Braille Trail in Watertown Riverfront Park

It’s summer vacation! Which for me means hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail with my brother. While I’m off on trail, I wanted to share a cool hiking path I came across when I was staying with my friend in Boston for the Berklee ABLE Assembly.

Charles River in the background around mid-morning. A gray brick walk way is visible leading up from the river. The bricks are in field of grass with some leafless bushes planted in between. In the foreground are large rocks forming a little barricade between the grass and a gray, cement, sidewalk.

Charles River in the background around mid-morning. A gray brick walk way is visible leading up from the river. The bricks are in field of grass with some leafless bushes planted in between. In the foreground are large rocks forming a little barricade between the grass and a gray, cement, sidewalk.

Along the Charles River Path, a walkway and bike path that stretches from Watertown, MA all the way into downtown Boston, there’s a section dedicated to help individuals who are blind and visually impaired get out into nature. The aptly named Braille Trail is a lovely stretch of trail right beside the Charles.  A press release from Wicked Local Watertown describes the park quite accurately:

“a crescent-shaped trail of a quarter mile, for blind as well as for seeing visitors. The trail is marked by a guide wire that runs along the edge and which users can hold as they visit the trail. The interior of the trail is a sensory park, which includes a marimba bench and large wooden boats on the ground for visitors to climb on and sit in. There are also walls and logs for visitors to interact with.” [1]

Three wooden objects suspended on a metal string, two rectangles on the left and right and in the middle a cube. A large, cement pole with indistinguishable writing is in the middle of the string behind the cube. Further in the background is a small park with trees and lawn.

Three wooden objects suspended on a metal string, two rectangles on the left and right and in the middle a cube. A large, cement pole with indistinguishable writing is in the middle of the string behind the cube. Further in the background is a small park with trees and lawn.

The Perkins School for the Blind is right across the street from the trail and they were a partner in it’s development with the Massachusetts DCR[2].

Blue sky and few clouds frame an old, brick tower. The bricks are sandstone in color and the tower is gothic in design. A green banner reads “Perkins School for the Blind.” In the foreground are trees in a park sloping uphill to the road, as denoted by a steel barrier.

Blue sky and few clouds frame an old, brick tower. The bricks are sandstone in color and the tower is gothic in design. A green banner reads “Perkins School for the Blind.” In the foreground are trees in a park sloping uphill to the road, as denoted by a steel barrier.

As an educator and hiker, it feels like a real triumph, the coordination of diverse education and public interest to create a singular nature path. Walking along the trail was a real treat and if you find yourself in the Boston area, I suggest you make your way out to Watertown and check it out for yourself!

Four images in row:

Left most is a wooden block with English and Braille reading “Sphere” clearly with other writing difficult to read from the photo.

Next is another wooden block with English and Braille reading “Cylinder” clearly with other writing difficult to read from the photo.

Then a steel concrete pole behind a metal rope with a wooden sphere and cylinder. No writing is visible on these wooden figures

Fourth, all the way on the right, a dirt walking path with a modern design bench. The bench is cement and wood with the wooden panels placed both directions, one facing the Charles River, the other looking out to a park that’s out of frame of the photo.

Sources:

[1] http://watertown.wickedlocal.com/news/20160721/braille-trail-officially-open-at-watertown-riverfront-park

[2] http://www.perkins.org/stories/new-riverfront-park-makes-nature-accessible

Supports for Nonverbal Poets

When I present about the workshops, people often ask how I support students with limited verbal skills. Here are three examples of tools I've used or am using.

White board with black expo marker writing. The writing is broken up into three columns. From left to right: Setting, Plot, Character. There’s handwriting under each column. Setting clearly reads “Sleepy Hollow.” The writing under Plot is more difficult to read. And Character has “Ichabod, Katrina, Brom, Headless Horseman”

White board with black expo marker writing. The writing is broken up into three columns. From left to right: Setting, Plot, Character. There’s handwriting under each column. Setting clearly reads “Sleepy Hollow.” The writing under Plot is more difficult to read. And Character has “Ichabod, Katrina, Brom, Headless Horseman”


"Setting / Character / Plot" is a chart for one of my reading groups. In the session, a student with developmental and emotional needs feels more comfortable writing out ideas than sharing aloud (often asking that no one watches while they write). I created this chart for the group to fill out together at the start of every session, giving all the readers in the group an opportunity to share their knowledge of the story and review it as a whole rather than putting any one of them on the spot.

Brown Butcher paper with writing and drawing in black, green, purple, and blue expo marker. The first part of the title is censored in black but the next two words read “Idea Board” the handwriting is difficult to read as are a lot of the drawings, though some are clearly of animals like a Guinea Pig and Turtle.

Brown Butcher paper with writing and drawing in black, green, purple, and blue expo marker. The first part of the title is censored in black but the next two words read “Idea Board” the handwriting is difficult to read as are a lot of the drawings, though some are clearly of animals like a Guinea Pig and Turtle.


"Idea Board" is a space for a poet with limited verbal skills, but who is often more regulated while drawing and writing. The poster paper's size gives them the opportunity to share their thoughts and contributions with the whole workshop while remaining more grounded and engaged.

On a school white board a chart is written in black expo marker. The chart has two rows and four columns. The title of the chart is “Movement Word Wall” The top row reads from left to right: “Fast Skip Run Left” with each of those words in their own column. The bottom row reads from left to right: “Slow Walk March Right” with each of those words in their own column.

On a school white board a chart is written in black expo marker. The chart has two rows and four columns. The title of the chart is “Movement Word Wall” The top row reads from left to right: “Fast Skip Run Left” with each of those words in their own column. The bottom row reads from left to right: “Slow Walk March Right” with each of those words in their own column.


"Movement Wall" is for a poet who uses a device to communicate. During a specific  movement activity I set up this world wall for them to go and tap (currently working to get the words programmed in) like they would their device to make their choice. This is also a nice visual cue for poets in the group who, while able to verbally communicate, might have difficulties coming up with movement ideas.

These are just a start and have had various successes and failures, if you test these out I'd love to hear how they work in your groups and how you've tweaked them to meet the needs of your students!

Split This Rock Poetry Festival

Split this Rock Poetry Festival

Split This Rock poetry festival is the biennial festival of the Split This Rock organization where, “[e]very two years poets, activists, and dreamers gather in our nation’s capital for four days of readings, workshops, discussions, youth voices & activism.” [1] I applied to their open call for workshops and was pleasantly surprised to be accepted. I had a blast presenting, volunteering, and exploring DC!

excerpt of Langston Hughes poem “Big Buddy” title, author, and poem excerpt in bold white letters on a black background. Square, Split This Rock Poetry Festival name tag in square plastic case. “Donnie Welch” written in black lettering. A cartoon dalamation sticker is in the bottom right corner of the badge.

excerpt of Langston Hughes poem “Big Buddy” title, author, and poem excerpt in bold white letters on a black background. Square, Split This Rock Poetry Festival name tag in square plastic case. “Donnie Welch” written in black lettering. A cartoon dalamation sticker is in the bottom right corner of the badge.

 

April 19th

My day started bright and early with a volunteer orientation. I had taken a late night flight into DC after teaching a full day and probably would have been pretty grumpy were it not for some delicious cookies baked by volunteer coordinator Tyler French. The orientation itself proved pleasant, informative, and engaging. I was impressed by the attention the festival paid to accessibility. In the lead up to the festival, I saw all the email reminders about the scent-free environment, shuttles, and requests for adapted materials, but it’s one thing to talk the talk and another to have these details emphasized throughout the festival.

"People First Language" guidelines included in the Volunteer information packet. Brief introduction followed by two columns “Say This” “Not This” in black lettering on a white background.

"People First Language" guidelines included in the Volunteer information packet. Brief introduction followed by two columns “Say This” “Not This” in black lettering on a white background.

 

After the orientation I got ready for my session which was from  1:30pm-3pm in the Charles Sumner School Museum. An hour and half is the longest I've ever presented and I was pretty nervous leading up to the event. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to fill the time or hold people's interest for that whole slot!

I had nothing to worry about though, because my session was full of an amazing group of people. They were really game for the collaborative activity and curious to learn about my work! After being around so many educators and academics at my other presentations (no offense) it was refreshing to be around poets. There was a general sense of optimism or, perhaps more accurately stated, a “can-do” mentality. People weren’t asking me about budget concerns, common core alignment, class management strategies, and other ( admittedly valid) concerns, instead they wanted to know the poem titles poets came up, what the writing looks like, have any of my students published? It was an exciting atmosphere to be running a workshop in!

Collaborative poem made by the poets in the "Let the Words Sing" workshop at Split This Rock. At the top of a dark wooden table there’s “Don’t Talk the Talk / Come Split this Rock” written in black marker on a manila folder. Stacked vertically underneath are note cards, each with two lines of writing in pen, making up the poem.

Collaborative poem made by the poets in the "Let the Words Sing" workshop at Split This Rock. At the top of a dark wooden table there’s “Don’t Talk the Talk / Come Split this Rock” written in black marker on a manila folder. Stacked vertically underneath are note cards, each with two lines of writing in pen, making up the poem.

After my presentation I went over to the Deaf Poets Society reading where I heard from a line-up of incredible poets. I was especially found of piece from Jay Besemer which used some probiotic imagery ( as I've been working on a kefir poem myself) and the erasure work of Jill Khoury.

The night’s feature was also incredible. Every poet who was reading was someone on my wish list of poets to hear and the Jonathan Mendoza, who opened with his Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Award winning poem "Osmosis", is a familiar face from my Emerson College CUPSI days, so it was cool to see his growth and success!

Festival flyer for Split this Rock. The top title is in white with black and red lettering stating the festival name. The middle of the flyer is black with white and yellow lettering to introduced the featured poets. The bottom of the flyer has a banner of red with white lettering giving the details of the featured reading. The very bottom of the flyer is white with the festival tag line in black lettering.

Festival flyer for Split this Rock. The top title is in white with black and red lettering stating the festival name. The middle of the flyer is black with white and yellow lettering to introduced the featured poets. The bottom of the flyer has a banner of red with white lettering giving the details of the featured reading. The very bottom of the flyer is white with the festival tag line in black lettering.

 

April 20th

I decided to volunteer for Split This Rock in exchange for a free festival pass. While there were presenter rates and I thought it would be fun to involve myself with the organization.

I had a 11am-1pm shift at the merch table  which was really quite pleasant. I’ve sold merch before for friends in bands and the experience, while a little more serious at this level of event planning, was similarly pleasant. The people coming to buy merch were in good spirits, spending vacation money (which isn’t real money) and wanting something to bring home and remember the festival by.

View of the National Housing Center atrium from the merch table. In the foreground, on a table, are rolled up black t-shirts with red stripes bearing black lettering. Beyond that is an atrium with tiled floors and a tall window-like structure jutting out into the atrium space.

View of the National Housing Center atrium from the merch table. In the foreground, on a table, are rolled up black t-shirts with red stripes bearing black lettering. Beyond that is an atrium with tiled floors and a tall window-like structure jutting out into the atrium space.

My next shift started at 3pm, so I popped over to the Wilderness Society and saw their Ansel Adams prints. This (like so many other amazing museums in DC) was absolutely free! I definitely recommend stopping into the gallery if you have chance, it's a truly epic reflection on the American landscape.

My 3pm-5:30pm shift was as a greeter outside of a venue. At this point in the festival most of the attendees had gotten a grasp of the layout, so it was pretty slow going.

I went back after this shift with the intention of taking a power nap, but that turned into a bit more of an endeavor and I accidentally napped through the feature! Gathering myself up, I headed over to the open mic at Busboys & Poets.

When I was younger and more involved in the Slam Poetry scene Busboys & Poets was always talked about by touring poets and older figures in the scene, so it felt fulfilling, in a manner of speaking, to attend an open mic there. I didn’t read, instead I just took in the space and listened to some of the people I had met at festival and in my workshop share their writing.

April 21st

The Social Change Book Fair was amazing! I spent the morning and early afternoon going from booth to booth, talking about my workshops and speaking with editors, journals, and presses both new and familiar.

An open room with large windows full of tables, some covered in cloths, other bare, all with materials (books, computers, magazines) on them and with people behind them sitting in chairs or standing up. On the other side, people are walking around and talking to those behind the tables. It’s clear that its sunny outside as light is coming through the large windows of the space and brightening up the book fair scene.

An open room with large windows full of tables, some covered in cloths, other bare, all with materials (books, computers, magazines) on them and with people behind them sitting in chairs or standing up. On the other side, people are walking around and talking to those behind the tables. It’s clear that its sunny outside as light is coming through the large windows of the space and brightening up the book fair scene.

 

After the book fair, I decided to take the day to explore DC. I went to the National Portrait Gallery and saw the Obama portraits along with a number of other paintings that I recognized, but hadn’t realize were housed there.

I also stumbled upon a painting I’ve been using in a reading group I run on the Sleepy Hollow legend, which was a fun discovery.

Donnie Welch, a young, white male bearded, with glasses and in a black long sleeve shirt stands in front of "The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane" (1858 oil on canvas) by John Quidor pointing at the art. The painting is a water color showing two horsemen, one the black, spectral, headless horseman on a black horse, reared up, the other a regular man on a white horse trying to ride away. The painting fairly small and in an ornate gold colored frame.

Donnie Welch, a young, white male bearded, with glasses and in a black long sleeve shirt stands in front of "The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane" (1858 oil on canvas) by John Quidor pointing at the art. The painting is a water color showing two horsemen, one the black, spectral, headless horseman on a black horse, reared up, the other a regular man on a white horse trying to ride away. The painting fairly small and in an ornate gold colored frame.

 

After that I walked around the city some more and finally circled back to my hotel to freshen up before the closing festivities for Split this Rock.

All in all it was a great adventure. The festival was incredible and highly reccomend it to any poets out there who are interested and DC turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a lot of tourists and powersuits, but I found myself quite charmed by the capital and excited for a return visit sometime.

 

Sources

[1] http://www.splitthisrock.org/programs

Berklee ABLE Assembly

This April I went back to my old college stomping grounds, Boston, MA, to attend Berklee College's Arts Better the Lives of Everyone (ABLE) Assembly. It was a wonderful three day event hosted by the college's Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs.

April 6th

Really cool opening reception, which I suppose should be expected from Berklee. The band during the reception was a jazz trio composed of students from the school. The welcomes all talked a lot about the recent merge between Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory, in part because the merger is what made this program possible.

After the welcomes and introductions, the Merry Rockers took the stage. The Merry Rockers are a reggae band and led by Marissa "Mar" Lelogeais  a Berklee Alumni and self-advocate with cerebral palsy and a visual impairment. Mar took some time on the mic to talk about what drew her to the reggae scene. She said, in particular, that it’s focus on positivity and the lyrics that uplift whether than dwell on difficulties or  belittle or demean others drew her into the genre.

The reception ended with the trio taking the stage and the Merry Rockers dispersing into the crowd. It was a cool way to set the tone for a conference dedicated to “Arts Education and Special Needs”

In purple-hued stage lights two musicians play. A younger black male in a short sleeve gray shirt and jeans plays trumpet with a younger white male with long hairs in a black cardigan and dark jeans plays stand-up bass. They’re both on stage with large monitors, a drum set, and key board around them a and screen bearing the conference title behind them

In purple-hued stage lights two musicians play. A younger black male in a short sleeve gray shirt and jeans plays trumpet with a younger white male with long hairs in a black cardigan and dark jeans plays stand-up bass. They’re both on stage with large monitors, a drum set, and key board around them a and screen bearing the conference title behind them

 

April 7th

I got a bit of a late start to the conference. I stayed out in Watertown with an old friend of mine, rather than spend the money on a hotel closer. While it was really cool to catch up with him and have a more familiar environment than a hotel to return to, I learned that proximity is really important in conference-ing. These events can be exhausting, especially as someone who has to make a conscious effort to network. They start early and tend (officially or unofficially) run late, so being able to wake up and walk right over to the venue makes a big difference.

I started this day off with a session on movement entitled “Meaningful Movement in the Classroom: Techniques and Activities to Deepen Learning and Increase Engagement” led by Portia Abernathy the Director of Programs at VSA Massachusetts. The workshop was really well done and offered a lot of actionable ideas for classrooms big and small.

One of my favorites was the “Flock” activity: the group, probably around 40 people, was broken into smaller groups of 4-6 each with their own set of movement guidelines. The person at the point of the small group was the leader and the others had to follow their movement until it was passed onto the next member. This process continuing all the way around the group.

 Over the course of the activity, these small groups joined one another until all of the attendees were moving together. It was a fascinating activity that really required concentration and attention to one another, something Abernathy pointed out at the start, as we had to be aware of the shifts and follow whoever becomes the new leader. Also, the feeling of that leader position shifting to me was intense! There was something very moving (no pun intended) about knowing that 40 other people, in this instance complete strangers, were following my lead. I can see how students could really bloom after having that kind of an experience.

Lunch was free, but hosted at the Berklee College dining hall. While I’m certainly never one to complain about free food, and especially fresh, good, free food, it felt a little off putting and to be thrust into that setting. Maybe that’s due in part to my own experience as an undergraduate in Boston rolling out of bed to meet up with friends and eat away all those late  nights studying.

After lunch I had my workshop. Working on the audio and visual stuff with Berklee sound folks was pretty awesome! Tom (the guy in charge of my stage) was really kind and accommodating and I’m grateful for his patience during my set up!

Having a session slot right after lunch is always a little tricky. People are usually a bit late, and a bit sleepy, but the group I had was amazing. I had a small, but devoted crew! I had about 10 people, which really was the perfect size for the activity I had in mind, and all of them seemed really interested in and committed to learning about my work.

During the model workshop/ collaborative writing portion they were really together and we made a lovely little poem based on my wishful Spring prompt.

“April Showers / bring Mayflowers” is written in black lettering on a white board. Below that in a vertical column are note cards. It’s clear that there’s writing on the cards, but the writing itself is illegible in the photo.

“April Showers / bring Mayflowers” is written in black lettering on a white board. Below that in a vertical column are note cards. It’s clear that there’s writing on the cards, but the writing itself is illegible in the photo.

 

After my workshop I attended two back to back sessions “Music Learning and the Brain” by Erica Knowles and “The Effects of Rhythm on Social-Emotional Learning Skills Development” by Jonathan Mende. These two were standard 20 minute sessions with a set 10 minutes for Q&A after. The ABLE Assembly had a lot of interesting formats and groupings for presentations which broke up the event nicely, including the ABLE 15, “lightning rounds of 15-minute presentations, grouped into 45–minute sessions.”[1]

I was especially interested in hearing Mende talk about his work. The presentation was on his organization Drums & Wellness, “a drum-based educational program for community and personal development.”

In a classroom with a brown rug, desks, and tiled, white ceiling Jonathan Mende, a younger black male in a black suit, red tie, and glasses, presents to an audience, his hands out stretched emphatically. Behind him is a colorful slide and around him is a table with computer. Below this table is an amplifier, plugged in, with a white mesh front.

In a classroom with a brown rug, desks, and tiled, white ceiling Jonathan Mende, a younger black male in a black suit, red tie, and glasses, presents to an audience, his hands out stretched emphatically. Behind him is a colorful slide and around him is a table with computer. Below this table is an amplifier, plugged in, with a white mesh front.

 

After these sessions, I caught the tail end of Sheila Scott’s “Vocal Activities for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” When I walked in she was playing a kazoo which, while not my cup of tea, I can certainly see younger children really responding to and finding some enjoyment in.

April 8th

I’ve been making a conscious effort to take time and enjoy the cities I travel to, for example in Austin I took time to hike the Greenbelt, so I decided to hang out with my friend and visit Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The Boston MFA is one of all-time favorite museums. As a college student I was able to get in for free, so I ended up spending a lot of afternoons and evenings wandering around and taking in the artwork.

The Takashi Murakami exhibit had just closed on April 1st which I was really bummed about! I’m hoping that it makes it’s way to NYC soon, but I was able to catch a little sneak peak of it as the museum was still in the process of taking it down. I was excited to see their other special exhibit though: the sketches of Klimt and Schiele: Drawn which was a cool look at the early work of Klimt and introduced me to Schiele’s work which I had never seen before.

I also paid a visit to the reconstructed Buddhist temple the museum hosts and, along the way, was really taken by another rotating display they had of Japanese psychedelic art from the 1970s. The illustrations of Takeda Hideo held my attention in particular and it was fascinating seeing the ways in which Japanese artist responded to the Zeitgiest of that era because the American imagery is so recognizable.

After that, a trip to a favorite coffee shop in Brighton and a quiet dinner with some friends closed out my trip. I’m always charmed anew by the city of Boston. While I’m not sure I'd want to live there again, I can say for certain I’m excited for a return visit.  

Sources:

[1] https://www.berklee.edu/able/call-proposals-able-assembly-arts-better-lives-everyone

SXSWedu 2018

March 4th

My trip to Austin started with a delay at JFK. However, it wasn’t all bad. The passengers were mainly people traveling to the conference so I was able to meet teachers and administrators from NYC schools, an education activist, and the Founding Executive Director and Dream Director of a company from Connecticut called Workspace Education who I actually sat next to on the flight down.

Once I finally landed, I checked out The Lion & The Pirate open mic at Malvern Books. This is an inclusive open mic organized by Pen 2 Paper an arts branch of the advocacy group Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.

 

I was only able to catch the tail end of the event because of my flight delay, but what I saw was a really powerful community of writers and musicians sharing some funny, touching, and moving work.

I ended the night with SXSWedu’s early bird social. This is a pretty low key event for attendees who are in time to get their badges on Sunday night. As someone who is more introverted by nature, I find this event a nice time to warm up my networking skills before the conference really kicks off.

March 5th

I started at the keynote “Stories of Schooling & Getting Schooled” hosted by the Moth’s Micaela Blei and featuring stories from three teachers: Chris De La Cruz, Crystal Duckert, and Tim Manley. The session brought a nice energy to kick off the conference and as Micaela Blei said, “we want to open the conference with teacher voices.”

 

After the keynote I spent time exploring the PBS Teacher’s lounge. This was one of the sponsored hang out spots throughout the conference offering coffee, snacks, refreshment, and more colloquial programming. For example, on my first visit to the lounge it was a conversation on media literacy led by a member of the PBS media team. PBS was also giving out T-shirts with their retro logo and I definitely waited in line for one.

My first breakout session of the day was, “Create a Generation of Super-Students with Fitness” led by Dr. Elsie Traveras from Massachusetts General Hospital and Kathleen Tullie, the founder of the BOKS program. It was an interesting run down of how practice can couple with research. BOKS is a before school movement program that offers a, “free physical activity program that improves our children physically, mentally and socially by strengthening their minds and bodies through movement.”[1] After the success of the program in area schools, Dr. Traveras became intrigued and conducted a three year study to prove that, “before-school exercise has a direct effect not only on a student’s academic performance, but on their mental and physical well-being.”[2]

I floated around the expo hall, where all the vendors are located, and was pleasantly surprised to see 826 National represented. 826 is a non-profit providing youth with creative writing opportunities. They have seven chapters throughout the country that, “[offer] five core programs: after-school tutoring, field trips, workshops, Young Authors’ Book Project, and in-school programs — all free of charge — for students, classes, and schools.”[3] At the national level, the organization has now complied the resources of their seven chapters into one online location that’s free for teachers to access! If you want to sign up yourself then go to www.826Digital.com 

One of the best sessions I went to all conference happened this afternoon. I attended a panel entitled “Art as a Pathway to Health & Wellness.” The session was hosted by Head Starter Network and consisted of Jeanette Betancourt of the Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street), Lee Francis of Native Realities a publisher who, “strive[s] to give you the most original and authentic representations of Native and Indigenous peoples through stories and texts that educate and entertain children, youth and adults,” [4]Melissa Menzer from the National Endowment for the Arts, and Jane Park Woo from the Clinton Foundation.

It was a fascinating discussion on the role art can play in human development and how it scientifically impacts our emotional and physical health. I learned the term “neuroasthetics” which is, “a new field of research emerging at the intersection of psychological aesthetics, neuroscience and human evolution. The main objective of neuroaesthetics is to characterize the neurobiological foundations and evolutionary history of the cognitive and affective processes involved in aesthetic experiences and artistic and other creative activities.” [5] I had never heard of the term before and now I keep digging into it as it seems so central to the work I’m doing in the poetry workshops.

 

March 6th

Spent the morning prepping and getting ready for my presentation “I’ve Got Rhythm: Poetry in Autism Education.”

Donnie Welch a young white male with brown hair, a beard, and glasses stands on a red carpet with a blue banner for SXSWedu 2018 behind him. The blue banner his SXSWedu 2018 and the event details in white-yellow hued text. Welch is wearing tan dress shoes, blue pants and a paisley shirt.

Donnie Welch a young white male with brown hair, a beard, and glasses stands on a red carpet with a blue banner for SXSWedu 2018 behind him. The blue banner his SXSWedu 2018 and the event details in white-yellow hued text. Welch is wearing tan dress shoes, blue pants and a paisley shirt.

 

The session went really well and was definitely a step up from anything I had previously done as a speaker or presenter; as evidenced by my being given a clicker for slide changes!

For real though, people in the audience were receptive and interested. I had educators, parents, and administrators coming up to pick my brain later, and after the conference received a tweet from a librarian who made use of the information I shared as soon as she got back to work.

After my session and a lunch break, I checked out the talk, “Fellowships Are the Next Big Youth Extracurricular” led by Yerba Buena Center for the Art’s Jonathan Moscone. He shared stories from the Youth Fellows program YBCA runs, “a yearlong paid fellowship for high schoolers that places them at the intersection of art and activism.” [6] It’s a fascinating initiative that places youth in the driving seat of art and change in their own neighborhoods.

One of the highlighted projects paired young artists and designers with a neon glass company so that they could create new lights for their local bodegas. The lights would depict fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food rather than the alcohol neons that storefronts are given promotionally. The Youth Fellows were responsible for budgeting this project, forging connections with the stores in their community, and completing the creative piece as well. Really cool stuff!

I ended the day in the Startup Spotlight, a space that is mainly for edtech startups hoping to find funders and/or new users. I usually don’t spend too much time in these spaces, but my friends from Workspace, who I met back on the plane in JFK, were there to talk about their organization and I wanted to give them some support. You can find out about the cool work their doing with community driven, alternative education by visiting http://workspaceeducation.org/

March 7th

I gave myself the morning to explore Lady Bird Lake and the Barton Springs Greenbelt. These are part of a really gorgeous urban park network that offers amazing natural scenery and views of the Austin skyline. The Barton Springs Greenbelt alone has over twelve miles of hiking trails![7]

In the foreground is a fairly wide dirt path with a metal bench, one person running, and two people walking together. Beside the path is a river. The path is covered in trees, some green with leaves others with small purple/pink buds. In the background is a bridge and beyond that are skyscrapers in the Austin, TX skyline.

In the foreground is a fairly wide dirt path with a metal bench, one person running, and two people walking together. Beside the path is a river. The path is covered in trees, some green with leaves others with small purple/pink buds. In the background is a bridge and beyond that are skyscrapers in the Austin, TX skyline.

After a couple hours hiking and enjoying the warm weather I returned to the conference to hear a featured conversation: “National Arts Networks & Stories of Impact.” This was a conversation between the Kennedy Center’s Mario Rossero and Hakim Bellamy a Citizen Artist Fellow with the Kennedy Center and the inaugural Poet Laureate of Albuquerque, NM. While much of the session involved stories directly related to the Kennedy Center’s work,  Rossero and Bellamy both brought a wealth of experience, albeit slightly different perspectives, so their conversation had real wisdom about building community through arts programming in schools.

I spent the rest of the day popping in and out of some of the more informal, quirky, and hands-on sessions like “Make a Food Computer” and “Virtual Voyaging Through California State Parks” which offered ways to blend ecology, technology, and outdoor education.

March 8th

The last day is always fascinating because downtown Austin transforms itself in preparation for the main SXSW music and film festival which begins the following week.

Much like the city, I decided to prepare for the future, and attended a Panel Picker 2019 meetup to receive some insight into what the programming committee is looking for in next year’s conference.

Then, before my afternoon flight home, I caught the first of the three closing keynotes: “Who Has the Right to Education” by Dr. Alaa Murabit. This was an amazing investigation into the root causes of inequality in education, especially in relation to women’s education, and suggested points of entry for teachers to start instilling change in their own classrooms and schools.

 

I left Austin (my flight delayed again, but only a half-hour this time!) ready to push myself as an educator and help my students achieve more and dream bigger.  This conference is always a blast. I find it especially inspiring because of its bend toward innovation. SXSWedu is a space that accepts, welcomes, and showcases new ideas in the field rather than rehashing the same researched notions. It draws a crowd of practitioners who are willing to experiment in order to improve their efficacy as teachers and classroom leaders. This cohort is the community I always seek out when attending other conferences, so it’s a motivating feeling to be with spend a week, learning and discovering, alongside forward moving, forward thinking teachers and educators..

 

Sources

[1] https://www.bokskids.org/

[2] SXSWedu 2018 Program guide

[3] https://826national.org/about/

[4] https://www.nativerealities.com/pages/about-us

[5] https://neuroaesthetics.net/neuroaesthetics/

[6] SXSWedu 2018 Program Guide

[7] https://austinot.com/austin-greenbelt-guide

Justice Leauge Teachers

 I've been included in the Justice League Teachers, a "guide to sessions led by working preK-12 classroom teachers whose not-so-secret identities put them on the front lines of conversations about social change at SXSW EDU 2018." It's a really humbling list to be associated with as these educators are doing truly inspiring work.

Thanks to guest blogger Mike Kleba for the write up! Read the blog by clicking here

 

 

Keeping Workshop Notes

I’ve recently been invited to present at education conferences and poetry festivals. This Include's SXSWedu, Split this Rock, and Berklee's ABLE Assembly.

Screenshot of flyer for Berklee College’s ABLE Assembly. Woman in yellow jacket and black dress speaks to an auditorium full of people sitting and listening attentively, some taking notes others just watching.

Screenshot of flyer for Berklee College’s ABLE Assembly. Woman in yellow jacket and black dress speaks to an auditorium full of people sitting and listening attentively, some taking notes others just watching.

It’s amazing and I’m incredibly excited, but preparing for these session makes me wonder: how do I stay present in the work?

With these presentations looming over me, it’s easy to over analyze sessions. A common inner monologue I have running is: “Okay, is there any part of this I can use in a speech? How can I frame this?”

I don’t want to start seeing these groups as case studies. They’re workshops full of incredibly talented and creative young writers. I want to keep myself and my curriculum flexible rather than worry about the potential talking points and video clips (I make a point to film all the sessions).

However it’s a difficult balance.

One thing I've done to offset this feeling is keep a journal. After every day of workshops I write short reflections: the highs and lows, anything of note, anything I need to try for next time, etc. while it's still fresh in mind.

I call them workshop notes (hence the name of this blog) playing on the session notes that OT, Speech, PT, Mental Health, and other therapists make after they see a student.

Knowing ahead of time that I've blocked off time in my schedule to reflect gives me the freedom to stay flexible and present during a session. I can't recommend this enough for anyone doing work in Arts Education. It's an easy enough practice, it's only as time intensive as you want to make it, and it's helped me keep track of the work I've done, making it easier to look back and, as result, look ahead without losing focus on the present

Activities for Daily Living

I penned "Activities for Daily Living" shortly after returning from a conference where I was disappointed with the direction leaders in special education and autism education in particular were taking the field. It's a short piece advocating for more arts education for neurodiverse learners.

Give it a read up on the Solstice Literary Magazine blog!

https://solsticelitmag.org/blog/neurodiverse-students-need-creative-arts/

19th International CEC-DADD Conference on Autism, Intellectual Disability, and Developmental Disabilities

 

I was accepted to give a poster presentation entitled “No Gravity in My Poetry: Poetry Workshops as Social Emotional Literacy Learning” at 19th International CEC-DADD Conference on Autism, Intellectual Disability, and Developmental Disabilities.

Donnie Welch, young caucasian male, stands in front of an academic poster title “No Gravity in My Poetry: Social Emotional Literacy Learning” He smiling and in a green turtle neck. Red conference lanyard around his neck. Images of students have been censored out using “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” monkey emojis.

Donnie Welch, young caucasian male, stands in front of an academic poster title “No Gravity in My Poetry: Social Emotional Literacy Learning” He smiling and in a green turtle neck. Red conference lanyard around his neck. Images of students have been censored out using “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” monkey emojis.

 It was a fascinating four days! Below are some brief, journal reflections from my time!

Tuesday

Flew away from the snow in NYC to a 72 degree Tampa day.

It felt nice to relax and settle in so that I didn’t have to balance my travel with the first day activities.

I unpacked, went up to the fitness center (which was on the top floor with a gorgeous view of the coast) then explored around for dinner.

Every restaurant around had a wait time! I ended up back at the Sheraton’s Mainstay Tavern which surprised me with its craft beer selection and really delicious food. I had a Grouper sandwich, apparently a must have dish in this part of the state according to my kindly lyft driver, and a salad with a house made raspberry vinaigrette. Not a bad start!

 

Wednesday

Registered nice and early!

Conference Materials for the CEC-DADD 2018 conference. At top is a red lanyard with a sponsors name on it, the name is blurred by a twist in the lanyard. Below the red lanyard is the program written in blue and pink text on a white, laminated booklet. At the bottom of the booklet is a picture of an island/beach sunset. To the right of this picture is a badge with “Donald Welch” on it and rainbow “presenter” ribbon attached.

Conference Materials for the CEC-DADD 2018 conference. At top is a red lanyard with a sponsors name on it, the name is blurred by a twist in the lanyard. Below the red lanyard is the program written in blue and pink text on a white, laminated booklet. At the bottom of the booklet is a picture of an island/beach sunset. To the right of this picture is a badge with “Donald Welch” on it and rainbow “presenter” ribbon attached.

 

There was a sponsored luncheon between the pre-conference training sessions. Since those cost extra and were on topics I wasn’t too interested in I skipped those, giving me the morning to myself. I spent it preparing for my poster, figuring out what sessions I wanted to attend for the conference, and exploring Sand Key Park next door to the resort.

Got my poster safe and sound with the help of a young concierge named Brent. A big relief to have it in my room and know it arrived!

The Opening session was a nice reflection of education legislation and changes in Florida. While it was a little state specific, it was still cool to hear about the progress places are making around the country. It was also interesting to learn about some of the innovative post-secondary institutions that are popping like the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities. In fact, post secondary and transitions would prove to be a pretty large theme of the conference with quite a few posters and spoken presentations geared around that piece of education.

After the opening came the first round of posters. I was glad to have the opportunity to be a spectator before I put mine up the next morning. It gave me a chance to listen to conversations and see the way people with more experience handled themselves and talked people through their presentations in a timely manner.

In this session I met Dr. Christopher Denning from Umass Boston who was presenting “Piloting a Physical Activity Program for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” He was really kind, listening to my rookie concerns about my presentation the next morning and then pointing me in the direction of some movement research that might be helpful for my workshops!

Academic poster form Umass Boston. The title and subtitle blocked out by a light glare. The Umass Boston logo and color scheme, blue and white, are employed throughout. The lettering and charts are black on a white background.

Academic poster form Umass Boston. The title and subtitle blocked out by a light glare. The Umass Boston logo and color scheme, blue and white, are employed throughout. The lettering and charts are black on a white background.

 

Thursday

Big Day!

I had my poster up in the morning sessions and it was a fun, new experience. I really enjoyed the conversational tone of the presentation format and found that the hour and half block went by fast. I had a steady flow of people popping in and out to chat and listen.

There was also a camaraderie with the other poster presenters that I didn’t necessarily expect. I had my neighbor presenters stopping in to chat and hear about my work and I did the same for them. Even though our work and perspectives were different, the whole vibe was a cordial, supportive, and helped take the edge off any nerves I had.

After my session I stopped into the DADD Online Journal publication session where editor Dr. Stanley Zucker went over publishing in the DADD's online journal. As one of the people in the session who had no previous experience with academic publication, Dr. Zucker used my work as a walk-through example for turning a poster into a paper. While the process itself was for the benefit of the group, I found it personally, really beneficial as a I continue to draft my submission together.

I then attended an amazing session facilitated by Dr. Elizabeth Harkins with Christine Scholma and Rebecca Kammes there in person and Dr. Gloria Nules and Dr. Rhonda Black video chatting in from Hawaii. Their presentation, “How to Navigate the Sexuality Dance: Inclusive Sexuality in the Current Political Landscape,” was an informative presentation complete with actionable ideas for teachers, professors, family therapists, and really anyone working with students. “I say all the scary words first,” was my favorite piece of plain-spoken advice from Christine Scholma.

Worksheet typed up in black ink on a white paper. Around the given, typed, information are handwritten notes in blue ink. Some of theses handwritten notes are circled or have arrows to help relate back to specific points in the typed information on the worksheet.

Worksheet typed up in black ink on a white paper. Around the given, typed, information are handwritten notes in blue ink. Some of theses handwritten notes are circled or have arrows to help relate back to specific points in the typed information on the worksheet.

 Before lunch, I stopped in on a session led by Dianne Zager of the new Shrub Oak International School. The presentation “A Model for Transition Programming for High School Students with Autism” gave a rundown of various transitions models, offered ways they can be used together for greater success, and included a pretty robust discussion period with the attendees.

The last sessions of the day ended at 4:30 leaving a lot of downtime to get dinner, relax, and explore around the resort. I wish there was more late night programming, but as someone much younger than the average attendee, perhaps I’m in the minority on that opinion. I know many attendees brought families along and probably appreciated the time to have a vacation with them.

 

Friday

There’s this great scene in the documentary Woodstock where a person who attended the festival recalls Jimi Hendrix’s performance on the last day and says something to the effect of, “I was so tired I remember just wondering when he would stop.” This always stays with me. It could be the most ground breaking performance (like a re-imagining of the Star Spangled Banner) but at a certain point the energy just fades.

I often feel this way at big conferences, to no fault of the organizers or presenters!

I spent most of the morning poster session enjoying the continental breakfast, checking in for my flight, downloading my boarding pass, then taking care of odds and ends for my travel home.

I attended a panel “Perspectives on Publishing Pre-Tenure: Advice from Experts in the Field,” that was (quite clearly) more for early career academics, but I still gleaned some good writing tips and listening to a group of people discuss their craft and writing habits was a nice, non-intensive activity on the last day.

Dr. Elizabeth Harkins was leading another session with Dr. Gloria Niles video chatting in again, this one entitled, “Challenging Heteronormativity: Intersectionality of Gender, Sexuality, and Disability.” I enjoyed the first so much I decided to stop in and wasn’t disappointed!

After another catered lunch (tacos!) I sat in on “The Science of Mindful Breathing” presented by Dr Amrita Chaturvedi, Dr. Nikki Murdick and Dr. Kristine Larson and learned some new breathing techniques, namely alternate nostril breathing, which, while easy enough to perform, but can be quite the head rush!

The closing keynote was delivered by Robert Pio Hajjar, a self-advocate and author who offered his, “ I can, YOU can,” motivational speech as final call to action for the event.

Black and white photo of a large, hotel, ballroom. In the foreground, a table with a pen and conference booklet, you can’t quite make out what it says. Beyond that are people sitting in chairs at round tables and listening to a closing keynote given by an older , male caucasian speaker at a podium.

Black and white photo of a large, hotel, ballroom. In the foreground, a table with a pen and conference booklet, you can’t quite make out what it says. Beyond that are people sitting in chairs at round tables and listening to a closing keynote given by an older , male caucasian speaker at a podium.

 All in all it was a great time! More academic and research geared than I’m used to, but it was interesting to be among that section of the industry for a while and see the work people are doing in the field.

Involving Other Adults

One of the hardest parts of running a group is getting the other adults, whether therapists, paras, TAs, or parents, involved in the activity. The most successful sessions I run are when the adults attending are just as invested as the students.

It’s a careful balance to strike. Ultimately student engagement and involvement is always the goal, but getting the adults to buy-in enhances the experience and helps achieve student goals.

Below are a couple tips I have for helping get the adults in the room excited about attending your groups and keeping that energy going for all your sessions.

Find people who are genuinely interested: Kids know when someone is faking. The best thing to do is find colleagues who you think might have a stake in your group and ask them if they’d be interested in being the go to person with a student. In my case, maybe there’s a para who is also a slam poet, a TA with an English degree, or a Speech therapist who has an interest in abstraction in language. Reach out to those individuals as you set up your schedule and see if you can build your groups with their support in mind.

Bring engaging material: As much as I love Shel Silverstein, if he was the only poet I taught it would not only bore students and do them a disservice, but it would cause most adults involved in the group to tune out. People like variety, so offer it to them. Furthermore, bring material you're excited about teaching, that kind of enthusiasm will rub off.

Offer your reading list: This is specifically for groups that involve parents, if they see their kids enjoying material they’ve never heard of, offer them a bit of your knowledge. A little kindness goes a long way.

Keep the activities challenging: When I set up movement based games I like to make them challenging (not impossible or difficult, this distinction is important) so that both the students and adults have an opportunity to support one another. This creates opportunities for parents to step-up and help their kid, students to teach a new move to a teacher, and other small moments where the dynamics are refreshed and the pressure is taken off the young-old split.

Just Ask: Make a point to ask people to get involved when you see them on the periphery. You don't have to call them out or stop mid-session to do it. Be polite and talk to them before or after the group. Very rarely will people say no. Remember, this is your session, you’re in charge.

Welcome!

In 2015 I turned down a fellowship from The New York City Teaching Fellows. This included a paid master’s degree and my own classroom, but I opted instead to stay a TA and run a weekly poetry workshop with eight students in the library of the Rebecca School.

The Ultimate Crusaders was the name that first group of eight students gave itself after a summer spent in a hot, street level, resource space. Since that first summer in the library, the workshops have grown to every floor on Rebecca School. And in the past two years the workshops have published books comprised entirely of student writing and artwork.

 

All red cover with pops of darker and lighter red made to look like comic book action bubbles. Title “Ultimate Crusaders Vol. 2” in bold white lettering and in smaller white letter along the book’s spine.

All red cover with pops of darker and lighter red made to look like comic book action bubbles. Title “Ultimate Crusaders Vol. 2” in bold white lettering and in smaller white letter along the book’s spine.

The New York Restoration Project took notice of the workshops and with their support I teamed up with the West 150th Block Association to run weekly summer workshops in the Lucille McClarey Wicked Friendship Garden entitled Poetry in Bloom. This was the first time I brought the workshops into the community and it was an exciting change of pace that I’m happy to say will continue to happen!

Vibrant teal flyer with “Poetry in Bloom” in all white lettering. Background has images, sketches, and line drawings of various flowers. Information about the event is in an all teal box, written in white lettering. In the bottom left are organization logos.

Vibrant teal flyer with “Poetry in Bloom” in all white lettering. Background has images, sketches, and line drawings of various flowers. Information about the event is in an all teal box, written in white lettering. In the bottom left are organization logos.

Workshop Notes is an evolving blog that educators anywhere are welcome to use. It is, in essence, short hand observations, stories, lessons, and reflections from my workshops.

There is no definitive curriculum or pedagogy out there for teaching poetry and creative writing in special education classrooms. So I’ve decided to try my hand at developing one and figure I should take some notes along the way.

Thanks for following. I hope you enjoy the ride!