Since September 2011 WACAI has been in partnership with the Stepping Stone Program teaching traditional Guinean drumming as a cultural elective for their private school. Stepping Stone is an innovative program for teenage boys transitioning from being incarcerated in the juvenile justice system to the outside world and is a branch of Looking Glass a private, nonprofit organization that each year serves more than 7,000 at-risk youth and families primarily in Lane County, Oregon. Stepping Stone is a court appointed , live in program where teen boys are required to attend school, work with a therapist, primary counselor and their Probation or Parole Officer on their case work, participate in enrichment activities and follow the program's tier system. This system of accountability allows boys to earn more and more privileges by demonstrating increased levels of responsibility through the acknowledgment of the thinking errors which got them into trouble in the first place and appropriate feedback to peers. Some of these levels include orientation, responsibility, transition and finally graduation where they are allowed to leave the program and either return home or find a place of their own.
WACAI's role in this elective program started out as teaching just two, one and a half hour drum classes every Friday, but has expanded to having Andrea DiPalma Yansane teach a ceramics class every Tuesday and more recently a visual arts class where students enjoy creating projects in fused glass, tiling and print making to name a few explored genres. This tri-weekly contact with Stepping Stone youth has created a certain level of trust amongst boys who really crave adult role models who are consistent and dedicated because of all the flux they've endured in their topsy-turvy upbringing.
Teaching this population the traditional drumming from Guinea hasn't been a cake walk by any sense. It has taken some time to understand the Stepping Stone culture and to develop the teaching skills and the personal relationships that make handling classroom management issues smoothly. Also, much of WACAI's regular drum program had to be modified to better reach this at-risk population who, do to issues of drug abuse, mood disorders, family problems and anger and anti-authority issues have difficulty staying focused, sitting still, remembering the various drum parts and even putting forth a sincere effort.
As difficult as it can be to overcome these obstacles, good days with the boys are very rewarding. "I love it when I show the boys something new, either a new technique or drum part and they just get so excited to give it a try and once they have succeed in getting it right get more and more excited to play it over and over again until they've perfected it!" Andrea DiPalma Yansane.
More on WACAI's drum classes at the Stepping Stone Program to come.