Affiliate Spotlight: San Antonio Wolf Trap’s Work with Local “Newcomer” Students

Affiliate Spotlight: San Antonio Wolf Trap’s Work with Local “Newcomer” Students
Apr 03, 2024

Like all of Wolf Trap’s affiliates, San Antonio Wolf Trap, a program of Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, partners with schools and teachers to provide arts-integrated professional development and experiences, and does so in a way that meets the unique needs of its community. Case in point is the affiliate’s recent work with its local immigrant community, through the North East Independent School District (ISD) Welcome Center.

The Welcome Center at NEISD (Welcome NEISD) runs The Refugee Impact program, whose mission is to support refugee and asylee families through registration support, academic support, and community partnerships. They were familiar with San Antonio Wolf Trap’s previous work in NEISD schools and approached them for help with a special project celebrating the impending visit of Little Amal.  Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet that depicts a 10-year-old Syrian refugee, has become a global symbol of human rights. She has traveled the world, appearing in parades and events, and was scheduled to visit San Antonio in October 2023.  

Working over a nine-month period, The Tobin Center (including its San Antonio Wolf Trap program) and Welcome NEISD developed a multi-pronged project that served more than 100 students through four residencies at Walzem Elementary, Colonial Hills Elementary, Krueger Middle, and Jackson Middle Schools. In its planning sessions, Welcome NEISD shared that its goal was to use Little Amal’s visit as an opportunity to share personal stories from its community. The Tobin Center’s staff worked with its teaching artists to develop a residency that used the arts across multiple age groups and languages to create activities that helped facilitate the students’ storytelling.

“The Name Jar” Activity (Elementary)

Because music experiences support children’s sense of individuality and enhance their understanding of important literary skills, San Antonio Wolf Trap and its teaching artists decided to use a music activity to introduce the classroom residency. The class used a djembe drum to work on steady beat, as students repeated their names along with the syllabication. Teaching artists then introduced “The Name Jar,” a children’s picture book by Yangsook Choi that emphasizes the importance and unique qualities of one’s name.

Students wrote their names on a piece of paper and drew or wrote things that were special to them. Next, they participated in a group activity in which a large jar was drawn on a poster board and each student had the opportunity to add their name to the group jar. At the end of the residency, students were able to take their personal jars home.

Affiliate Spotlight

MAKER Project (Middle School)

The project progressed in the fall with middle school students, who created Butterfly Rod Puppets that they could use at the walk with Little Amal. Teaching artists created a chant for students to sing while designing their puppets. Elementary students were invited back to participate in a practice walk with the middle school students, their puppets, and Little Amal, which involved simple choreography using the puppets. 

“It was rewarding to connect with the students and see them open up during our time together.  With a bit of help, they were able to tap into their creativity to write stories and create puppets that shared their dreams and aspirations,” said Tobin Center Teaching Artist Tanesha Payne. “Working with these [students] reminded me how powerful the arts are and how they can be used as a tool to connect cultures and accessible to all learning styles.”

Tara Leonard, Education Manager for The Tobin Center and Affiliate Director of San Antonio Wolf Trap, agreed: “The children’s love for the country of Afghanistan [during these projects] was very apparent. We saw this in their stories, in their puppets, and even in a performance that incorporated dance.”

“This reminded us of the reason behind these residencies,” she continued. “That every child has a story to tell, and that their unique and special voice should be heard and represented in these stories.”

San Antonio Wolf Trap, through its sponsoring organization, Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, is an affiliate of Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts.


“The Name Jar,” by Yangsook Choi

“Maker” Chant