them to see about bringing their arts education to yet another community. Their educational work is well known, but community arts and cultural organization also can benefit from their expertise in aiding accessibility. I still will recommend them, but what will the name be?
At the same time their training for teaching artists, educators, college students, and community arts education providers continues with their annual Community of Progress Workshop. It runs from August 19 to 21. (This is why I'm posting this earlier than my usual Saturday schedule. It's last minute, but not too late to get involved. If this sounds like you, too -- go to the organization's link at the beginning of this article). I'm looking forward to its emphasis on learning strategies for teaching students on the autism spectrum and with behavioral challenges. This isn't the first of these sessions I've attended and know it will give practical ideas to learn inclusive strategies to create a successful environment in the classroom and for teaching the arts to differentiated learners. I closed out the past school year craving even more training and will travel to the Workshop knowing there will be tons to absorb. I'm told it uses the principles of Universal Design for Learning while minimizing behavioral problems. (Hmmm, sounds like that enhances all work or personal interaction.) The workshop is up north at Higgins Lake near Roscommon and expect to be offline, so the second half of next week will mean playing "catch up."
I expect next week's article will be a posting of Keeping the Public in Public Domain prepared this week.