Hello and Happy July! Hard to believe our last post was all the way at the end of MAY – quite the schedule I’ve been under lately, but so much fun information to share! As I type this, we’re preparing for our first ever Braille Music Institute at the North Dakota School for the Blind, which I’ll be sharing more about as we get further into the week, but over the last month, my attention has been dedicated to something completely different: English Language Learners, also known as individuals learning English as a Second Language, or ESL Learners. My work with this population came out of an experiment started last year by the popular Summer Performing Arts Company (SPA), which engages young students in the Grand Forks community from kindergarten through their highschool years in the performing arts (theatre, music, and dance). Last year, the program pioneered their first ever sections of SPA specialized for ESL students (called ELL SPA) and students with Special Needs (which was called MY SPA). I was fortunate enough to be asked to facilitate some drumming activities for ELL SPA at that time, and it was enough of a hit that they wanted me back this summer, this time to coordinate the whole of the ELL SPA program – quite an undertaking to be sure, but it’s been a tremendous learning and growing experience for me and one I hope to embark on again and again with these wonderful students as often as they’ll let me in future years!
The students in my two sections of ELL SPA (we met from 8am to 10:15, and 10:30 to 12:30) totaled 34 in number, with 30 of them from Nepal. Our community has seen a huge influx in the number of refugees coming from Nepal, and some of the students I worked with had been in the country less than 2 months before starting our program, which ran from May 29th through the 3rd of July. During the 2 hours I had each group for over the course of the month, we worked on everything from learning to play rhythms on the drums and chords on the guitar to writing a play, creating costumes and designing a set, and putting together a video presentation of their final performance to show everyone in the last week. Our goals were to help students develop an understanding of the English Language and American culture through the performing arts, as well as provide them with opportunities for social interaction through sharing their own cultures with us and participating in activities that took them out of their own comfort zone and forced them to work together to achieve success. One favorite game of our students for achieving this last goal was “The Blob.” In this version of tag, one person is deemed “The Blob,” and tasked with chasing everyone else in the group. When “The Blob” manages to reach someone and touch them, that person has to connect to them (either by linking arms or holding hands) and then together they have to tag the next person, who connects to them, and so on, and so on, until you have a giant “Blob” in which all members of the group are eventually “assimilated.” We played this game in a large library (amazingly, without any major injuries – there were times when I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea!) but the game can also be played in small circles, with the movement of the group limited to small shuffling steps, or by blindfolding the members of the “Blob.” Adaptations abound and the game is great fun to work on team work, while addressing issues of personal boundaries and freedom of movement.
This group was also the first one where my expertise in Bellydance was really able to combine with my job as a Music Therapist. Many of my Nepali students were very interested in Bollywood, or East Indian Dance, which many Bellydancers study, so we had several “dance days” where I would bring in my hipscarves and props, and we would teach each other all the moves we knew, boys and girls alike, taking turns plugging our phones and other music-playing-devices into the speakers we were provided, and just enjoying the community of sharing with each other in music. Those are days I’m going to miss for sure!
At the end of the summer, students shared that some of their favorite activities were the same as mine: playing games like the “Blob,” dancing in the library, and learning rhythms and chords to songs like Greenday’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Many of them stated that they were proud of the work they had done, and I would have to agree with them as well: I was tremendously proud of all we were able to do in one short month, but above all it was my honor to be part of such an amazing group of international students, share in learning about their culture’s customs and traditions (and FOOD! Never again will I assume that salads can’t be spicy!) All in all, this was a very new experience for me, but one I can’t imagine having a summer without!
I know I’ll be able to say the same about our Braille Music Institute coming up this week – students are just arriving now, and our special guest Bill McCann of Dancing Dots is hard at work preparing a demonstration of some of the software they’ll be learning to use to create music in both Print and Braille this week. Already, I love the sound of sweet music coming from every corner of the building, from the Technology room to the Commons area – it may be a little hectic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!