With arts programs being cut back in schools across the country, Cleveland Play House has joined The United Way and Cleveland Metropolitan School District to re-define education.
In 2013, The United Way partnered with CMSD in a wraparound strategy that connects community organizations with 17 low-performing schools. Cleveland Play House was chosen to partner with Robert H. Jamison School, a pre-K through eight school in Cleveland, and has helped Jamison strengthen their students’ problem solving, communication and social emotional skills.
We all want to make sure children come to school every day ready to learn in a safe and encouraging environment, which is why using theatre techniques in everyday education can be so helpful.
Adding a Theatrical Approach to Formal Education
Each wraparound school has a site coordinator from the lead agency as a resource for both students and teachers. Nina Domingue is the CPH site coordinator for Jamison and has had a full time presence at the school since February of 2014.
“Theatre artists are, by nature, creative problem solvers. It’s how we have to think for our work,” says Nina.
She explains that theatre artists like actors, directors and designers approach their work with two questions: What is the obstacle, and how do we get past it? At Jamison, obstacles to academic success extend beyond the classroom. Nina’s job as the site coordinator is to identify each child’s obstacle and help her get past it: For example, a child can’t concentrate on her math lesson if she is hungry, so Nina identifies community resources to make sure the child and her family have food.
Helping Students and Teachers Identify Emotions
Other obstacles, such as high social and emotional competencies require more creative problem solving, but Nina finds that theatre offers opportunities to build empathy, practice active listening and strengthen communication skills.
CPH theatre artists are engaged with students in classrooms, after-school programs and event at recess. In addition, Nina consistently demonstrates ways to better manage emotions to the students through modeling her own thought process through role-playing exercises in the same way that actors build relationships with their characters. She explains that children frequently don't think about the consequences of their actions. If they did, they would not misbehave in the first place. Through these role-playing exercises, children are able to voice their emotions without misbehaving.
“In theatre, we get to take all of life’s challenges, and we get to rehearse them by playing them out in a way that’s safe and allows us to go to places that we wouldn’t in our normal life,” says Laura Kepley, Artistic Director of CPH. “Theatre is the closest you can get to all of life’s craziness without getting hurt.”
Welcoming Parents and Families
CPH and Jamison hope that by using the same ways a theatre brings audiences to its shows, more parents will be encouraged to participate in school events like parent teacher conferences, father son engineering nights and PTA meetings.
“Parents get something similar to a season calendar where events are laid out in a way that they can apply to their own busy schedules,” Nina says. “We want to make sure that parents understand the school is here to serve them and their children. One of the things we directly did was create even more events for parents to see their children shine. Parents now have more to choose from.”
She also explains that it's important that a parent’s introduction to the school should be welcoming. Teachers meet parents earlier in the year and send post cards home about student accomplishments.
Since CPH has partnered with Jamison, parent engagement has increased 60%. When parents are involved at the school, their children excel academically and socially.
“Research shows that students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, are more likely to earn high grades, have better attendance records, have better social and emotional skills and graduate from high school,” says Pamela DiPasquale, CPH Director of Education.
Successes and Next Steps
Jamison had only 46 suspensions last year compared to the 356 the year before, which shows that students are thinking through the possible results of their actions. The school’s most recent Ohio Achievement Assessment scores also showed double-digit gains.
“That’s huge, especially when you consider that it was a low-performing school,” says Nina.
Because of the success at Jamison, CPH was recently selected to partner with two more schools: Adlai Stevenson and Almira. With the addition of these two schools, CPH hopes to make education and community engagement more accessible.
“The goal, I think, is to have a school become the educational and cultural hub of the community,” says Nina.
The Allen, Helen and Outcalt theatres are located at Playhouse Square
1407 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH 44115
Administrative Offices and Education Center
1901 E. 13th Street, Suite 200 Cleveland, OH 44114 (216) 400-7000
7401 Detour Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44103