By Courtney J. Boddie, New Victory Director of Education / School Engagement
New Victory Education works with students across all grades. In 2013, with the addition of $23M to the Education budget specifically for arts education, the NYCDOE launched several new programs, including an arts-based professional development track called Pre-K CREATE which provides professional learning opportunities for early childhood leaders to incorporate dance, music, theater, and visual arts into instruction and the learning environment.
New Victory is the official theater partner for Pre-K CREATE and has served more than 3,000 Pre-K teachers, and continues to train approximately 80 Pre-K teachers a year—ultimately impacting over 20,000 students across the city.
As New Victory Director of Education, School Engagement, I oversee the Pre-K CREATE partnership that supports teachers with the skills and strategies they need to incorporate the performing arts into their lesson planning and teaching practices.
With NYCDOE schools closing and transitioning to remote learning due to the pandemic, New Victory has developed digital resources to supplant professional development that would have taken place this spring. The “New Victory School Tool ™ : Early Arts Learning Resource Guide” includes print materials with ready-to implement, educator-led activities and longitudinal unit plan brainstorms that can be adapted to meet the needs of any learning space, from virtual to in-person. There are also student-centered creativity pages giving opportunities for educators and kids to sing, move, ignite their vivid imagination, bring stories to life and explore emotions. The resource guide is segmented into chapters taking into consideration the Pre-K daily routine. The chapters are:
- Activating Stories
- Exploring Emotions
- Let’s Sing
- Discovering Movement
- Sparking Imagination
- Playing at Home
This last chapter of the guide features a family engagement section specifically geared toward bringing the arts and a sense of play and discovery directly into their home!
To help activate the print materials and demonstrate performing arts activities, New Victory embedded pre-recorded videos in the guide. Featuring New Victory Teaching Artists who specialize in early arts learning, these videos lead viewers through puppetry, clowning and creative drama to supplement the written activities. The video activities are meant for students to follow along, or teachers may choose to use them as professional learning tools in order to incorporate the work into their early learning curricula. With deep appreciation for all educators, New Victory Education is proud to offer these strong resources to the hard working early learning teachers across all of our city’s schools and beyond.
My first entry point into teaching in a school setting was through community-based childcare centers. I started as a floater supporting different classrooms throughout the center, learning from the educators how to support learning for ages six months to four years old. I did not have any previous training as a classroom teacher, but loved working with the kids and enjoyed incorporating theater to the best of my abilities into a wide array of activities. When I changed positions to a new center powered by a well-known early learning company, I was placed in the Universal Pre-K room, supporting a certified teacher to deliver her lessons.
Now, years later, those early teaching experiences serve as a foundation for the school engagement team’s approach to providing Pre-K for All Teacher professional development in performing arts. Through our work with classroom teachers, New Victory helps the City’s youngest students express themselves and expand their creativity.
As a novice early learning teacher and artist, I would have loved to have a resource like the New Victory Early Arts Learning School Tool. While we understand this is a challenging time, it is important to remember how the arts can ignite kids’ imaginations and spark joy in our youngest learners. While we miss the giggles and creative chatter in the theater and in classrooms, we hope that this is a springboard for creativity while learning at home!
Last summer, New York University Steinhardt’s Educational Theatre Program hosted a special roundtable event in conjunction with New Plays for Young Audiences’ 20th Anniversary, to explore theater for young audiences in today’s world.
Panelists included Laurie Brooks, award winning theater for young audiences (TYA) playwright, José Cruz González, a leading Latino voice in TYA, Cecily O’Neill, foremost drama-in-education authority, David Montgomery, Director of NYU’s program and author of Theater for Change and Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education/School Engagement at The New Victory Theater. The panel was moderated by Philip Taylor, NYU Educational Theatre professor.
Below, Courtney takes us through where she thinks the future of TYA is headed. To hear from the rest of the panel, take a listen to the podcast!
Thank you so much for having me here today! I graduated from NYU Steinhardt’s Educational Theatre Program in 2003 and I’ve worked at the New Vic ever since. This program really helped me find my home. At The New Victory Theater, I love to provide a place where kids are heard and where they can express themselves. TYA opened my eyes to this world because, prior to that, I only understood theater for adults. My parents took me to shows, but—for a long time—I didn’t understand that shows could be made specifically for kids too.
The New Vic opened in 1995 and since we’ve been the premier theater for New York City kids and their families. My job mainly focuses on the 40,000 kids from 170 schools we welcome to our theater each year. The majority of these schools have a general education curriculum with amazing teachers who understand that it’s important for kids to have theater in their lives from an early age.
Due to testing and budget cuts, middle and high schoolers don’t see a lot of theater. The New Vic is different because we serve pre-k through high school, but the majority of schools we work with are elementary schools. In order to showcase how affective theater is for kids of all ages, we are working on a longitudinal research study with WolfBrown. In two years, we’ll be able to share our findings on topics like theater’s intrinsic impact on elementary and middle school students with the public. We know that theater is good for all audiences, and we’re hopeful that the results of our study will inspire schools and other theaters to invest in young audiences.
I hope studies like this positively affect the future of TYA, because it’s so important to make sure that provocative, sophisticated work continues being created. We want to truly represent our audiences. There are many kids coming to our theater who are Black or Latinx and they, sadly, don’t often see themselves on stage. We aim to represent all kids so they all can grow up feeling represented by the characters that we, as creators of TYA, show them.
The thought that young people can’t appreciate theater is ridiculous. Kids are the most honest audiences in the world. My favorite thing to do is to watch our education performances, because those kids are going to tell the actors right away what they really think. They’ll let you know if they don’t like the show, but, more importantly, they’ll tell you if they love it.
There is always a beautiful reciprocation that happens between artist and audience, but with kids there’s this palpable energy that’s so synergistic, it’s difficult to describe. What we need to push for is a range of performing arts that kids are exposed to, as well, as the number of stories they can connect to. Being with these amazing artists today and seeing the incredible work created around the globe, I have hope that my goals for TYA will come true!
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 was President of the Association of Teaching Artists (ATA) from 2015 to 2017 and is currently on the Board of Directors. Additionally, she serves on the Teaching Artist Committee of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable, the editorial board for the Teaching Artist Journal and is a member of the National Teaching Artist Collective in association with the National Guild for Community Arts Education. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and The New School. 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.