On Stage

Education First

An online pivot at BAAY

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

If not for the Education First funding Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth received via a grant from Whatcom Educational Credit Union in 2019, The Story of the Stolen Underwater Llamas may never have seen the light of day.

To better understand how nine Birchwood elementary students who weren’t in close proximity to each other created a short film with a storyline focused on llamas, an underwater city and a daring escape from a dicey dungeon, it’s necessary to backtrack to the beginning of the pandemic.

The two-year Education First grant aiming to expand BAAY’s EduArts after-school enrichment programs to historically underserved Title I elementary schools had already been in play when the lockdown hit, but school closures made it necessary to reimagine how the second year of funding would best serve its targeted audience. By the time the 2020-2021 virtual school year kicked off, BAAY had already spent a considerable amount of time experimenting with running online classes as part of its theatre programming, and piloted its new approach in an EduArts class made possible by the funding.

Working with Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth instructors, the aforementioned Birchwood Elementary students met on Zoom each week of the winter session to devise their script. With their parents acting as cinematographers to film the kids’ scenes, and BAAY’s lead instructor focused on editing duties, The Story of the Stolen Underwater Llamas was created.

With the inaugural Zoom EduArts class deemed a success, this spring brought with it an expansion of online theater classes for students in grades 3-5, dance for grades K-2, and ukulele instruction for grades 4-5 from Alderwood Elementary—where a total of 24 students signed up for the BAAY programs. Sixteen students from Cordata Elementary participated in Storytime Games for grades K-2, Singing for Smiles for grades 3-5, and guitar lessons for grades 4-5. All told, 49 children in low-income schools in Whatcom County benefited from the online offerings during the 2020-21 school year.

“The pandemic represented the biggest challenge to the plan outlined in our original grant proposal,” BAAY staff wrote in the “Lessons Learned and Program Changes” portion of the Education First Grant Report issued at the tail end of July. “We are proud of our ability to switch to online offerings, but ‘Zoom fatigue’ and technology access presented new challenges and potential barriers to our programs. As we neared the end of the school year and the warmer weather and easing health restrictions drew more people outside, some classes saw a drop in student attendance in the spring. Our instructors did their best to remind families about these Zoom offerings, and we continued to hold this space for whichever students logged on each week.

“The pandemic limited our ability to offer programs as originally planned,” they continued. “However, we were careful to steward the funds toward the purposes of the grant, so BAAY has $3,800 remaining in Education First grant funding. We view this as an opportunity to continue our partnerships with Birchwood, Alderwood, and Cordata elementary schools, and we are committed to deliver arts enrichment classes as planned. This remaining funding will allow us to offer one arts enrichment class at each school in the fall of 2021, thus fulfilling the original intent of the grant with a pandemic-adjusted timeline.”

Juliette Machado, BAAY’s Operations Director—and the former EduArts program director—says the remaining online classes run through the elementary schools are bringing the project full circle. And although BAAY plans to continue these partnerships with Bellingham Public Schools and continually work to increase access to youth arts education in Whatcom County, she notes they’re not the only way for area youth to benefit from what the downtown Bellingham nonprofit with a mission to enrich children’s lives through an exploration of the arts has to offer.

More than $30,000 is distributed in tuition waivers each year in order to remove financial barriers to participation at the State Street performing arts hub, Machado notes, and with in-person classes on improvisation, acting, tap dance, choir, costuming and more slated to run through the fall and winter, now might be the time for interested parties to inquire about getting their kids involved. Maybe next time you see The Story of the Stolen Underwater Llamas, it will be onstage.

For more details about Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth’s EduArts program and to find out more about upcoming classes and performances, go to http://www.baay.org

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