A Look Inside a Middle School Spoken Word Program

By Laila Copperansky, Performing Arts Workshop Intern

Photo credit: Laila Copperansky

Students at Paul Revere use spoken word poetry to explore self-identity and issues of race and ethnicity. Photo credit: Laila Copperansky

This fall, I’ve had the pleasure of being a fly on the wall for four of core artist Rahman Jamaal’s middle school spoken word classes at Paul Revere College Preparatory School in Bernal Heights. The combination of rap music and middle schoolers has resulted in an exploration of self-identity and issues of race and ethnicity. Rahman’s curriculum combines both the technical and the artistic aspects of hip hop. His lessons span topics such as rhythm, rhyme, and the structure of rap and provide students with ample opportunities to express their own beliefs through dialogue and written work.

In September students began to learn how to differentiate rhythms by practicing simple counting exercises. They moved on to identify these rhythms while watching other artists’ music videos, including the music video “I am Malala”, which is performed by young girls from around the world who use the platform of rap music to spread awareness of Malala’s message and advocate for girls’ right to education. This ignited a series of fascinating reactions and comments from students, who were shocked to see a group of girls their own age with a clear sense of rhythm and the confidence to share a strong message in a rap. These reactions led to questions about Malala herself, and the powerful realization by one student that this video was about “fighting for your rights using words!”

Students are continuing to expand their understanding of the technical, artistic, and expressive aspects of rap. In a recent class, students began to demonstrate that they are ready to connect their personal identities to their brainstorming and writing during class. In late October, Paul Revere hosts a “Latin Heritage Day” during which the school celebrates a culture and ancestry which many of their students share. Rahman’s class has agreed to write a “group rap” which they will perform at the event. Students started by brainstorming aspects of Latin Heritage from which they could be inspired to write a rap. The list began with foods and then moved on to Latino celebrities. When prompted by Rahman to think about the origins of Latin culture, students began to call out words like “Mayan” , “Aztec”, “Quetzalcoatl” and “Montezuma”. Eventually, two powerful topics emerged: the Mexican legend of “La Llorona” (which may have originated from the story of an indigenous woman who betrayed her people by becoming Cortez’s mistress) and the challenges of Latino children who immigrate to the United States without their parents. These topics reflect both the injustices of the past and of the present, while also providing a powerful opportunity for students to connect and reflect upon their own experiences and identities.

Students have the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in Rahman’s class four times a week, which adds an unusual intensity to their experience. Since this is only the beginning of Rahman’s thirty week program, students’ explorations and discoveries will continue to evolve until the end of the school year.



SF Voters Decisively Pass Prop C

By Jessica Mele, Executive Director

It’s December, and election day already seems a world (and a few turkey dinners) away. This year, I gave thanks that San Francisco voters decisively passed Proposition C by 74.44%!!! As I wrote in a blog post in October, Prop C included the reauthorization of two public sources of funding for arts education – the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF – formerly Prop H) and the Children’s Fund. The board of Performing Arts Workshop unanimously voted to endorse Prop C for this reason — to strengthen and grow the support system for children and families in San Francisco.

Proposition C not only reauthorized two vital public funding sources for services for children and families; it also improved the existing governing structure for one of the funds, increased the baseline of funding for the Children’s Fund, expanded to serve more youth, and created an oversight council at the Mayor’s office.

At the Workshop, we’re under no illusions that these funding sources will mean equitable access for all SF youth to high-quality arts education. That kind of equity takes investment of all kinds. And at the same time, I am proud that San Francisco voters took a stand for the public’s investment in educational equity. These kinds of investments will hopefully keep children and families in San Francisco for many years to come.

Summarized changes to each fund as a result of passing Prop C:

Public Education Enrichment Fund
-Eliminate a provision that allowed the city to defer up to a quarter of the set contributions to PEEF in any year the city had a budget shortfall of $100 million or more (known as the “trigger”).
-Lengthen the sunset to 26 years from 15 years, so reauthorization happens in tandem with Children’s Fund.
-Require the city to provide its PEEF allocation to the school district entirely in cash (rather than in-kind services)
-Extend funding for universal preschool to include 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, but would still give priority to 4-year-olds. The City could also use these funds to develop services for children from birth to 3 years old.

Children’s Fund
-Increase the Children’s Fund allocation from the General Fund to $0.04 per $100 of assessed property value (from $0.03)
-Expanded to include Transitional Aged Youth (aged 18-24, who have aged out of of the foster care & juvenile justice systems)
-Lengthen the sunset to 25 years (from 10 years), so reauthorization happens in tandem with PEEF.
-Create a new, strengthened Citizen’s Advisory Council, with more oversight and budget authority (details currently being drafted in trailing legislation)
-Extend granting cycle from 3 to 5 years.

Create a new oversight council of city department heads whose departments provide children and family services (ex: DCYF, SFUSD, Department of Public Health; Department of Public Works, etc. – details currently being drafted in trailing legislation). This council would create a plan for the city to improve the condition of children and families, assessing city policies and programs and making general recommendations every five years.

References: “City of San Francisco ‘Children and Families First’ City Funds, Tax and Administration Proposal, Proposition C (November 2014)” – Ballotpedia

2 Truths and a Lie: New Workshoppers Edition

Here at the Workshop, we’ve been lucky enough to welcome a handful of new staff and board members to our team. We’d love to introduce you, but rather than simply telling you all about them, we challenge you to a little game called 2 Truths and a Lie. Can you spot the fib?


Anupama Tadanki

Anupama Tadanki 2013-1

New Sector Alliance Americorps Resident

  • graduated from USC with a degree in Global Health
  • dreams of traveling to Peru
  • competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics


Laila Copperansky

photo1 (1)

Documentation Intern

  • grew up in central Vermont
  • studies Critical Thinking and Movement Integration in Early Elementary Education at Hampshire College
  • has a killer stamp collection


Janet Lin

Lin Janet - photo

Board Member

  • is a Senior Analyst at Salesforce
  • can play both the piano and flute
  • is a volunteer sky-diving instructor on the weekends


Gabby Guinea

Board Member

  • is the after-school program coordinator at ER Taylor
  • opened Hopwater Distribution with her husband
  • secretly loves Scandal


Kendra Wong

Kendra doing "batik" (traditional silk dying/painting) while living in Thailand last year.

Board Member

  • is a management consultant at Accenture
  • is planning a 2-month-long around-the-world trip for her honeymoon next May
  • knows every word to the movie Jurassic Park


Reed Mayfield

Reed Mayfield 3

Board Member

  • is a Senior Lending Associate at RSF Social Finance
  • enjoys playing guitar and hiking
  • listens to Christmas music all year


Marilyn Zoller Koral

MZK head shot

Board Member

  • is an SFUSD administrator emeritus
  • has served as a teaching artist and visual arts teacher for the SFUSD, Families First and NYC’s housing projects
  • is a huge Oakland A’s fan

Giving Tuesday: 5 Reasons To Support Our $10K Matching Gift Challenge Today!

Happy Giving Tuesday! Now that we’ve turned the page on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s time to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday season: giving back. On this Giving Tuesday, please make a gift to support Performing Arts Workshop.

Our generous friends and supporters, Phyllis and David Sakaria, have made a pretty sweet deal with us: If we can raise $10,000 by December 31st, they will match it dollar for dollar. Donate today: https://www.crowdrise.com/iheartartseducation

With the matching gift challenge, your donation will be doubled!

Yes, these two are just the cutest. And yes, with our matching gift challenge, your donation can be doubled!

Need some time to think about it? We understand!

Here are five reasons why you should help out today:

1) Your donation will have an immediate impact on a child’s life. Here are ways your donation will help:

Performing Arts Workshop - support today

2) If we complete this challenge in the next 30 days, all gifts will be matched! Even a small gift of $15 will become $30. ($30 can help fund one class for one student!)

3) Did you know that we have years of research (funded by the Department of Education) proving that students in our programs do better in school, increase their critical thinking skills, and gain more confidence?  

4) Experts agree: Our program works. An afterschool director put it best: “This program is essential to students and their educational goals.”

5) Your donation matters because if we don’t have arts in our schools, we don’t have education in our schools. (drops mic)

parks and recreation animated GIF

Are you with us? Make a gift today: https://www.crowdrise.com/iheartartseducation



Workshop Notes – July 2014


In this issue:
July 2014

Today is the Workshop’s Birthday!
By Jessica Mele, Executive Director

49 years ago to this day, Performing Arts Workshop was born (or at least incorporated). Read here >



Birthday Logo

By Maya Sussman, New Sector Alliance AmeriCorps Fellow

How good were the students in our 2014 Showcase? Not even a screaming child in the audience could take anything away from the performances. Read about the unforgettable night here >


Boy dancing

A Method of Escape
By Laurie Loftus, Institutional Giving Manager

Marin Juvenile Hall’s Loma Alta High School is no ordinary school, and its students produce extraordinary poetry in our classes there. Read about our program at the Hall and a selection of poetry from the anthology here >


Anthology Cover

Imagine Yourself as a Warrior
By Emily Bozentka, Administrative Assistant

Step inside the capoeira classroom of Core Teaching Artist Salê Ramos as his students embark on an artistic adventure. Read here >


Girl dancing Maculele

Donor Spotlight: Nancy Wang
By Beverly Mislang, Individual Giving Manager

Meet Nancy Wang, one of Performing Arts Workshop’s first teaching artists! Read more >


Nancy Wang
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It’s the Workshop’s Birthday!

by Jessica Mele, Executive Director

“You don’t look that old!” On almost a daily basis, I introduce a new person to Performing Arts Workshop. I share our mission, and I tell them with a bright smile, “…and next year we’ll be fifty years old!”

Inevitably, they tell me that I couldn’t possibly be 49 (ha, ha!). In nonprofits, it’s common to say “us” and “we” when referring to our organizations. As nonprofit public servants, we put in the hours, blood, sweat, and tears; we feel the mission like it’s beating in our chest; we identify with an organization until it is a part of us.

And this summer, I’m cherishing every one of those 49 years. I’m looking back on a history of revolution, disruption, commitment, and fierce love of creativity, starting with one Gloria Unti and leading to twenty professional teaching artists in hundreds of classrooms today. We’ve come a long way, baby, and we’ve got big ambitions for the future.

What is the role of an artist in a school? In an organization? How do artists change the way we learn, think, and challenge ourselves and others? At 49, we’re asking more questions than ever, and using that inquiry to refine our programming to better serve the Bay Area’s youth. Yeah, we’re 49. And 50’s looking mighty good from here!

2963568240_c5f5f1cb81_zDancer and teacher Gloria Unti founded Performing Arts Workshop in 1965.



by Laurie Loftus, Institutional Giving Manager


On June 4, for the fifth year in a row, Performing Arts Workshop published an anthology of poems written by students at Marin Juvenile Hall’s Loma Alta High School with our poet in residence, Raphael Cohen. As in previous years, we celebrated this accomplishment with a reading from the anthology and treated the students to cake to mark the festive occasion.

In many ways, students here are like students at any middle or high school. They build walls around themselves. They can break through brilliantly on the page and never utter a word in class. Often, some of the most shut-down in outward presentation are the most vivid and daring writers.

But Loma Alta students don’t need reminding that this is no ordinary class. They wear Hall-issued orange T-shirts that swim on them, and the white tube socks and rubber sandals you see on TV prison shows. For pens, they use the skinny, bendy ink tubes removed from their plastic holders. Officers sit at the back of the room, and their probation officers can pull them from class at any time. Seeing them in their seats, you can read on their faces what one student expressed in a poem this year: “I can’t even push a door open in this building.”

Over the course of a semester, many students pass in and out of the class. Some leave, never to come back. Others return more than once, and a few stay in for four or five months at a stretch. Having taught writing, I can’t imagine the challenges of presiding over a classroom whose enrollment shifts from day to day. How to build on a lesson? How to maintain the trust you’ve built, and continually re-build it? I’ve asked several teaching artists about this, and they’ve told me about various strategies they devise to minimize the disruptions of students coming and going. Going deeper into the art form, bonding over a shared interest or love of words, and relying on students who have been in the class a while are a few common strategies I’ve heard our teaching artists describe.

Only four students were in the class on June 4. They were outnumbered more than two-fold by adults, including staff and teaching artists from Performing Arts Workshop and TeamWorks, whose residency helped students produce the vibrant artwork in the anthology. Juvenile Hall Director Matt Perry was there; teacher Bart Jones spoke heartfelt words of encouragement in the accomplishments and potential that the published anthology represented, and the importance of having a voice and a public platform as an artist.

The young people in these classes carry heavy weights. Even as we celebrated their accomplishments, encouraging them and inspiring them to see the best parts of themselves, sadness was painfully palpable in the room. As I scanned the room, wondering about the ways in which various adults may have failed them, I found myself also hopeful: Do they believe that we all actually really care about them? Does it get through?

The one student in the room who had something published in the book was especially reticent. We gave each of the students a copy. Since he’s in it, I asked if he wanted more copies. To circulate to family, a friend, someone close, I thought but did not say. He said “No, I’m good” and looked down at his desk.

I threw a few extra anthologies on his book pile when he stepped out of the room.

The public defender who attended the celebration enthusiastically offered to locate the published poets so she could give them each a copy of the book. To the best of our knowledge, this has never happened before. She seemed as thrilled as we are at the prospect of being able to place the book in the hands of its authors.

Before we cut the cake, those in the room read poems from the book aloud. Teaching artist Raphael Cohen led us all off with a simply sung version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Alien (Hold on to Your Dream)”:

Hold on. Though it may not be a lot, you got to
Hold on. Cause you know it’s all you got
No matter the consequences or the fear that grips your senses
You have got to hold on to your dreams.


We proudly share a few highlights from A More Perfect Fate, whose title, like the title of this story, was taken from this poem:

To Blame & To Change
by Sean

To blame is to formulate
a method of escape
and engage in verbal debate.

To blame is strange
because we hide from an unknown fate.

Blame is like a profound strain
on the human brain
and stains the public domain.

To change is to realize
the rules of the game
and when you know the rules
then you can play.

When you change
the blame and the hate
they fade away
and what you’re left with
is space to create
a more perfect fate.

My Life
by Donja

My life is like Jordan
I’m over all my opponents
when I’m in the air
I stay soaring
I’m always scoring
I float
like a boat
but I still like
to gloat
I cover up
my appearance
with a peacoat
but if you get foul with me
I might shoot you
just like a free throw

Not So Different
by Nico

Different from other people
now I’m not so sure.
Sit down on my front steps
smoking a cigarette.
Looking at the street
the cement, the doors.
Watch as white people walk by
some just walk, some say hi.
I get the hint
that we aint that different
just ’cause the color of our skin.
Is it because we’re all human, not perfect?
Is it because we all find it so hard to listen?
Words become inspirational
not just the rational.
Does it matter where you’re from?
Whether poor or rich in the Bay
we all call this place home.
We as people need to break out
from our ignorance.
Give a chance
just to stand
away from the nonsense you hear
but don’t take nothing away from.


Much gratitude to Loma Alta High School / Marin County Juvenile Hall, and especially Bart Jones; our brave and brilliant teaching artists Raphael Cohen and Freddy Gutierrez; and the Marin Community Foundation for recognizing the value of this work and making it possible to publish the anthology for the fifth year in a row.