(L-R) Dylan Fresco and Matt Sciple leading an Upstream Arts class at Anwatin Middle School


This spring is one of Upstream Arts’ busiest seasons ever, as we run 60 programs across the Twin Cities and beyond! In Minneapolis Public Schools alone, we’re running 20+ programs in Special Education classrooms for students of all grade levels and abilities. You might imagine our small staff could get stretched thin coordinating all this work – and to be sure, it’s no small task. However, one little system built into our program model constantly keeps us inspired.

After every single Upstream Arts session, the Lead Teaching Artist for that program writes a report detailing how the session went, how the curriculum played out, how participants responded, and updates from classroom teachers (or other school/program staff) about what social/emotional, communication, and academic skill development focus areas are most relevant for the group in tandem with other things they’re learning outside of our classes. These reports not only help us tailor and improve our work from session to session, but they also give us vivid daily insight on the impact of our work.

For example, take this story from Upstream Arts Teaching Artist Matt Sciple about a recent class he taught with fellow Teaching Artist Dylan Fresco and Teaching Apprentice Eric Avery at Anwatin Middle School for students with developmental and cognitive disabilities. Among other things that day, Matt led an activity that combined role-playing scenarios with the fundamentals of rhythm and music – and experienced a breakthrough moment with a young participant named Mikayla (note: student’s name has been changed to honor her privacy).

He set one scenario in motion with a prompt: “Eric really loves to play the drum. So does Dylan. But there’s only one drum! Let’s see what happens.” In his report, he describes what happened next:

Dylan came in and grabbed [the drum]. Eric’s eyes and mouth were open in shock and hurt while Dylan ecstatically started to play. “FREEZE,” I said, turning to the class. “How does Eric feel? SAAAD. How does Dylan feel? HAPPY! Mikayla, take Dylan’s place and change the scene so you BOTH end happy.” Mikayla joined the scenario, taking the drum, and started by imitating Dylan exactly. I froze Eric’s expression exactly as before. “Does Eric look happy?” I asked the class. “NOOOO. Mikayla. How can we share the drum so Eric is happy too?” She responded, “Ask him if he wants to use it.” I replied, “Let’s try that.” She asked him. He did. She thought a second, then gave Eric the drum. He played it, smiling, and she started dancing to his beat, breaking immediately into a huge smile! Without freezing them, I turned to the class. “Is Eric happy? YES! Is Mikayla happy? YES! EVERYBODY WINS!”

With shining moments like that happening every day, we’re continually reminded that all the hard work is so very, utterly worthwhile.