Imagine sitting in a small desk all day long. Your chair is hard and unforgiving, which makes you want to constantly adjust so your body doesn’t fall asleep. Your teacher keeps telling you to hold still and you feel bad every time you move, but you literally can’t help it. Middle School is very different from Elementary School. Finally, the bell rings and you should feel relieved, but you’re not. You now have to walk down the hallway.

It’s a long stretch and as you walk, you hear the familiar sound of students talking, running feet, laughter – sounds that remind you that everyone else seems to have someone – a friend, a teammate, a crush. The day is dragging on and on.

 After hours and hours of feeling like you could just disappear, it’s time for Creative U, an after-school program that a teacher recommended you join. Stepping into the sunny art room, you hear your name for the first time all day. “Hi Rose!” Teaching artists greet you with warm smiles and ask you to join them in the circle, the program is about to start and they can’t do it without you.

 Creative U is a partnership between Orlando Family Stage and ArtReach Orlando. Beginning in 2013 as an effort to combat bullying, the program has evolved from an intervention approach to a program that uses drama, visual arts, and creative writing to build community and explore the ways in which we treat one another and ourselves. Middle School students explore identity, empowerment, social issues, and community through the creative process.  The program culminates with a presentation of the visual art, poetry, and theatrical work created by students during the residency for family, staff, and school faculty. It is this unique mix of ingredients that work so well to prevent behaviors associated with bullying. By moving away from direct interventions, this program creates something much more powerful.

Last year, 96% of Creative U participants said that after attending the program they were better able to express their emotions, share their point of view through art, and felt a greater sense of belonging. Creative U provides a safe space, both emotionally and artistically, for youth to reveal “what is really going on in their lives.”

What makes Creative U particularly exciting is the power of partnerships between organizations and the blending of art forms to deepen learning, engagement, and impact in the classroom.

Teaching artists from both organizations collaborate to explore how theatre can activate a visual art project or how creative writing might invite students to discover new artistic choices. Students explore the extraordinary power of ensemble, collaboration, and confidence through devising original performance and sharing stories and poetry on stage. At the same time, space is created to be introspective and work on an individual level to express one’s own voice through visual art or creative writing.

Teaching artists Jenn Benner (ArtReach Orlando) and Mariellen Batchelor (Orlando REP) facilitate the Creative U program at St. Andrew School in Pine Hills. Back by popular demand, this will be the second year middle school students have the opportunity to attend sessions as a part of an after school residency. When asked why this unique blend of theatre, visual art, and creative writing seems to work so well, they shared:

“The integration of visual art, theatre, and creative writing helps foster a youth-centered and responsive classroom where our students feel empowered to share their personal experiences and reflections while joyfully engaging in active hands-on learning that facilitates divergent thinking, problem solving, and creates spaces for youth to learn from one another to build community. It allows them to feel a sense of agency and ownership in the program. It’s incredibly rewarding to hear one of our students say, ‘Creative U has helped me realize that I’m more creative than I thought and that there are other people like me.’ – Jenn


“Engaging in various artistic expressions introduces different and new ways for our students to recognize themselves and build confidence to tell their own stories. Our classroom is where students can take big, beautiful chances. Moments of discovery when students see a connection between their writing, performance pieces, and the art they’ve made is truly amazing.” – Mariellen

Creative U is specifically designed for middle school students. We hope to continue to expand this program’s reach, while maintaining the programs intimacy through small numbers and successful partnerships with middle schools in Central Florida.

For more information about Orlando REP’s residencies in the community, please contact 407-896-7365 x219.

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