Learning in Any Language

By Reiko Gallo, TU ‘18 on January 16, 2018

TU graduate students use ‘YAAAS!’ to explore perceptions of refugee youth with BTU help.

Sitting on the floor in a Patterson High School hallway, TU graduate students discovered that learning is a two-way street.

The candidates for a master’s degree in TU’s Interdisciplinary Arts Infusion (MAIAI) program planned to use art to bridge any language gaps as they taught refugee students from the Baltimore City Community College Refugee Youth Project. 

But from the moment everyone sat down together, the atmosphere was charged with learning on both sides. TU graduate students soon learned some basic phrases from the refugee students they had come to instruct.

“I approached this program with my own preconceived notions of what I could teach the students. But now I see that they can teach me,” said Leshe Anderson, one of the TU graduate students.

Anderson was part of the service learning course, YAAAS! (youth allies and artists taking action in society), conceived by Kate Collins, MAIAI program director. It “allows us to explore how the arts fill an important gap for those who are also not yet proficient in English,” Collins explains.

At Patterson High School, part of the Baltimore City Public School system, 50 percent of the students speak English as a second language and its minority rate is 91 percent, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The young refugees at Patterson High come from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most speak two or three different, with English as the second or third.

“The refugee youth themselves, have a safe, fun, creative environment outside of the school day with adults invested in their learning, who want to listen, and help them create something that expresses what they care most about,” Collins adds.

“We get to help them create something that allows them to be seen as complex, intelligent, multi-dimensional human beings – in a setting that they revere – a university,” she says. “That’s a huge reward for all of us.”

The MAIAI program directed by Collins is aimed at teachers in PK-12 schools, or people who will work in other educational settings with youth.

Research has shown that the loss of a community and support system could be detrimental to a child’s self-esteem. Therefore, exploring, expressing and experimenting in their perceptions and anxieties through art, helps students to feel empowered, according to Wellman and Bay.

“My experience thus far with the RYP project has been uplifting and inspiring,” explains Jackie Martin, another TU graduate student. “Although we are only at the beginning of this work, I truly believe this experience and these young people will influence my own approach to teaching in my classroom.

“They are thoughtful, generous and enthusiastic about the collaborative work we are doing and they inspire me to push myself harder to do more in and out of the classroom every day,” Martin said.

A program that began in 2014, MAIAI places a heavy focus on the integration between all art forms while highlighting the links between them.

BTU – Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore

The YAAAS! Partnership with high school age refugee students and TU graduate students who, for the most part, are fulltime public school teachers invested in learning about arts integration, held their meetings with the refugee students in the evenings for eight weeks.

In order  to participate, TU needed to provide transportation for the high school students to get home safely each evening, since public transportation was not possible.

BTU stepped in with support for this crucial piece of the puzzle, by providing a “Greater Access though Transportation” award. 

“Without these critical funds, this wonderful partnership would not have been possible,” said Collins. 

“With them, a strong partnership has been established,” she added. “We look forward to continuing each fall semester where we explore the intersections of arts, English language learning, college and career-readiness and social action; supporting teachers in becoming informed allies to refugee students.”

Learn more about Towson’s Master’s program for Interdisciplinary Arts Infusion and other opportunities the programs offers to potential graduate students.

What to learn more?

On January 20 from 2-4 p.m., the Youth Artists and Allies taking Action in Society—YAAAS!— is hosting an Open Hours at the Baltimore Museum of Art which is free and open to the public. Guests are invited to drop in anytime during the event to witness the program.

Join them for a creative presentation to learn about their eight-week artistic exploration.

For more information please contact Dave Eassa at deassa@artbma.orgOpen Hours are generously sponsored by PNC Bank.