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New Vision for New America: A Teacher’s Testimony

A testimonial we received from New America School teacher Brian Sleevi after Art from Ashes worked with his students in a series of workshops throughout the 2015-2016 school year. 

Art from Ashes joined my creative writing class twice a week during the 2015-16 school year. It was a joy turning the corner from the teachers’ lounge every Monday and Wednesday to find a line of students back early from lunch, eager to get to class for the workshops. For many students, this was the highlight of their day, and the most common student feedback was: “Art from Ashes brings positive energy into the classroom.” Students not only enjoyed themselves and grew emotionally during AfA, but also saw academic gains in language arts as a result.

I maintained an almost identical course to my other section of creative writing, and students in the AfA group performed similarly (if not better) and produced as much (if not more) than the other group, in only 50 percent of the class days. In fact, during the second quarter, 27 of the 28 students enrolled in the AfA class completed a final exam. During the fourth quarter, 100 percent of the students enrolled took a final exam, with 10 receiving an ‘A’. This is astounding considering that, on average, only about 60-75 percent of students in my other classes complete final exams, and very few earn an ‘A’.

Behavior improved, too. Students who generally need constant stimulation or attention were able to be respectful members of a community during the workshops, perhaps for the first time in their academic lives. Because of the classroom community AfA helped us build, my relationships with students, and their relationships with each other, were enhanced. My students and I became better writers, better citizens, and a better team thanks to the transformative work done by AfA’s skilled, caring facilitators.

It was of invaluable benefit having two hours a week to write alongside my students. I learned more about their lives and motivations by seeing them collaborate and express themselves creatively. I also learned from Courtney Chandler, the guest facilitators, and the guest poets. They all have a unique and thoughtful way of engaging our kids, and I’ve become a better teacher by watching them work.

Art from Ashes has become an integral part of the culture at New America School–Thornton. The buzz it generates among students radiates beyond fourth period creative writing and into the hallways and other classrooms. Also, AfA has been instrumental in helping to create a culture of creative expression at NAS through its support of our performance events. The light, joy, and art that AfA brought into our school this year has been immeasurably impactful on our students and on our school community.