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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York’s theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we’re passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following piece is the first in a four-part story about our initial findings. 
 
Contributed by Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education/School Engagement

PS 138You might say that the New Victory has a "thing" for raising the stakes. Who else puts wild, urban circuses on the beautifully restored stage of a turn-of-the-century theater? Who else would perform X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation—a courtroom drama focused on the assassination of Malcolm X—for young audiences? The New Vic's SPARK program is no different – it raised the stakes by entering into intensive and sustained relationships with a set of New York schools that serve some of the city's poorest children. The intensity of the partnership brought the entire organization face-to-face with the consequences of trauma—young people, teachers and schools all of whom live daily with the inequalities that are New York. The work has taught us not just to believe in the power of the arts, but also to live out that commitment in ways that have re-defined our comfort zone. Three examples make this clear:

Agency: Many of the schools that have no arts serve students with high needs, spending their discretionary dollars on tutoring and other support services, pushing to meet standards. In SPARK, we wanted to turn this around by calling on principals' and teachers' agency. Instead of selecting sites, we asked interested schools to apply as the first step in identifying schools who wanted to partner in building an arts program. From the start, we wanted their ownership and vision as full partners.

PS 138Acknowledgement: SPARK schools operate under constant stress: in addition to being classrooms, they operate as clinics, safe zones and community centers. Teachers triple as mediators, social workers and diagnosticians. They can appear angry or disinterested. But rather than grumble, we had to act collectively. We would never be able to enliven curriculum or change school climate without teachers' buy-in. We realized quickly that we had to redesign our professional development sessions to acknowledge what teachers were carrying. Every session called out the (sometimes hidden) performer in each teacher, offering humor, relaxation and collaboration. In addition, teaching artists doubled down on showing how theater skills could build literacy and numeracy. Finally, we re-directed one of each school's teaching artist advisors to focus wholly on working with individual teachers to think through how theater could make a difference in focus, behavior and peer interactions.

And not least, theater as love: Many SPARK students live with personal traumas: homelessness, domestic violence, or forced migration. Especially in middle school this often translated into withdrawal and apathy or eruptive bullying and fighting. To respond to the students fully—with love rather than with disappointment or frustration—teaching artists needed a whole new set of skills. We invited behavioral counselors to observe and critique how teaching artists addressed conflict, and we worked with experts like Shawn Ginwright to explore concrete strategies for working respectfully with youth with trauma. We realized that teaching artists have to build, not assume, safe spaces for creative learning. (For instance, we learned that a low-stakes final rehearsal might be a much better culminating event than a full-blown show). The final rehearsal can be about growth and persistence, rather than perfect performances where "messing up" can ignite anger or sadness.

In our fourth year, the successes outweigh the challenges but only because we have spent three years mapping out the consequences of raising the stakes on how we work.

Learn more about the SPARK program here
 
 
Courtney Boddie Courtney J. Boddie, New Victory Director of Education / School Engagement, oversees the New Victory Education Partnership program and professional development training in the performing arts for teachers. Ms. Boddie is currently President of the Board of Directors for the Association of Teaching Artists (ATA). Additionally, she serves on the Teaching Artist Committee and Diversity Task Force of the NYC Arts-in-Education Roundtable and is a member of the National Teaching Artist Collective in association with the National Guild for Community Arts Education. Prior to joining The New Victory Theater in 2003, Ms. Boddie was Program Associate for Empire State Partnerships (NYSCA) and a teaching artist for Roundabout Theatre Company. She received her Master’s degree from the Educational Theatre Graduate Program at New York University, where she is also adjunct faculty.
Posted by Beth Henderson


In New York, the state mandates that twenty percent of lower elementary school needs to be spent in arts education. Twenty percent, if you do the math, is one full day a week. In New York City, few schools are compliant with the state's mandate. This means that cultural institutions in New York City have never been more important.

Cultural institutions are filling the gap where, in fact, certified teachers are supposed to be. In many cases they are providing the only theater that these students will be introduced to. While cultural institutions are doing an admirable job introducing kids to the arts, nothing replaces regular, regimented classes in schools. 

Arts programming in schools is an ongoing challenge. However. the arts are not a privilege, but a right. Sadly, arts education doesn't rank high on many people's priority list. My goal has been making the arts a priority in our schools. Having said that, one of the things we have to think about is just how we judge the quality of a school's arts education program. One of the things I have talked about is a report called the "The Qualities of Quality" by lead researcher Steve Seidel. The focus of the report is on quality teaching and learning in the arts. Basically, the report has told us that there are four indicators of quality in arts education.

One: The Environment
Is the environment appropriate for the art form being taught? If students are taking dance, is the floor appropriate? For theater, is the space flexible with movable furniture? For visual arts, does the room have a sink?

Additionally, where do the arts live in the building? Are they a priority, or are they marginalized? Are they considered a core subject or simply an enrichment?

Two: Engagement
Are the students engaged? Are they participating in art making? Are the teachers engaging? The report states that students decide to engage in the first 3–5 minutes of a lesson. If you lose them in the first 3–5 minutes, you've lost them for the entire class period.

 

Victory Dance
New Victory Teaching Artist Shelah Marie leads a classroom workshop for Mother Africa
Three (the one I find particularly important): Relationships
Not just the relationship the teachers have with their students, but the relationships that the students have with one another. The teacher's job is not done if they do a good job building relationships with their students, but the students have not developed healthy relationships among themselves. The teachers must understand the importance of all relationships: relationships with parents, administrators, among and between students, and between faculty.

Four (makes people nervous): Knowledge
Do practitioners actually know what they are teaching? In some cases, we have the English teacher teaching Shakespeare. This might be the only theater class in the building! That doesn't mean the English teacher doesn't know and understand theater, but he or she is not a certified theater teacher. In some cases you have the physical education teacher introducing students to dance. Again, we might have a great physical education teacher who's good at dance, but chances are they don't have formal dance training. Knowledge is important in making sure that our teachers actually know what it is they're teaching.

The same four principles apply to the work of teaching artists. Seidel came to New York a few years back to report out some of his earlier findings. He said when teachers really knew their subject, when the students were actively engaged and when strong relationships were built–he said there was LOVE in the room. Not something that can be included in a research report, but you could feel it in the room. It's interesting to me that people frown upon using the word "love" when talking about teaching and learning. What does that say about the current state of education?

Photos: Alexis Buatti-Ramos | This post was originally seen on the New Vic blog in 2010. 
 
 
Russell Granet Russell Granet, Executive Vice President, Lincoln Center (LC), is internationally known for his work in arts and education. He oversees education, community engagement, and international at LC. An enthusiastic, respected advocate for arts education for more than 25 years, Mr. Granet joined Lincoln Center after running his own international consulting group, Arts Education Resource (AER). Since his appointment in September 2012, he has spearheaded Lincoln Center Education’s highly successful fundraising efforts, its renovation, and the rebranding initiative that simultaneously confirms Lincoln Center’s educational mission and its message of dedication to bringing quality arts to the widest possible audience. 

Prior to founding AER, Mr. Granet held leadership positions at The Center for Arts Education—The NYC Annenberg Challenge; The American Place Theatre; and was a senior teaching artist in the NYC public schools. He served on faculty of the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University for twenty years.

Mr. Granet has worked on projects in Argentina, Australia, Egypt, England, India, Kenya, Mexico, South Korea, Tanzania, Turkey, and throughout the United States. Mr. Granet’s leadership was cited as “visionary” in the 2013 Proclamation by the City of New York and currently serves as an advisor to the NYC Mayor’s Cabinet for Children.  

 
Posted by Beth Henderson
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