Paula Vogel: Episode 3 Rewrites & Revisions OR How I Learned to Drive Part II

First Online with Fran Episode 2: Starting a Workshop!

chandra thomas: ACTOR-WRITER-PRODUCER-YOUTH ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCATE

For as long as she can remember, chandra thomas ACTOR-WRITER-PRODUCER-YOUTH ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCATE credits her family for instilling a love of storytelling. Entrenched in her upbringing between Harlem and Long Island was the importance of enduring the history of her family, expressing her insights and opinions about everyday occurrences, from the mundane to the sublime: “Learning about my world through stories became a big influence in terms of my own journey to this quadruple title world that I now live in.” Drawn to work that tells stories, chandra is inspired to tell “unique, stories that aren’t just recycling of stories we have already heard.”
chandra-ACTOR has the capacity to delve into a character’s spirit through their need to tell their story. She actively seeks subjects whose stories might not have been told.  Her mother is an ardent believer in the importance of the arts and took chandra to her first play at the age of five to see Big River.  Although awed by the spectacle and magic of live theater it wasn’t until she was in high school when she went to see Rent  that she had her “aha” moment:  “I saw people who I knew…people who were in the neighborhood that I grew up in, friends that I hung out with, family that I recognized.  There were people whose stories I had never seen on a stage, no less a Broadway stage, before.” Armed with this new vision, chandra-PRODUCER makes it her mission to promote points of view that might not have otherwise been heard.
And this is why chandra-YOUTH ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCATE  co-founded viBe Theater Experience whose mission is to empower teenage girls through the collaborative, performing arts.  For ten years she has been working with teen girls form all over New York City to create original plays, performances, music, poems, videos, poetic performances originally derived by the young women in a collaborative environment:  “It’s really about the girls speaking from their own voices; it’s often the first time girls [have their voices] validated…to be able to say what they have to say [and that] it’s important, that someone wants to hear it, and very often it’s the first time they discover they are not the only one [who shares similar experiences].”  Using the arts as a vehicle, these young women develop skills such as literacy, critical thinking, cultural competency, marketing, advocacy:  “Our goal is to create well-rounded, well-informed young women who are prepared to meet all challenges, all triumphs ahead…we’re preparing young women to make decisions about what their future is and create the path to achieve that future.”  Girls have gone on to medical school, some in politics, law school, English teachers, and some even become artists! One particular story stands out for chandra: She came to the tryout on the arm of a viBe Alum and spent much of the session detached from the discussion.  When asked why she was interested in being a viBe Girl, she sat there stunned.  In the most eloquent terms, she described how this was the first time she was in a space “where people just listen to me.” Not only did she thrive as a member of the project, but also went on to receive a full scholarship to St. John’s University; a girl who never even considered going to college as an option before working with viBe!  “She found the core of her real story,” interjects chandra, “she had all these other things around it, but it was really…she didn’t know that [she] could afford it.”  Had she not been in the kind of supportive environment she might not have realized her destiny. Today she’s interested in being an English major; this is a “viBe success story. Even as this young woman has academic pursuits outside of” The Arts”, this is a success story as viBe uses art as the vehicle not the destination.”
chandra-WRITER  upcoming play, a one-act called Standing At…  and tells the story of 2 women from the South Bronx  who are long time friends, and one is surviving HIV.  It has poetry woven throughout, original songs that capture traditional Gospel songs, and  ”it’s that storytelling.  “It comes right back to where I started—that storytelling.  That really specific story of two real people being in the same space and how much beauty there is right there.” The play opens March 30th at HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue, NYC.  Follow chandra  on her website, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Testimonial #10: Holly Stanford, Theater Education Practitioner

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

I was greatly influenced by an English teacher in my high school. She took on the school drama club andinvested 100% of herself into the process, allowing herself to make discoveries along with us, and treating theatre as a mechanism for not only learning, but for us to discover confidence and self-worth.

Before I became involved in the arts, I was a shell of myself- introverted andlacking confidence emotionally and socially. This teacher witnessed my demeanorchange as I threw myself into the roles I played and encouraged me to stay withthe arts- that I “could be a pro”. Now, although I have not become afully-fledged professional in theatre, her vote of confidence in my abilitiesdrove me to study the art intensively in college and then in graduate schoolwhere I trained to teach students, and to encourage them the same way I had.

It only took one teacher’s use of the arts to change the entire trajectory ofmy life, and I am so glad she did. I have met so many more amazing teachers andprofessors of theatre since then, and have learned more from my involvement inthe arts than in any other school of thought.

How are the artsre-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your localschools?

When I came home on a summerbreak from graduate school in New York City I worked tirelessly to give high school studentsacross the region the same option that younger students had. It was unfortunatethat at 14 or 15, you aged out of the arts- I remember feeling so sad after myfinal year of the children’s theatre group. After developing a pilot programover a few months prior to summer 2011, and working alongside a localprevention agency known as Mountain View Prevention Service, Inc., we had aplan, the funding and a cast of students from seven area high schools.

Every part of this summer production was like magic- the students were excited,hard working and wonderful, and the great network of local organizations thatprovided both financial and moral support was heart-warming. I am so glad thatthere has been a growing appreciation for the arts in our community since thissummer. Students who lacked confidence in their own school productions wereable to shine for the first time. I recently revisited one of the participatingschools and many of the students who had participated in the summer programwere up on stage again! It’s amazing to witness their growing confidence andthe willingness of educators in the school to support the arts, and the desiresof students to be involved in theatre.

I do hope that the high school program pilot I worked to create will be offeredagain for future seasons. The program is wonderful for students, especiallyteenagers to have a positive and constructive activity to commit to whileschool is out of session. It is also my desire for area schools to consider thevalue of theatre alongside other art forms in their school budget- if moreschools could offer not only plays, but holistic theatre education for students;I feel that it could only further enhance the student experience both sociallyand academically. Theatre teaches valuable and realistic lessons incommunication, dealing with various types of personalities, working on abudget, how to lead and follow in group situations, learning how to deal withthe hand you were dealt, and good old fashioned hard work and how it willeventually lead to something great.

With an ever changing society, isn’t it important for us to instill these veryimportant lessons into our youth? Theatre is so much more than anextra-curricular activity. I would not be the same without it, and the teens inour community are begging for the chance to be a part of something so muchgreater than test scores and the occasional school play.

Arts education program boosts reading scores

SAN MARCOS: Arts education program boosts reading scores
.ByDEBORAH SULLIVAN BRENNAN dbrennan@nctimes.com | Posted: Thursday, February 9,2012 7:00 pm.

Thousands of North Countyschoolchildren showed an “astonishing” jump in test scores after their teachers used the arts in reading lessons, officials announced Thursday. In a pilot programinvolving 3,000 third- and fourth-graders, test scores improved at triple therate of similar students using the standard curricula. Those in the”DREAM” program learned reading through lessons involving theater,puppetry and painting —- and improved their reading scores by 87 points,education officials announced at a news conference.  “Art has thepower to inspire, inform, and obviously the results of DREAM show that art hasthe power to educate,” Cal State San Marcos President Karen Haynes said.
DREAM —- DevelopingReading Education through Arts Methods —- is a four-year program of the SanDiego County Office of Education, the North County Professional DevelopmentFederation and the Center ARTES of Cal State San Marcos.  Through the program,teachers participated in a weeklong arts integration training sessions and wereassigned to one of three groups. A control group did not employ arts in readinglessons. A second group added the arts lessons, while a third group did so within-class coaching by arts educators.
Kids in the controlgroup raised reading scores by 25 points, officials said. Those whose teacherstaught arts integration on their own brought up test scores by 42 points. Andthe group in which teachers received coaching increased reading scores by 87points.
Merryl Goldberg,chairwoman of the visual and performing arts department at the university, saidthe results show that arts education contributes to attainment of academicstandards, rather than distracting from them.
“We use arts insuch a way that it’s a tool,” she said. “It doesn’t take away fromthe curriculum at all. The arts teach creative thinking, innovative thinking,critical thinking. These are skills that are fundamental to what we need forthe 21 st century.”
Integrating movement,music and visual arts into reading lessons allows kids to employ more sensesand improve their comprehension of literature, said Laurie Stowell, a professorof literacy education at the university.  “Arts are simplyanother way we make sense of the world, and how we make meaning,” shesaid. “That’s what reading and writing is.” At the newsconference, fourth-graders from the Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Artsswayed to jazz music while displaying hand-lettered poster boards emblazonedwith single words.  Smooth,beautiful, peaceful, love,” proclaimed the signs for a smooth jazzselection.
“Explosive,blast, dynamite, grenade,” announced signs for a rhythm and blues piece.
Their teacher, HectorDeleon, said the multimedia lesson reinforced the meaning of vocabulary words,and improved reading comprehension.  “Instead ofhaving kids memorize stuff and spit it out, we’re having them take ownership ofthe word, and experiencing the words with music and movement,” he said.  His student, ArianaCastillo, 9, said the lessons erase her self-doubts about learning.  “It just makesme forget about all the voices in my head that say ‘You’re not good foranything,'” she said. “I just believe in myself.”
How have arts inclusion programs been utilized in your school district  to improve students’ in reading? other subject areas?