COMPASS ARTS BRINGS ART & MUSIC PROGRAMS TO ASTOR HEAD START
On a recent winter morning at Astor Head Start in Beacon, New York, a group of eager preschool children sorted through scraps of paper and fabric, gathering materials for collages. Compass Arts teaching artist Romina Robinson noticed one three-year-old tearing apart their paper. Without judgment, she observed, "I see you are ripping the paper into tiny, tiny pieces.” The child enthusiastically replied, "I'm making it into fireworks!"
This moment of creative expression is one of many that the staff of Compass Arts Creativity Project has experienced while bringing free arts classes to Astor Head Start, a federally funded program that offers early childhood education, health, nutrition and social services to children from low-income families and children with disabilities. Through rotating weekly classes beginning in October 2022, Robinson and Compass Arts directorGina Samardgeare bringing music and art programs to a total of around 80 children between the ages of 2 and 5, including one self-contained classroom of preschoolers with disabilities.
“This age is such a rich developmental stage, and being able to provide these arts resources for them is so incredibly important,” says Samardge, who founded Compass Arts in 2013.
Besides these immediate benefits, regular exposure to the arts has been shown to make a profound, long-term difference in children’s lives. According to four longitudinal studies analyzed by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012, youth from underserved communities who participate in arts education have more positive outcomes in academic achievement and civic engagement than their peers who aren’t involved in the arts. Furthermore, deep involvement in the arts was shown to narrow the achievement gap between students of high and low socioeconomic status.
While Astor Head Start does offer music and art in its core curriculum, the program’s budget does not normally allow for specialists to come into the classroom. Samardge has taken great care to tailor Compass Arts’ programming to the needs of Astor’s students, guided by ongoing conversations with the Astor teaching staff. The hard-working educators at Astor have responded enthusiastically to the classes, during which they gain a moment to step back from their leadership role, enjoy the company of their students, and spend valuable one-on-one time with the children who need it the most.
Astor Head Start director Jazmin Raby says she is impressed with the young students’ level of engagement during Compass Arts programs. “I know we were a little worried when we first were planning this, that the children wouldn’t pay attention for a long period of time because, you know, they're three,” Raby says with a smile. “But they actually are engaged: even our toddlers, even our special needs friends! Which I love to see because that attention is very hard to get from them. They absolutely enjoy it.”
Robinson notes that many subtle things are happening in her art classes that nurture students’ growth. “Through our class structure, there are ample opportunities for students to make choices and to work on articulating their decision making,” she says. “For certain students, the sensorial aspect of working with art material allows them to build stamina working on seated, table-top work, which prepares them for school in a way that is unlike other, more academic approaches. We even weave mindfulness practices, such as stretching and deep breathing, into the flow of the class.”
In Samardge’s music classes, songs are thoughtfully chosen to introduce students to different languages, cultures, and musical concepts like tempo, dynamics, and melody. The children participate in movement games to encourage gross and fine motor skills. They also get the opportunity to play a variety of instruments themselves, including Gina’s guitar.
Funded by a donation from the Genesis Inspiration Foundation, this ongoing collaboration with Astor Head Start furthers Compass Arts’ mission to make the arts more accessible in Beacon.
“Taking our programs out into the community, rather than asking folks to always come to us at Compass, is an important step toward accessibility and community relationship building,” says Samardge. “Through the Head Start program, we’re able to get to know these little ones and start a relationship that hopefully will be long-term with these families and educators.”