Archive for February, 2010

Rachel Katz, Georgia Sassen, and the Drums and Poems kids

An experiment at Plympton School, Waltham

Committee member Georgia Sassen is an avid advocate for the power of drumming together and making poems as way to build relational and writing skills.  Neuropsychologists find that rhythm helps children self-regulate, she says, and in her experience, making art together helps children get along.  Georgia is testing her new playful method entitled “Drums and Poems.”  She predicts that the use of rhythm in a communal way via drumming (creating melodies on drums made from recycled cardboard and rubber) and via writing poetry (working together on communal poems) will help children connect with each other and build literacy skills.

Earlier this year Georgia and her nonprofit Building Resilience in Kids approached Peter Silverman, the school principal of the Plympton elementary school in Waltham, and offered ten free weekly sessions of Drums and Poems to third graders in the after school program.  On Febrary 3, 2009, Georgia, her Brandeis alumna intern Rachel Katz, and Brandeis undergraduate Amy Lemelman conducted the first session.

“It worked!” reports Georgia:

Our first session of drums and poems at the Plympton school was a great success.  Third graders were excited and clever, giggling and attentive ­ all at the same time.  Children on one team jammed on drums made of recycled materials, and found a rhythm they liked.  The other team created poems to the rhythm.  The children played with words, the sounds of words, and asked some really good questions.  From one child’s comment, ‘that doesn’t sound right,’ we learned about the number of beats or syllables in a word. Then another child brought up a much more sophisticated question: ‘this word sounds longer than that word ­ but they both have only one sylllable’. WOW. This is the beginning of talking about phonology: ­ how some sounds are long, and sound slow and watery and some sounds are short and they make for lively funny poetry. It’s the difference between ‘low and slow, where mosses grow’ and ‘Hop on Pop! We like to hop!’ Hear the difference? This boy did.

If this isn’t just beginner’s luck, we’ve created a great new method!

There are nine more sessions. Watch this space for more updates.  For more information contact Georgia at  gsassen@brandeis.edu

Thanks to Emily Corbató for her photos from this session!


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In the Fall of 2005, Linda Radzvilla, then School-to-Careers Coordinator at Waltham High School (WHS), invited a group of scholars from Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) to meet once a week with girls in their first year of the WHS-Blaine Beauty School Program.  WHS students enrolled in the program spent every afternoon during 11th and 12th grade at the Blaine School on Moody Street in Waltham, learning the skills required to become hair stylists and cosmetologists. After gaining one thousand hours of experience at Blaine, they could become licensed salon professionals upon graduation.

Throughout the 2005/06 school year, thirteen WHS-Blaine students and the six members of the  2005/06′ WSRC Waltham Committee got together on a regular basis, generally on Friday afternoons. No doubt the Scholars seemed an odd crew at first to the students comprising a performance artist (Nurit Eini-Pindyck), a filmmaker (Laurie Kahn), two photographers (Emily Corbato and Cheri Geckler), a cultural historian (Christine Cooper), and a judge (Maria Lopez). During their first few months together, the WSRC Scholars and the Waltham girls talked about storytelling, read a book together and discussed the role of will power, screened films about women in the past, and looked at art created by contemporary women artists from different ethnic backgrounds.

Eventually the Scholars and the girls together developed a project about “the stories pictures tell” – stories about friendship, family, work, and community.  The girls were given journal-style notebooks and disposable cameras.  With their first camera, they observed and recorded FACES.  With their second camera, they looked at FACES and HAIR.  And after that, they were freed from all constraints to look at LIFE, in whatever way they wanted to.  Their experiences culminated in an exhibition at WSRC, LOOK! This Year – This Life. It was dedicated to  the memory of Melissa, a WHS student and classmate of the girls who participated in this exhibit.

Participating WHS-Blaine students were: Angelica, Brittany, Casey, Cristina, Dana, Danielle, Elissa, Gloria, Heather, Jenny, Kayla, Keely, and Yajaira.

The 2005/06′ Waltham Committee would like to thank:

  • Linda Radzvilla, who was with us through thick and thin, bringing common sense and laughter to the group. She kept reminding us—Scholars and students alike—to value the on-going process and her affection for the girls was both profound and inspiring.
  • MaryAnn Crane, from Blaine, shared classroom space with us, despite a very full and busy schedule, at a crucial point in the development of this exhibit.

Colleen Eagan, then the WSRC coordinator, was also a dedicated member of the project team. She procured the cameras and journals for the girls, helped prepared the photos you see here, and provided a vital link with vendors as the exhibit took

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We are in the process of developing a new partnership with More than Words Bookstore and Cafe on Moody Street in Waltham. “More Than Words is a social enterprise that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business.” Our first initiative has been a book drive to benefit this valuable organization. Jambalmaa Khainzan led the book drive at the WSRC where we have collected about 200 books. MTW will be selling these books to sustain their program to empower youth in the community. Thank you to all Scholars who donated such fabulous books!

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Event at WSRC on January 15, 2009 ( See Event Flyer)

Committee members Rajashree Ghosh and Nurit Eini-Pindyck organized a meeting of representatives of community based initiatives serving the Waltham area and their collaborative partners from within Brandeis University. Participants included members of non profits, Brandeis faculty, students and Scholars from WSRC. They introduced their role in the Waltham community and included their specific interest in the objectives of the meeting. To facilitate open conversation and exchange of ideas, the format of the discussion was left informal. It consisted of introductions by those present followed by sharing and providing resources for each other.

Some of the long term objectives of this meeting have been to look for answers to questions such as: What is Waltham about? What are NGOs focusing on? What is the ethnic composition today? What are the employment patterns, and what lifestyle issues do people face? How are lives affected by the current economic downturn?

Short term objectives: How can Scholars at WSRC get involved in the various initiatives that are being conducted within the Waltham area? What does community engagement entail in so far as Scholars are concerned? Is there a specific need that the Scholars can address within the community? Can tangible partnerships with community based initiatives be identified?

Participants agreed about the disconnect between the university and Waltham community and expressed genuine interest in “building bridges” is necessary. Within Brandeis University, Larry Bailis and Laura Goldin have designed their curriculum around experiential learning and community engagement. As a result many organizations such as Waltham Partnership with Youth and WATCH already have ongoing initiatives that involve students that are meaningful to them and to the organizations. Lucas Malo helps Brandeis’ students materialize many community service initiatives, and responds effectively to diverse needs in the Waltham community. Student initiatives that address the needs of the community were discussed some of these were focused on health of the community (supporting locally grown produce, diet and cooking) and targeting school students. The focuses of other non profits are varied. One of the key components of such support has been enhancing capacities of community members in increasing awareness with regard to their rights related to immigration, domestic violence, renewing downtown Waltham and also land, tenancy and housing. Some of these address a particular population such as the “Latinas know your rights” initiative that Gladys Maida leads. Others focus on the socially and economically vulnerable populations that Sr. Pat Brennan mentioned.

The Waltham’s committee’s prior activities with the Waltham High School and subsequent photo exhibition at WSRC were discussed as an example of work conducted by Scholars. However because that project has not been sustained, new approaches have been offered by participants.

A suggestion has been that WSRC join hands with existing initiatives keeping in mind that there is no duplication of efforts.

There was a consensus in the meeting that Jennifer Rose’s suggestion on establishing a “WSRC Talent Bank” could be a starting point where community organizations learn about Scholars’ capacities. An update: For this purpose a form requesting information of the needs of the organizations was developed in a collaborative effort between Erica Shwarz, Jennifer Rose, Rajashree and Nurit. After the form was distributed, we thoroughly examined the needs stated by the NGOs, and chose to concentrate on another route: partnerships with local organizations.

Rajashree and Nurit would like to thank the participants from the Waltham community and from Brandeis University who entered in good faith into this ongoing dialogue:
Sr. Patricia Brennan, The Gathering Place
Erica Schwarz, Waltham Alliance to Create Housing (WATCH)
Satya Montgomery, Jewish Family and Children’s Service and WSRC
Galdys Maida, Advocate, REACH
Jennifer Rose, Downtown Waltham Revitalization Initiative
Prof. Lawrence Bailis, Heller School of Social Policy and Management, Brandeis
Prof. Laura Goldin, Environmental Studies, Brandeis
Lucas Malo, Interim Director of Community Service at Brandeis
Brian Thomas Friedberg, Healthy Waltham and Student, Cultural Production, Brandeis
Elaine Wong, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Brandeis
Sarah Levy, Student, Brandeis

And special thanks to the participants from WSRC, who keep supporting our cause:
Shulamit Reinharz, Founding Director, WSRC
Louise Lopman, Resident Scholar, WSRC
Liane Curtis, Resident Scholar, WSRC
Maria Lopez, Resident Scholar, WSRC

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