Upstream Arts: Empowering Students with Disabilities through the Arts

Apr. 24, 2014

It is a bright, shining, brisk spring day in South Minneapolis. Students are buzzing around the halls of Washburn High School, moving between class and lunch. In one classroom, three teaching artists from Upstream Arts are busy moving chairs to prepare for the arrival of students.

As the students enter, each is greeted personally by the teaching artists, Jess, Evie, and Haley. The mood is warm and comfortable; you can tell that the students are anticipating a fun class.  During the hour-long class session, the artists use music, theater, and visual arts activities, and challenge the students to tackle communication and social skills that they might be hesitant to try out in “the real world.”

Katie Taylor, a speech language pathologist who works with Washburn students, has participated in at least four 12-week sessions with Upstream Arts Teaching Artist teams. Joining in the sessions with her students allows her to observe how they apply learning concepts in a group setting.

 “The activities always engage students of all abilities levels. The teaching artists all believe that every student is able to participate in every activity and it shows. Students who may have difficulty attending to tasks or learning activities for more than 10-20 minutes are mentally and physically engaged for the entire hour. It’s amazing”.

Katie said the sessions build students’ confidence and character and they are proud of what they accomplish. At the end of the 12-week program each student changes in some way. The change might manifest in an increased ability to focus during long periods of time, overcoming a fear of participating in group activities, or applying tools learned in class in other day-to-day situations.

As with most educational experiences, there are not only benefits for the students, but also for the teaching artists. Jess Finney has been a teaching artist with Upstream Arts for four years and shared that “working with Upstream Arts has increased my ability to connect with humans.”

Learn more about the work of Upstream Arts.