The jazz music is swinging, the parade route is set, we made colorful batons, and we’ve selected our imaginary instruments. “Taya’s the leader!” I call, “Let’s all follow Taya!”
“Now it’s Joshua’s turn to lead! How should we march, Joshua?”
“Lift ‘em high!” “How’s your instrument sound, Armand?”
We chant, call and response style, “Where Y’At? Where Y’At?”
As a teaching artist, I travel to several schools each week. My favorite program to teach is ARC.
Students with families staying in temporary housing residences have access to After-School Reading Club (ARC for short). NYCCT partners with the DOE to bring our Literature at Play theatre program to residences all over New York City. I’ve taught ARC since spring of 2017 at various sites in the South Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.
At my recent site most of my students are between 7 and 15 years old, but that can vary from week to week. I might see the same students several Fridays in a row, or they might be different. There might be lots of us, or only a couple.
When the students learn that Trombone Shorty is also a real person who grew up to write his own story, and is still leading his band today, they immediately make the connection.
It’s snack time when I arrive. Some families will come later but my wonderful DOE teachers and the earliest students are already at the table and I join them. Sometimes it’s just Mr. B and Jason (all names are changed) or Ms. K and Armand and I for the first 20 minutes or so.
Jason likes to see our book ahead of time, which makes him feel special. If it’s one he’s read before he’s excited to share what he remembers. Sometimes Mr. B shares some of the discussions the book prompted if the group read it earlier in ARC. If it’s a new book, Jason makes predictions based on the cover. Armand likes to tell me about his brother or something that happened at school. It’s a lovely opportunity for all of us to sit and talk.
Each week our book is different and full of inspiration for our games and activities. We explore the characters and the world of the story. One of my favorite books from this past year is also the one we read in our final ARC session together.
Trombone Shorty by musician Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews tells the story of his own childhood in Tremé, New Orleans, of growing up in a neighborhood filled with jazz music, where folks call “Where Y’At?” to say “Hello!” He was so little when he began to play that the trombone was almost bigger than he was. The students and I streeeeeech out our arms to slide out our imaginary slides, just like Trombone Shorty does.
A few weeks before my last visit, another artist came to the site. Mr. J is a professional tap dancer who wrote a book about his childhood, growing up wanting to dance, and how hard he had to work to do that. My students tell me all about his visit and how he signed copies of his book for each of them. They show me photos the DOE teachers took during their tap dance lesson. When the students learn that Trombone Shorty is also a real person who grew up to write his own story, and is still leading his band today, they immediately make the connection to Mr. J. I play a video of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue performing in front of Mr. and Mrs. Obama at the White House. My students are entranced. Afterwards they all have opinions to share, and our Mardi Gras parade is filled with laugher, energy, and joy!