Do you often hear elementary aged children discussing pollinators, endangered bees, mindfulness and privilege? Probably not, but it’s a common occurrence at CASA (Children’s After School Arts) in San Francisco.
CASA is a nonprofit, creative after school program dedicated to “guiding San Francisco’s youth toward open expression, expansive hearts, and questioning minds”. The program is available to K-5 students who attend Rooftop, an alternative public school located in the Twin Peaks neighborhood of the city. Unlike your typical after school program, CASA teaches the students about art, music and performance, culminating in the end of the year musical that is both co-written and then performed by the students. You can read more about CASA here.
Each year CASA’s executive director, Leslie Einhorn, discusses topics with the students to determine what their musical will be about. The theme always has a tie to social justice in some way and this year has a heavy focus on the environment and the endangerment of pollinating bees in “This American Hive”. Einhorn attended Antioch College for two years and has a huge performance background which partially explains her knack for putting together and writing CASA’s musical every year with the ideas and help of the students. Last year’s musical, “City Not For Sale”, focused primarily on gentrification within the city and sparked both criticism and praise. Here you can listen to a podcast about one father’s experience seeing the musical.
My role at CASA is primarily acting as a teacher’s aide for the second grade students by keeping them focused, making sure all children are safe during free play time, diffusing arguments with restorative practices and tutoring students during their homework time. During free play I often engage with students and join them in playing freeze tag, four square or pretend. This not only helps me get to know them better but it also builds trust and shows them that they’re not all that different from bigger people. Working with the second graders during homework time has taught me a lot about mentoring children, getting them to focus and guiding them towards the correct answers without giving them away.
A project I am currently working on at CASA is interviewing the fifth grade students who are the leads in the musical and writing their biographies which will appear in the show’s programs. Being interviewed is always a bit daunting, apparently even when it’s by an informal intern, so I have been shaping my questions and altering my approach in ways that will allow me to portray these students accurately in just a few sentences. I look forward to helping out more with the musical as it get closer, co-stage managing the show and leading some theatre and music lessons during CASA’s magical summer camp which starts up in June.
This experience is bringing me closer to my educational goals as it’s showing me what it is really like working with and teaching students, how a nonprofit can be run and what it takes to create and put on an original musical with over 200 students. While it is not my intent to become a teacher, I can definitely see myself working with children in the future and doing nonprofit work, or creating my own. CASA and its staff never fail to amaze me in the way they interact with, empower and treat children as their equals. It shows daily in their interactions and the confidence and creativity the kids embody and feel comfortable in sharing. There is a little magic present on the top of a hill overlooking San Francisco and it’s a mix of compassion and creativity.