VALLEJO – Treva Nervis grew up dancing. The studio was her sanctuary where she expressed herself with African dance. And seeing professional African dancers who looked like her let her know that she could accomplish the same thing. “It really helped me in my growth, and I see that a hundredfold in the students of Vallejo,” Nervis said.
Nervis now teaches dance and creative writing at Vallejo Charter School and is one of the founders of the Vallejo Teaching Artists nonprofit, with a mission to bring arts education to youth in Vallejo.
Vallejo Teaching Artists will debut the newest edition of YAM, Youth Arts Magazine – a student-led, student-driven publication to showcase young Vallejo artists – during the Young Art Makers Space exhibition at Vallejo Open Studios this weekend.
Vallejo Teaching Artists was launched in July 2020 by Nervis, visual arts teacher James Orlando, and music teacher Stephan Betz. The trio met when they taught at Vallejo Charter School’s after-school arts program. After 10 years of trying different approaches to fundraising and program expansion, they realized that having their own nonprofit would be the simplest way to meet the needs of the school district, the teaching artists, and most importantly, the kids.
Vallejo Teaching Artists now offers arts activities at eight more schools in the Vallejo City Unified School District. They are working with the school district to expand into the remaining 11 district schools. Vallejo Teaching Artists served 1,092 students in the 2021-22 school year with activities teaching visual arts, dance, theater, music, filmmaking and a diversity and inclusion after-school book club.
The Vallejo Teaching Artists model gives students autonomy in the creative process. Each new venture begins with a pilot project guided by teaching artists. As students learn to collaborate and self-govern, they’re given more control.
Tatara Arbab and Riley Lindke are eighth graders at Vallejo Charter School and part of the team of editors of YAM. Arbab says that most school projects involve a specific task that has to be done in a specific way. “But this is where you get to express yourself and give your own ideas as one of a group,'' Arbab said. “All ideas are good to us and we welcome anyone, so it’s a great place to understand yourself better and learn more about other people.
Lindke says that YAM taught her not only about the process of making a magazine, but how to work with others. “I've learned how to take a step back and let other people show their work,” Lindke said. “That’s something I used to struggle with.”
Displayed at Young Art Maker’s Space
Students of the Vallejo Teaching Artists programs will participate in the Young Art Makers Space at 321 Nevada St. as part of the Vallejo Open Studios tour this weekend. Art students will have their work on display and for sale.
- YAM authors will read their stories and poems from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
- There will be another YAM student reading from noon to 1 p.m. Nov. 20 at Alibi Bookshop, 624 Marin St. in downtown Vallejo.
Students began work on the premier edition of YAM by planning how they would work together as a team. They identified the different tasks to be completed and discussed the overall theme. They studied the business aspect of magazine publishing, learned about distribution and funding and compiled a list of potential revenue streams. They reviewed existing magazines to get a good understanding of layout and presentation. They learned about graphic design and font selection before diving into content selection and editing.
The first YAM issue, released last year, was a glossy 8.5- by 11-inch letter size. The student editors changed the format of the second issue to a 5.5- by 8.5-inch digest size that easily fits in their backpacks.
Each edition of YAM features photos of students’ artwork interspersed with interviews and poetry.
Sam Santos, a 10th grader at Vallejo High School, contributed to an early YAM pilot project - The Graphic Design edition and recently worked with younger kids on a mural at Vallejo Charter School. “It's just really cool seeing the kids find their love for creating,” Santos said.
Santos’s team came up with the mural design and helped with the final sketches. Santos helped paint the mural and made suggestions on how to paint a straight line. “It was fun,” Santos said. “I'd never worked with anyone like that before.”
Nervis says that the arts help students grow academically, socially and emotionally. She’s seen students who struggled with anger and frustration at school come into dance class and thrive. They became emotionally stronger and learned to express themselves in effective and appropriate ways. “I'm not gonna say it's a perfect science, but I think it is a part of the gumbo of education that needs to be there,” Nervis said.
Vallejo Teaching Artists teachers are attuned to the academic curriculum of the school. “We were creating dances based on what students were studying in class,” Nervis said. Classroom teachers have told Nervis that their students become more engaged in their academic work after a few months of weekly art classes. “They're more connected to what they're studying because they're looking at it through another lens,” Nervis said.
Vallejo Teaching Artists believes that a robust arts program can improve students’ academic outcomes. Their 2021-2022 Annual Report states that, because education for economically disadvantaged students tends to focus solely on remedial math and reading, a “quality arts education provides even greater learning benefits to disadvantaged youth than their advantaged classmates.”
Vallejo Teaching Artists says they will expand their arts programs to all Vallejo youth, and will launch many new projects in 2023, including a public arts project and a youth-run record label called UBU (you be you).
“We had students who are just graduating from college coming back to our program and teaching over the summer,” Orlando said. “It was just wonderful to see that, but also to have that connection.”
Vallejo Teaching Artists programs are free to youth 19 and under who live or attend school in Vallejo. Students and parents who want to find out more about opportunities with the organization can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Youth 19 and under who either live or attend school in Vallejo can submit artwork for inclusion in future additions of YAM to email@example.com.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Open Studios
- Youth Arts Magazine
- Vallejo Teaching Artists
- Treva Nervis
- Vallejo Charter School
- Vallejo City Unified School District
- James Orlando
- Stephan Betz
- Tatara Arbab
- Riley Lindke
- Vallejo High School
- Sam Santos
Gretchen Zimmermann started volunteering with Vallejo Open Studios in 2010, launched the Vallejo Arts and Entertainment website in 2014 and creates mixed media sculpture at Mare Island Art Studios.
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