SIPP Youth – A Breakthrough Moment

Teaching Artist Sienyi Cambridge filled us in on the breakthroughs she’s witnessed working with students in the State Inpatient Psychiatric Program (SIPP), alongside fellow artists Kareem Fletcher and Alexander Star.  These students are incredibly vulnerable, and mentors take a special amount of care first to form relationships, then help to develop the artistic abilities that make a positive impact on students’ mental and emotional health.  

After noticing one student who avoided participating in Lyrical Expression lessons, Sienyi broke the ice by talking to him about the pack of playing cards he always brought to class.  She let him try out his magic tricks, and then showed off her own skills in a game of Spades.

Card games and conversation soon turned into group participation and discussions. Then came the breakthrough. The student admitted he avoided participating and recording lyrics because he felt he would offend someone.  

“But I could tell he was just talking himself out of it before even trying,” says Sienyi. “I grabbed a sheet of paper and told him it’s not WHAT you say but HOW you say it.  He said he enjoyed the beat Alexander Star was playing, so I helped him first come up with a melody to write to, then explained the rhythmic timing of words and syllables.  After that we came up with a verse.”

He was so proud of what they had made together that he stopped Teaching Artist Kareem Fletcher and said, “I think I’m finally ready to conquer my fear and record something on the mic.”

The program at SIPP also helps students form bonds with each other. Two students worked together with their mentors to surprise their friend, who would soon be celebrating a birthday. With Kareem and Sienyi, they wrote a melody and developed a chorus, then recorded the song in secret. Then they played the song for the birthday girl. ”I think this made her feel happy and loved by her friends, you could see it by the smile on her face” says Sienyi.