Thursday, December 3, 2015

Maria Asp - Change is Possible with Community

Maria Asp is the Program Director and a teaching artist with the Children’s Theatre Company’s Neighborhood Bridges program, where she partners with classroom teachers to use storytelling and theatre to teach Critical Literacy to inner city public school students.  As an actor, Maria has appeared in 22 productions with FRANK THEATRE as well as several independent films; she also plays and sings music. 

While participating in the 2014-15 Educators’ Institute offered by the Minnesota Humanities Center, I felt challenged, inspired, confused, and hopeful. What parts of my thinking were shut? What did I see as a fixed truth? Any change that I could possibly make within my teaching and artistic practices had to start with changes inside myself.

The Humanities Center provided us with a new lens to widen our thinking. How do we know what we “know to be true?” What is the process that cements these truths? What possibilities do I have for changing my thinking? What could cause those changes? If we are truly working for a more just world we have to believe that people, thinking, institutions, and systems can change. 

What is in my capacity to influence?

In the Children’s Theatre Company’s Neighborhood Bridges program, all of the managers, directors, and administrators are also teachers. We feel that it is critical for us to remain inside the fabric of public education to ensure that all programmatic decisions are made by people working in classrooms. 

During the 2014-2015 school year I was a teaching artist at Anishinabe Academy in Minneapolis. At the beginning of the year, I struggled. How was it possible that the techniques that had worked for me for 20 years were not working at this school? I could see how smart these students were—I needed to change my approach.

What were the other ways of knowing and being they were expressing? 

In the process of making art, you cannot know where you are headed or how you will get there. You have to set off, taking risks together, and trusting that the students will find the solutions. We had a break-through session the day we built puppets. The students moved with confidence through their experimentation; they were curious, exploring and working together, and thinking with their hands. Ida Downwind invited me to attend Language Table at the school on Monday evenings. Language Table was like nothing I had ever experienced. I was exposed to a different world through words, and I shared with my students what I was learning.

When I started sharing my curiosity about the students’ culture, our trust in each other started to shift.

I felt strongly that I wanted to share with the students some of the stories I had learned on the Humanities Center’s Bdote Field Trip. With the help and support of Ida, we created curriculum that told the Dakota perspective about Fort Snelling. The Bdote Memory Map and all of the online resources available through the Humanities Center were invaluable. When I told the story of Fort Snelling to the students, our discussions were profound. Together we pulled up the images of Fort Snelling from the Memory Map and talked about why these stories aren’t told and how it is our responsibility to tell them now.

Change is possible within the community.

At the end of the year when it was time for the students to choose what story they wanted to turn into a play, one of the students said, “We need to do the story about Fort Snelling, because there needs to be a play about us.” The other students agreed and on May 11, 2015, in a theatre filled with community members, the 4/5th grade class performed their story of the Fort Snelling field trip.

I am thankful for the resources and support that the Humanities Center provided. I am forever changed. It changed the way I looked at the world and the narratives I had been told as truths. The students helped me not to be afraid to tell these stories. If I can change, and that change can animate new curriculum for the Neighborhood Bridges program, if more people hear these absent narratives – maybe we can begin to make visible the systemic oppressions in our world. Through working with young people and listening to the community, we can change.

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