Student Forums
A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community

Inspiring Children through Art, Music, and Performance: Ciana Ayenu ’17 at CASA in San Francisco, California

CASA (Children’s After School Arts) is an after school art program in San Francisco for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The students who attend CASA go to an alternative public elementary school called Rooftop, where the program is held. CASA helps children reach their full creative potential through art, music, and performance. The program is extremely effective in helping children maximize their self-esteem and self-expression.
Learn more about CASA here!

My official title at CASA is “Teacher’s Aide,” but I do much more than what that entails. I arrived at Rooftop School to work at CASA on April 7th. I took a bus and walked up a big hill, where I had a beautiful view of San Francisco. The school is located in the Twin Peaks neighborhood, which has the most expansive view of the city.

During the school day, I was working mostly with the kindergarteners. My duties included assisting the teachers with whatever they needed (setting up lessons, keeping the kids under control, cleaning, comforting upset children). Consistent tasks included monitoring play time on the playground, passing out pillows and blankets to students during silent rest time and rubbing their backs to comfort them, reading books for story time, passing out snacks, and sweeping the floor at the end of the day. Aside from these things, work was different everyday. Sometimes, kids would get in fights on the playground and they’d ask me to step in to help them come to a resolution, there were occasionally injuries or crying kids to deal with. I learned a lot about conflict resolution. Through the unpredictable events of a school day, I figured out how to respond quickly and effectively to a variety of situations.

In addition to these things, I helped out a lot with the CASA play and taught an art lesson, a goal I set for myself in the beginning of my co-op. I spent a long time thinking about something that would be at a kindergarten level (a surprisingly difficult task) and also unique and fun – something that would allow the students produce interesting pieces of art.

I decided to teach about the Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian. I was pretty nervous because I had never taught an art lesson before, but once I started, my nerves went away. I began by telling the students about Mondrian and showing them pictures of his work. I asked them what they noticed about it and we had a pretty in depth conversation about their observations. I told them that they’d be making pieces inspiredby his work and I handed out white sheets of paper, long black strips of paper, scissors, glue, and red, yellow, and blue paint. The students made a design on their paper with the black paper and then painted in the sections they created. The results were pretty amazing!

Some students even came up to me after the lesson to tell me how much they loved it. During free play at the end of the day, when students decide which activities they want to do (usually playing with blocks and legos or drawing) a few wanted to make more Mondrian inspired paintings. Seeing the kids so excited about my lesson made me feel wonderful. Knowing that I piqued their interest in something was amazing and seeing their work was rewarding. This experience definitely increased my interest in teaching (which I previously thought was a non-existant interest).

Family Soup
Every school year, CASA has a theme. This year’s theme was “Family.” At the end of the year, the program puts on a play. This year’s play was called Family Soup. The main roles are filled by fifth graders, and every other grade plays a part – usually a song and/or a dance. The kindergarteners sang a song to open the show. I sang it with them everyday to help them prepare. I spent long hours on weekends making and organizing props. I also went to all the rehearsals and helped out with whatever was needed.

The play was written by Leslie Einhorn, the director of CASA (an alumnae of Antioch) with help from students. There was a live band and two shows were put on with full crowds in a large high school theater. The play is about a futuristic American dictator named Hammerhead, who declares that every family needs to be “perfect.” Because CASA focuses so much on social justice issues, the play explores all types of families and discusses racism and homophobia, among other things.

During the play, I was in charge of all the third graders. I gave them their cues and passed out their props, and made sure they behaved in the audience. Putting on Family Soup was a lot of hard work, but an equal amount of fun. The end result was an amazing production!

School ended on May 30th and now I am working at CASA summer camp. It is a much different environment. There are less students, and they are in a mixed age group (kindergarten through sixth grade). At summer camp, I am mostly there to make sure the kids are safe. We go on long walks every day and I make sure that the students stay in the group. Twice a week, we go on field trips where we ride the city bus and do a lot of walking. Last week we went to the Conservatory of Flowers, and this week we went to the Botanical Garden.

When we’re not on field trips, I play with the kids and make sure they’re having fun, I supervise them on the playground to make sure they are staying safe, and I help them with art projects.

Summer camp is a nice way to end my co-op. I’m able to have more one-on-one time with students, which I’ve found is really important for expanding their knowledge and self-esteem. It’s rewarding for them and myself.

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