The creative industries have a tremendous impact on development and are an important source of future economic growth which in turn improves and enriches lives. The importance of education to supply fresh talent and creativity in these industries is vital to maintain their position as global innovators. In fact, a survey of 1,500 corporate CEOs identified that creativity was the single most important skill required for workplace leadership. The Arts prepare today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders. CentroNía, a multicultural learning center located in Washington D.C that provides quality education to low-income children with a pioneering approach to bilingual education has developed a methodology that uses theatre to teach Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) through the Theatrical Journey Project. 200 Pre-K students transform into young scientists in a project that combines elements of theatre (creativity, scenarios, and costumes) to teaching STEAM.
The Theatrical Journey Project was selected by the IDB as one of the 5 winners of the 2016 Improving Lives Grant Competition. Through this competition the IDB seeks the five most inspiring and creative solutions to address the needs of the Latin American and/or Caribbean communities in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The award consisted of a grant of US $50,000.00 and, equally as important, incorporated a team of 6 dedicated IDB pro-bono volunteers to support the Project. The IDB employees volunteered their skills to support the Project in graphic design, editorial direction and, impact evaluation. They visited CentroNía twice to better understand the Project and see it “in action”, resulting in the Journeys Playbook and an impact evaluation report that will be a vital tool in validating the Project in order to expand it to other schools and programs. An important component of the Project is that it trains 35 educators that will extend the project’s reach up to 400 children.
A study by the national Endowment for the Arts shows that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds who actively participated in the arts tended to score better in science and writing, and were more likely to aspire to college. The Theatrical Journeys Project is one of the only projects in the United States that encourages bilingual students ages 3-5 to engage with STEM concepts through dramatic role playing in a bilingual learning environment. The Project uses the power of narrative and pretend play to engage children in science learning by doing: Science is the subject and pretend play is the process. One of the key objectives is the nurturing of children’s self-images as competent science problem solvers. Children wear lab or doctor coats, or other types of “costumes.” When in the laboratory, they become “science problem-solvers”. They analyze and understand the problem, make a diagnosis, and solve it. It is a low-tech hands-on science “experiment” that takes place during a 30-minute play. Part of the journey routinely involves going to the laboratory, the hospital or other science setting. The facilitator addresses children as “Super Scientists” or “Doctors So-and-so,” and a tone of respectful, collegiality is consistently maintained between the facilitator and the children.
Elizabeth Bruce, Community Arts Specialist who leads the Project at CentroNía, has woven her background as a theater artist, and her experience as a literary writer, to deeply enrich the curriculum. She developed the Project using the power of narrative and dramatic action for each journey. By using the number one rule of improvisation, “Yes, AND…” vs. “Yes, BUT…”, the project validates and expands upon every child’s imaginative leaps. One of the governing principles of the curriculum is that “There are no wrong answers in Journey class.” Hence, as a trained actor, Elizabeth parleys children’s remarks and suggestions into relevant and meaningful additions to the journey. Children respond positively to affirmation, and the actor’s capacity to enthusiastically embrace imaginative leaps nurtures a mutual joyfulness to Journey workshops.
Theatrical Journeys is a prime example of how creativity can be used to shape the future minds of our community and, in so doing impact development and improve lives. As a result of the IDB partnership with CentroNia the project was able to move forward quickly and the IDB volunteers now feel closer to and a part of their community, also feeling a true sense of responsibility and practical application of improving the lives of our community.
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