Gratitude and Immersive Learning in Briarwood, Queens.

Sharing a post by CAT Youth Theatre & MA in Applied Theatre alum, Michael Gargan Curtin, who has been working as an actor/teacher with CAT on and off for years – this time, as an elf. 🙂

Culture Faerie

ThankYouCard.BryarwoodShamilia McBean and I closed out our 12-week drama residency with first and second graders in Briarwood, Queens the Friday before last. The residency confirmed for me the effectiveness of using drama as a means of learning. Sham and I were there as Teaching Artists for the Creative Arts Team to support literacy using drama and role-play. Many times throughout the residency, the students, in role, were motivated by the story (which they drive forward) to use their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills, as well as provide important critique.

For the final session, we were joined by parents and siblings of the students to celebrate and to bring the story in the drama to a close. By now the students were well accustomed to stepping into their alternate personas as Fix-it Elves and traveling to the Land of Letters, and they were happy to show off their imaginary outfits…

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Growing Up In CAT: Parent Edition

The CAT family prepares to welcome the newest member...

The CAT family prepares to welcome Laz…

When I lay down at night with my almost-6-year-old son Lazarus, I read to him, making sure to infuse each story with life. I give each character a distinct voice and add physicality to each line of dialogue. Sometimes we infer what will happen next by looking at the pictures. When bullying emerges as a theme, we identify where it is happening and what the reasons behind it might be. Sometimes we imagine the back-stories and create possible alternative endings. And yes – you’d best believe – open-ended questions are posed throughout because, more often than not, my son comes up with better answers and possibilities that neither I nor the author could have ever imagined.

I thank my parents first and foremost for planting the seeds that inspire the interactive and liberatory learning that takes place with Lazarus. My parents grew up as children of the 50s and 60s in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, where children were rarely, if ever, asked what they thought or how they felt. Neither graduated college but both organically, instinctually, and brilliantly infused participant-centered strategies and practices into my education and social-emotional development. Note to academia, you have nothing on my mom and dad.

Lazarus participated in many office meetings...

Lazarus participated in many office meetings…

While my parents laid the roots for the learning that takes place with Lazarus, my 9 years working with The CUNY Creative Arts Team has helped me to grow into the best thinker, educator, and mother that I could possibly be. In spite of my behind-the-scenes role as Director of Operations, I have had countless opportunities to experience the brilliant work that takes place both within our office and out in the field.

Getting some CAT love at the company picnic

Getting some CAT love at the company picnic

I have watched little children light up when Program Directors and Teaching Artists have brought a book to life with the aid of a simple costume or prop. I have witnessed the shyest child in a classroom replace one of the Teaching Artist at the height of a dramatic scene, and masterfully encourage the remaining Teaching Artist (in role) to make more informed and healthier decisions. I have watched Teaching Artists develop workshops in which parents are sensitively encouraged to push the theme of Bullying inwards; to identify where they may have been bullied as a child or adult, and when they may have been the aggressor in their role as parent. I have been fortunate to be exposed to the Common Core standards when they first emerged and actively engaged in workshops and activities developed by CAT Program Directors that have helped me navigate Common Core in my own child’s education. I have watched young college students in our adolescent sexual health peer education program tackle some of the hardest, most provocative and important conversations both with their peers and adults.

I have witnessed all of this and have walked away with a tool-kit – or, rather, a grab bag – of strategies, techniques, materials and resources that I weave into my parenting each day. I couldn’t figure out a way to express my gratitude to each of the talented, bright, and loving individuals I am blessed to work with at the Creative Arts Team but hopefully this writing will serve as a small token of my appreciation.

 

Rachel & Laz

Rachel Castillo
Mother of Lazarus
Director of Operations

How Does This Work?  (A CAP Story)

Every Friday, Eboni Witcher, Eric Aviles, Priscilla Flores, and I run around a room of high school seniors yelling “How does this work?” We’re talking about the college admissions process, but we could also be talking about the College/Adult Program’s (CAP) process of engagement and learning.

CAP facilitates several contracts: Department of Corrections/Rikers Island (Skills for Life), STAR/ESI (Science, Technology and Research Early College High School/Expanded Success Initiative) 9th and 10th grade, At Home in College (College Access/Readiness), CTEA/TAP (High School of Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture/Theater Arts Program), Homes for the Homeless (Supporting Success), Black Male Initiative (Supporting Success/Retention/Work Readiness)—which services practically every CUNY campus—and year round SVP (School Violence Prevention) Parent Workshops. What a mouthful. In each contract we are focused on the transition to and the complexity of adulthood. CAP cares about that spark, the “why”, behind higher education. We challenge other adults to critically think about their access and their spark. How does CAP work? It’s all in the drama.

CAT's CAP Team: L-R: Priscilla Flores (Senior A/T), Keith Johnston (Program Director), Jerron Herman (Administrative Assistant, A/T), Eric Aviles (A/T), Eboni Witcher (A/T)

CAT’s CAP Team: L-R: Priscilla Flores (Senior A/T), Keith Johnston (Program Director), Jerron Herman (Administrative Assistant, A/T), Eric Aviles (A/T), Eboni Witcher (A/T)

The other actor-teachers (A/T) and I search our population for lines and characterizations; they are our script. Take our contract with Rikers Island, for example: five facilities and hundreds of stories. When we first begin a residency we will portray an ex-con dealing with readjustment, but over time we’ll start to develop scenes based on what we’ve actually seen. Senior A/T Priscilla and I were facilitating a workshop at one of the juvenile detention centers and were deep in a conversation about “the Box,” a solitary confinement hold for inmate infractions. Instead of explaining the inner workings of it though, we had a few of the incarcerated students simulate “Box” life. The result was three distinct portrayals of inmate/correction officer relations. The students portrayed COs and themselves with such reality and truth. They even included a percussive beat, an understood signal, which all inmates know to mean “I’m restless.” The discussion afterward was deepened by these concrete scenarios. How does Rikers work? Co-intentionally.

Whether we service the Black Male Initiative programs throughout the CUNY campuses, or finalize a residency with STAR High School, CAP’s presence is set up to affect student and facilitator alike. When the CAP team devises a drama, we leave a bit of room for the unexpected; we learn just as much as they do. Our work is about helping to identify social and personal skills which contribute to strong academic success. Those soft skills can’t always be charted, so we prep and devise for those sparks of understanding. We know we’re effective when we ask the question—How does this work?

Jerron-Herman-CAP

Jerron Herman
Administrative Assistant
Actor-Teacher Swing
College/Adult Program