Oh, To Be A Buddy

A few Sundays ago, Milkshake performed at the Chesapeake Down Syndrome Parent Group’s annual Buddy Walk at Rash Field. It was an incredible morning full of love and happiness, and that warm-and-fuzzy feeling one gets from doing something good and worthwhile. The Buddy Walk raises money for the programs the CDSPG offers, including education programs and medical outreach/First Call programs, among many others.  The group was founded in 1982 by eight sets of parents looking to share information and network in order to serve their children with Down syndrome. Currently, the group consists of over 400 families, individuals, and organizations with an interest in the well-being of persons with Down syndrome.

The Oriole Bird joins in for a game during "Baseball."

The Oriole Bird joins in for a game during “Baseball.”

For this year’s Buddy Walk, people came together to walk or run for this great cause. It was such a vibrant, happy community of people. I had so much fun playing with the crowd when they finished their walk. It was a hour of smiles, songs, dancing and yes, even the Oriole Bird.

A few days before the Walk, I happened upon a video posted on Upworthy, a great site featuring videos reflecting all aspects of human life. The video was created by CoorDown, an Italian Down Syndrome advocacy group. In the video, 15 people with Down Syndrome, tell an expecting mom what kind of life her child will have.

One out of every 691 babies are born with the condition (in which a person has an extra chromosome), making it one of the most common genetic conditions in the U.S. Approximately 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome. But like these signs at the Buddy Walk point out, people with Down Syndrome are capable of having what we consider a “normal” life. (click the pictures to view larger formats).

I especially love the pictures about reading. It reminds me of my friend Michael Rachap, a prolific musician who set about creating a series to help kids learn how to read. It’s called Readeez, and features original “bite-sized” videos that “impart reading skills with every syllable.” Michael says “Readeez are health food for growing minds,” and he likes to think his series is “Learning disguised as smiling.” Michael has been getting videos from parents of children with Down Syndrome, praising the Readeez format and it’s ability to help their children read.

Michael includes some great music in his Readeez, and through the 15 years of playing in Milkshake and making original music for kids, I know the transcendent power of music to move minds and touch souls in positive ways. Sometimes I think about stopping the band and doing something else. But then I play a show like the Buddy Walk and think no…maybe not now…

Here’s a gallery of pictures from the CDSPG’s Buddy Walk, November 1, 2015. Thanks to Stacy Geis and Ruut for these pictures.

 

Talking About Arts In Education

On April 24 & 25 Mikel and I spent some time in Ocean City, MD doing a lot of talking, singing and sharing. We were invited by the Maryland State Child Care Association to present at its annual Conference By the Sea. This was an unusual event for us, since Milkshake in its various forms usually goes to just entertain with our music when we’re invited somewhere. But the MSCCA really wanted us to do more than that, and present “The Educational Importance Of Arts In the Classroom.” Well, we’re all over that, so doing a keynote on the subject seemed perfect. We talked about our experiences in schools, showed a few of the videos we did for PBS KIDS and Nick Jr., and performed some of our songs. It was really fun getting all the teachers singing a rousing version of “Happy Songs.”

Mikel and I doing the Keynote at MSCCA's conference.

Mikel and I doing the Keynote at MSCCA’s conference.

I talked about how creativity can be kept alive, despite all the teaching to test, simply by incorporating arts strategies within the curriculum and keeping an open mind. The next day, I taught a 90 minute class on using various arts strategies that I’ve learned as a Wolftrap Teaching Artist. It was exhilarating and exhausting teaching over 100 early childhood educators at once!

Besides performing with the Milkshake Band, Mikel and I are artists with the non-profit Young Audiences of Maryland. YAMD sends us out to do assemblies for schools in Maryland, and we love it. Here’s a recent video of me talking about some of the reasons why for Young Audiences’ Arts For Learning Week. I feel like going into the schools – especially Baltimore City schools – keeps us grounded.

I visit the schools in Baltimore City on my own through the Wolftrap Teaching Artist program. It’s a very different thing from doing assemblies or Milkshake shows. As a Teaching Artist, I go into the classroom and even though I’m singing and doing things with the kids, I’m really there to show the teacher different arts strategies to enhance his or her teaching. It’s a lot of work but it’s always so gratifying at the end of the 8-week program, when the teacher does two lessons incorporating the things I’ve showed him or her. I’ve been doing this for 2 years, now, and more often than not, there’s this big moment when it all comes together and the teacher and the kids are a team, enjoying learning through a shared arts-based experience. And there are those times when we see a previously non-responsive kid plugging in and being involved. I remember a little girl who was albino and losing her sight. She was very quiet, but I felt she was really paying attention. After telling the story of Bear Snores Onwe acted it out, adding a simple song and dramatic arts. At one point, the bears (three very animated boys), wake up and growl fiercely. All the other kids run to the far side of the classroom. I say “No, no, it’s cold outside! Come back inside the lair!” And as they slowly make their way back to the carpet, the little albino girl, (who was playing the mouse in the story), kneels down beside the boys and gently says “Don’t worry bears. We can pop more corn. We can brew more tea,” just like in the story. I hear the teacher gasp and watch her get all teary. This tiny moment was huge in the teacher’s eyes.

I can’t think of a harder and more important job than being a teacher and there are so many times I’m leaving a school and wondering how a teacher manages to teach a class full-time. I’m just an artist, and I stay a while and then I leave. But the teacher stays all day, going through all sorts of things. I can only hope adding music and drama to their day enhances it in positive ways.