Celebrating 2015

To help us count down to the New Year, we asked our Team for highlights from 2015 – some of their answers are below…

We also ask that you keep us in mind for your tax-deductible year-end giving, help keep these amazing memories coming for years to come.


After-School FunGH

Suddenly, and quite by surprise, I was surrounded by a group of girls! I was sitting during an observation of one of our Serious Fun after-school workshops, observing a group of second grade girls put finishing touches on their paper puppets and puppet stage. I must admit I have a love of puppets – all kinds from paper bag puppets, sock puppets to the bigger than life Bread and Puppet Theatre ones. So, I asked the group if they could show me how to make my own puppet! They all rushed over to me with paper, crayons, scissors and glue and helped me make ‘Wendy’ my puppet!

Gwendolen Hardwick
Artistic & Education Director


The Power of Drama with our Youngest StudentsDorcas

“The teacher in my ICT (inclusion) class said he had never seen this one student so focused, because he has serious processing/speech delays, he never participates. But that was news to me – because every time I’m in the classroom, doing a storytelling, asking questions and including him, he’s one of the first kids with his hand up.”

Dorcas Davis
Actor-Teacher, Early Learning Program


The Power of Drama with ProfessionalsKJ

“I didn’t feel like I did my best during my session in the CUNY Black Male Initiative Conference, but I was swamped as I left the stage. It’s the power of this work, it was very evident that people were hungry to critically think, to broaden their perspective, and to understand what we do. It was pretty awesome to entertain young people who had so many questions and professors who really wanted to get more information about the work we do. I’m still boggled by it.”

Keith Johnston
Director, College/Adult Program


Working with ParentsParents

“The first of 27 Parent Workshops for year 2 of our Astor program (NYCT Brooke Astor Fund for NYC Education) took place at PS 212 in Jackson Heights, Queens, which is just the epitome of Queens. We had parents who spoke Urdu, Tibetan, Chinese, Spanish… every language we could think of. As the workshop exploring play and literacy concluded, two of the parents from Tibet came up to me and said: ‘Can I take a picture with you please? Can I can I please?’ The principal came up to me afterward and said, ‘They NEVER talk. They never say a word.’”

Helen Wheelock
Director, Early Learning Program


Shakespearean MagicSSF

The NYC Student Shakespeare Festival is a highlight for me every year. 2015 was our largest Festival yet, with well over 800 students and 30 teachers participating. The mix of public and private schools was profound for the students – with many from our struggling schools showing such pride in performing on the Lortel stage and that they did so well without fancy costumes. A private school 5th grader noticed as well, writing: “I’ve learned that not all schools have as many opportunities as mine has. This showed me to use my opportunities wisely.” Two of the themes that stood out this year were pulled right out of current cultural shifts – two high school groups explored gay marriage and two elementary school classes focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, all through Shakespeare. Amazing.

Krista Fogle
Communications & Marketing Manager
NYCSSF Administrator


Retention After-Schoolretention

“One of the highlights for our Adolescent Literacy Program, a middle school program using drama to strengthen literacy – the contract has been around for a few years, so we’ve been at it for a while – this year, we have the highest number of students in each of our after-school programs, the highest retention rate that we’ve had in the past 8 years or so. I think that speaks to the quality of work that we’re doing.”

Brisa Areli Muñoz
Associate Program Director, Literacy Through Drama


Best PracticesSVP

A recent highlight for me was observing my School Violence Prevention team transform their classroom – a huge classroom, with more than 30 kids – while implementing their day 3 session which had been kind of a challenge in many different ways. They were just impeccable. It was wonderful to see the students reaching out, totally and completely engaged in the narrative. It was just great.

Outside of the classroom, our workshop during the NYSED School Violence Prevention Conference in Albany went extremely well. There were no breakout groups, icebreakers or other interactive opportunities, so it was up to us to create that kind of community feeling. Afterward, everyone was interested in our work, everyone wanted to collaborate. They all wanted to know how they could “get the drama involved.”

Carmen Kelly
Program Director, Special Projects


Seasons of CHANGEPC

“This is a big year for Project CHANGE, our Healthy & Wellness/HIV Prevention Program. After 5 years of amazing peer education & intervention, this contract is coming to a close. During the summer, current and past CHANGE Agents and CAT staff came together for a reunion to celebrate all we’ve achieved and to plan the closing year. We held our World AIDS Day event on December 4th at Medgar Evers College and, over a few hours, had more than 100 participants, 25 of whom got tested! As our last big event, it was a ton of fun.”

Lynnette Freeman
Actor-Teacher, Project CHANGE


Momentous MilestonesLZ

This summer marked the 20th anniversary of our Youth Theatre program and, this fall, the conclusion of our 40th year. Lynda Zimmerman, our Founder and Executive Director, on what has made the Creative Arts Team thrive: “There has been this wonderful confluence of those three C’s: Creativity, Commitment, and Collaboration. The Creativity has been from folks like yourselves whether they were artists, arts administrators and educators, who continue to take ideas and run with them. The Commitment was finding folks like yourselves, with the mind of an educator, the strength of an administrator and the heart of an artist. And the Collaboration is being able to find those partners, be they programmatic or financial, who are willing to back your vision. I think those three things have been what’s propelled CAT, with the understanding that we always have that clarity in our vision of using that power of drama to help young people learn about themselves and the world around them.”

YTThe Youth Theatre held its first ever performance in the summer of 1995 at a ragged little black box theater, down along the east side of Washington Square Park. A wildly diverse group of fifty or so city kids, from throughout the five boroughs, came together to create a piece of theater they themselves would devise. Most had little to no experience in acting or performance. Even fewer knew each other beforehand. None would guess the impact those few weeks would have on their lives. I should know – I was one of them, barely sixteen at the time. That was twenty years ago.

The importance of what the Youth Theatre does, and what it can mean to a young person, is impossible to overestimate. You come to it at an age where figuring things out can consume your whole being: who you are, who you want to be, where you want to go. You come in on a Tuesday afternoon, and for a few hours you maybe untangle some of that mess, and you work on weaving it into something else. Probably you don’t have much of an idea what it is you’re making. What you do know is you’re making it yourself, with power and ability you maybe didn’t realize you even had, and that counts for more than you can ever know at the time.

None of that has changed in the two decades since those first performances. Now, as it was then, I don’t doubt for a second those city kids look forward to Tuesdays from four to six thirty all week long, just as I did. I’m sure in twenty years’ time they’ll look back on their days in the Youth Theatre, and, like me, know just how lucky they were to find it when they did.”

Adam Rivera
CAT Youth Theatre Alum


We wish you a happy and healthy New Year!

Thank you for reading.

 

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Arriving at Full Circle

Books assembled by Natalie for Early Learning residencies

Books assembled by Natalie for Early Learning residencies

My year at CAT has been one of the most exiting rides of my life, where I gained knowledge, experience and fulfillment. Working at CAT has given me behind-the-scenes insight into After-School Programs and the administrative side of schools. While in the beginning of my year, when I was mostly involved with administrative duties, such as tracking students’ attendance, homework and progress, as well as other filing duties, I discovered that the behind-the-scenes work can be just as important as being in the classroom. Granted, it was a treat to see the work I did—creating templates for worksheets, book materials and puzzles—used in the classroom. I was able to see both sides of the same coin, but it was only near the end of my time at CAT that I was able to witness and experience first-hand what CAT sessions in the middle schools are really like.

Natalie, dressed for Halloween, with a puzzle she created for ALP students

Natalie, dressed for Halloween, with a puzzle she created for ALP students

When I first learned that I would return to my former middle school, I.S. 237, to observe CAT’s sessions via ALP (the Adolescent Literacy Program), I was ecstatic to say the least. Initially, I was only observing how the Actor-Teachers, Precious and Nicolette, facilitate their sessions—how, by utilizing games, activities and recreations, they integrate reading, listening, and critical thinking in the way a student encounters stories and social issues. Working alongside the Actor-Teachers revealed (to me) new and creative ways of teaching, by utilizing the arts to engage and motivate students to learn. The way that they facilitated their lessons made clear what they hope to achieve with the students. Not only was I able to participate in the sessions with them, I was able to put my own observations and understanding to the test by facilitating my own session with the students, with support from both Actor-Teachers.

I had grown used to the way that the students reacted to activities and, with the help of Precious and Nicolette, the session went off not only without a hitch, but became a very fun experience for the students… and me! Seeing the students’ faces come alive and watching how immersed they became in the discussions made my heart swell and I felt a sense of deep joy and fulfillment. I thought, this is what it means to be a facilitator, a teacher, an educator. NB-staffWhile I was only in the school for four short weeks, I feel like I have realized a passion for working with middle-school students. I am not only pleased to see CAT’s mission at work here in Queens, but I am grateful for the chance to have been a part of it.

Natalie BernabeNB
CUNY Service Corps Member
Assigned to CAT’s Early Learning
& Adolescent Literacy Programs

My CUNY Service Corps Experience

This school year, being a CUNY Service Corps member has been a whirlwind. With everything we had to do, from the interview process to the monthly workshops we have to attend, it took a lot of commitment to fulfill my duties as a Service Corps Member. The best part of being a Service Corps member this year was being placed with the Creative Arts Team for my service site.

Nya (center) with Helen and Lexy

Nya (center) with Helen and Lexy

Working at CAT was good work experience for me. Even though I am in school to be a dental hygienist and the program I worked with at CAT is an after-school program teaching literacy through drama, I was able to learn a lot that I can take with me in my career as a hygienist. This was my first office job, so I learned a lot of skills that one should know if they’re going to be working in an office setting, such as, working with Excel, and filing (I did a lot of this!). I also learned how to send professional emails and that you should email everything, even if it’s small (wrote plenty of these too). I was also able to join in on a couple of sessions of one of CAT’s many programs, Project CHANGE. Those sessions were a good way for me to break out of my shyness a little bit, with exercises like Pantomime. Other than that, the staff at CAT made it really easy for me to feel like I’ve been working there forever. They’re all very silly and down-to-earth, with personalities through the roof that made me feel really comfortable and at home. I guess it comes with being “creative individuals” or just plain ol’ happy people (feel free to start singing R. Kelly’s Happy People anthem).

Nya-2I am very grateful for all that I have learned and the relationships that have formed while working here. My supervisor, Lexy, has taught me the most while I’ve been at CAT. My other supervisor, Helen, who is the biggest kid at the office (I mean it in the best way possible), has a larger-than-life personality and always keeps the energy in the room. I am certainly going to miss those two saying my full name every other minute. I will also miss Carmen, the Director of Project CHANGE and the reason why I had hoped to be placed with CAT, for being so nice while I’ve been here and welcoming me into Project CHANGE; my office buddy Nicole showing me tons of pictures of cats; and my fellow Service Corps member, Natalie, sharing the experience with me. And to the rest of the CAT staff members, it was nice getting to know you and working alongside all of you, and it was my pleasure to be of some help to you all. I am going to miss being a part of this organization (I am starting to get a little teary-eyed as I write this blog) but I will come back to visit very soon!

Nya Jackson
CUNY Service Corps Member
Placed with CAT’s Early Learning & Adolescent Literacy Programs

Growing Up in CAT (Kat edition)

Youth Theatre era Kat

Youth Theatre era Kat

At 35 years old I have spent half of my life as a member of the CAT family. The beginnings of which started with my combat boots roaming the halls of CAT’s NYU corridors of an office in the East Village as a CAT Youth Theatre member. Three years later I found myself no longer a minor with a curiosity about the impact of CAT’s work beyond the walls of the Youth Theatre. With the unwavering guidance and enthusiasm of Helen White & Chris Vine as directors of the CAT Youth Theatre and mentors, I have had the privilege of working with over 20,000 young people, from the Bronx to Staten Island, as a teaching artist for CAT. For 11 years my feet traveled the veins of the City to work with young people, teachers, and administrators to share my passion for using theatre as a tool for social and academic learning.

Kat as Actor/Teacher

Kat as Actor/Teacher

It has been 4 years since I have regularly turned off a 5am alarm, to spend 2 hours commuting to the beautiful faces of the young people of New

York. I miss it terribly. However, I have continued my tenure at CAT as an Associate Program Director and now as a Program Director. Although my new role doesn’t have the daily immediate satisfaction of being in a classroom, it is an opportunity for me to work with other practitioners in building and expanding this work. It has been 15 years since my membership to the Youth Theatre and I still continue to draw upon the subtle and graceful intentionality of the Helen and Chris’s choices and actions in directing the Youth Theatre. Their teaching and training of other folks enveloped my learning for nearly 2 decades. Every aspect of my experience as a CAT Youth Theatre member

Kat as Associate Program Director

Kat as Associate Program Director

prepared me for my work as a teaching artist, activist, artist, friend, and human being. There is electricity in my spine that incites me to ask questions and to think critically*.

To add to a quote that has been traveling the depths of the internet that reads, “What if the cure for cancer is trapped inside the mind of someone who can’t afford an education?” Well, “what if theatre as a tool for learning is one of the keys to freeing that cure?”

*Critical thinking, in my case, was not a natural and instinctual action to take. I was raised to accept my circumstance, get by, and avoid eye-raising activity. Critical action is a privilege that individuals trying to survive on a daily basis do not have easy access to.

Katherine Chua Almirañez
Program Director
Adolescent Literacy Initiative

From Hampshire (College) With Love

“If you don’t go to Creative Arts Team, I’ll kill you.”

That’s what my professor told me after I announced that CAT was one of the five places I would be interviewing at for my spring semester field study. Coming from one of the warmest and most nurturing people I have ever known, I knew she meant it.

Sigal-with-studentsI am currently a junior at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA  (or a Division II student in Hampshire vocabulary), studying arts integration and specializing in theatre as a teaching tool. As a young person who struggled with the traditional educational system, I found myself through the arts. I am passionate about using the arts to teach and learn, experiencing first hand how the arts can change lives.

I stumbled upon Creative Arts Team while researching field study opportunities. I knew I wanted to be in New York City and have hands-on experience working with young people doing theatre. I reached out to many organizations and, by some amazing stroke of luck, found myself at CAT.

Here at CAT I mainly work with the Adolescent Literacy Program (ALP). I work five days a week. I am either in the office assisting on projects, or in Brooklyn with Actor Teacher Katherine Chua, supporting her and the students’ work in every way I possibly can. I don’t know if I have ever worked with a group of youth as open and welcoming as the ALP students are. The idea of joining a community halfway through the year was a bit intimidating, but it was a challenge that I was obviously more than thrilled to take on.  I received a few goodbye hugs at the end of the first day, and I left knowing that all I had to do was be the best self I could be, and that would be enough. The openness displayed by the young people powerfully attests to the positivity and beautiful mentorship of the actor teachers (Kat, Andre, and Brisa).

Sigal-with-students2If I have learned one thing from my two months at CAT and working with ADL, it’s that this work is HARD. During one of my conversations with Kat she told me, “Despite the long hours I work, I have never felt so rewarded.” This work is exhausting. It’s about being on your feet for many hours and opening up your heart. It’s about the process. And it’s about allowing these young people to realize and practice all of their amazing abilities.

Ultimately the work is all about giving. And I can’t thank Creative Arts Team and the ALP team enough for giving me this incredible opportunity to join them in doing their beautiful work.

SigalSigal Kadden
Student, Hampshire College

2014 Intern, CAT
Early Learning/Adolescent Literacy Program

CAT, CATT, KAT, ALP, ELP, ELA & “B”-yond

Acronym is the name of this game.

CAT = Creative Arts Team
CAT was the first acronym I was introduced to as I was plunged into the world of ‘Educational Theatre’ in October 2013. I am a CUNY Service Corps member, who was placed at CAT to learn from Actor Teachers and their commitment to public service. The CUNY Service Corps is an organization dedicated to giving undergraduates an opportunity to work at sites in NYC that are positively impacting the community.

A day at CAT: Rolling like dice into a room with grown adults acting like twelve-year-olds, never knowing what to expect or what would happen next. It was a perplexing experience. Suddenly, I felt like the adult in the room, which is ironic since I am the youngest. Being the newbie, I was convinced that I was being hoodwinked. After 45 minutes of making random sounds, creating tableaux and playing name games, I finally realized I was plopped into the middle of an Actor Teacher rehearsal session.

CAT is unlike any other NYC office environment. In the midst of a bitter NYC winter, the CAT office is filled with the warmest atmosphere. Everyone is friendly, energetic, and sarcastic; most importantly everyone loves their job and is passionate about their contribution to the community.

CATT = Community Action Theatre Troupe
KAT = Katherine, Actor Teacher
CATT’s pride leader Kat, alias Katherine Chua, welcomed me into the pride lands of educational theatre at the after-school program in Brooklyn. A cat learning how to swim is analogous to my first days at CATT.  Now, you call me a “catfish” because I finally understand how tongue twisters, name games, and playing detective is related to learning and education. Tongue twisters help students with their pronunciation and enunciation skills, name games help enhance their memory and improvisation helps them think on-the-fly, which is useful when taking a multiple choice exam.

Melissa-ALPMelissa (center) with ALP students

ALP = Adolescent Literacy Program
ELP = Early Learning Program
ELA = English Language Arts
ELL = English Language Learner
“B”KY = Brooklyn YMCAIS 347/IS 349
“B”ECA = Bronx Early College Academy
Like a tidal wave the acronyms started crashing in around me; it’s a good thing cats have nine lives. Gasping for air I began to see beyond the pride lands of BKY and its twin at BECA. ALP and ELP are the larger programs at CAT focused on engaging students throughout NYC in interactive drama strategies that help ELLs enhance their ELA skills.

Most importantly, beyond the acronyms, are all of the students who are breaking out of their shells and expressing themselves through theatre techniques, and the tireless Actor Teachers, who take on the CATT challenge with alacrity.

Melissa-Rambavan

Melissa Rambaran
CAT Adolescent Literacy Program Assistant
CUNY Service Corps Member
Queens College ’14

Behind the Drama

Behind the Drama

It’s 3:30 pm on a Monday when I walk into a classroom of 12 middle school students.  They don’t see me at first. I just stand and wait in the front of the classroom observing them walk around excitedly telling each other about their day.  One of them notices me and happily yells,“Lexy!”  Soon after, I hear a rippling effect of “Hi, Lexy,” “Yay, Lexy is here!” “Lexy, did you notice my new shirt?”  This is what I live for.

These students don’t really know what I do for their after-school literacy program. They know that I help them get snacks and take field trips; that’s probably why they love me so much!  But what I do is much more complicated.  In order to have a successful after-school program, there are a lot of components and people involved.  We have our program director, actor-teachers, funders, students, and then there is me, the Program Manager.

My job is mostly behind the scenes.  I track a broad range of data, including student’s state exam scores, report card grades, the amount of work submitted, the number of hours per week are students attend the program, and how many students overall are participating – all to ensure CAT is meeting our contract requirements for attendance and academic outcomes for literacy and to understand how the students and our program are progressing throughout the school year.

I take all of this data and make sure to disseminate it to the right people at the right time.  Whether helping actor-teachers incorporate assessment results into developing curriculum objectives or calling a student’s parent to talk about the child’s level of attendance,  I use all of this data to make sure that CAT’s after-school literacy program is running as efficiently and effectively as possible.  It’s very time consuming and detailed work, but I truly love it.   

The greatest part of my job is seeing the impact.  Whenever I visit our students and see them in action, they move me.  Their brilliance, creativity, and excitement for the work that they do gives me hope for this next generation.  And for selfish reasons, it helps me feel fulfilled in knowing that I did my part in helping provide a fun, engaging, after-school program where students are truly learning and growing.

Lexy NisticoLexy-Nistico
Program Manager
Middle Schools Literacy Initiative
Alumni, MA in Applied Theatre