Top Five Moments from Last UFO

A group of brave students and faculty came out last Friday night for another UFO (Unidentified Friday Opportunity). While they did not know where we were going when they signed up, they brought with them a healthy sense of adventure and a growing confidence to be themselves. Here are my top five moments from seeing our students on the trip.

5. Hanging out with adults. We made several stops around the downtown cultural arts district for the local Arts Crawl, which meant walking into art galleries and the Night Market surrounded by adults and sometimes looking at art made for and by adults. Our young teenagers met this challenge with barely a speed bump. They made good decisions about who to talk to in each room, let themselves stretch out of the group mentality by exploring galleries on their own or in pairs, and overall proved their ability to take their cues from their surroundings. When I asked them in one gallery what they knew about the artists and the works on display, several told me right away – because they had read the statements on walls! – that the artists were all teenagers with developmental delays or disorders.

4. Kids being kids. When it was time to dance outside on the sidewalk, our students were ready. After a nearby toddler broke the ice, our students joined in and showed a few moves while the adults, naturally inhibited to dance in public, sat and chatted. At the Night Market, as adults browsed the retail shops or waited in line for a taste from “Meat and Potatoes” our students took advantage of the wooden blocks set out and enjoyed playing a giant game of Jenga.

3. Nirvana on Steel Drums. We walked into Urban Pathways Charter School to find their steel drum class ready to perform. After what I deemed a traditional Caribbean number, their second song was the unmistakable riffs from Smells Like Teen Spirit!

2. Realizing cultures are mixing all around us. At the corner of Penn and Seventh, Latin musicians and dancers were performing. As we listened, an organizer announced they were collecting stories from those who were there that night about what it means to be Hispanic in Pittsburgh. Two of our students were immediately eager to find the ethnographer and lend their voices as Latina students. While they waited their turns, the rest of our group played in the fountain and took pictures with the children who had just performed their dances.

1. “Yes and…” We started our night at the Arcade comedy club where two comedians led an improv workshop for us. They asked our students what we knew about improv. “You can’t say No.” “That’s right. Hear what your partner is saying and go with it, add to it, keep it going, be creative, have fun – but don’t say no.”  We learned to respond with “yes, and…” It was the perfect theme for the night.