(Photo Credit: Lu Bai)
Teaching Literacy Through Theater at Cypress Hills Summer Camp
Patricia Runcie, who ran ATG’s musical theater program at Cypress Hills LDC/IS 171 for the past 7 years, took on the new challenge of designing the summer theater program at Cypress Hills LDC/PS 65 this past summer. With an objective of raising each child’s grade in literacy, she customized classes to fit each group’s needs and abilities—no small feat with 200 students in grades 1 through 5. Patricia rose to the occasion and helped the children at PS 65 put their literacy skills into practice through theater.
Literacy and theater already go hand-in-hand; script analysis, for example, requires in-depth reading. Patricia says that her students in the IS 171 program honed their reading skills by reading plays that are already considered great works of literature, whereas the students at PS 65 practiced their writing skills by creating a brand new show from beginning to end. To ramp up the literacy component even further, she added exercises such as free writing and turning a piece of literature into a script. The children focused on a new vocabulary word every day, with cumulative worksheets every other week that reviewed each word they had learned so far. The kids were excited to master theater-related terms; the smaller children in particular delighted in showing off their knowledge of big words such as “protagonist” and “antagonist.” Integrating these new words into their theater activities helped the students to truly commit them to memory.
As they set about writing their own show, the kids learned about concepts such as story structure, conflict and resolution, atmosphere, and setting. These ideas were put into practice in the program’s culminating performance; each scene represented a different corner of New York City, with dynamic characters that changed and grew by the end of the plot. The kids also learned to work together as an ensemble, a difficult but necessary skill that will help them function as members of a team in future endeavors. Patricia believes that the students at PS 65 had a much more enriched experience than a traditional summer camp. Her pride in her students in evident as she says, “I certainly feel that I set the bar high for these kids, and that they met it.”
Arts to Grow programs are taught by professional Teaching Artists, trained working artists with hands-on experience teaching students their art form. If you’re interested in teaching for Arts to Grow, please visit us at artstogrow.org for more information.