Pushcart Players, the renowned touring theater for young audiences celebrating its 43rd year, has been awarded the contract for Non-Profit Arts Partner of “Readers Theater – AIM to Achieve Project” at Martin Luther King School No. 6 in Passaic New Jersey. This first time board of education grant is for a pilot program in which Pushcart teaching artists will be engaged throughout the 2016-17 academic year in this unique Title I school.
The “Reader’s Theater – AIM to Achieve Project” (Arts Integration at MLK) is an afterschool program for first through fourth grade students. From January through June, in one session out of five each week, Pushcart teaching artists provide the theatrical component of a program that delivers dynamic participation in multiple art forms. AIM to Achieve addresses NJ Student Language Arts Standards for comprehension, fluency, and writing, and NJ Standards for Theater, Music, and Visual Art. Consistent with the MLK No. 6 goal of becoming a leading urban school district in the State, their focus is to provide every student the opportunity to complete sixth grade reading at or above grade level.
Pushcart concentrates with the students on a number of stories throughout the year. Guided by dedicated teachers on the MLK faculty, the children work on reading, comprehension, and, presentation. Visiting teachers and teaching artists provide a visual arts component, wherein props are created and constructed by the students. Music teachers support the work by engaging the young learners in music and musical enhancement of each story.
Pushcart teachers and teaching artists direct the theatricality of the performance, giving instruction on theater technique and terminology; use of voice, body, and imagination in character creation; stage directions and choreography, and public performance skills.
“During this twenty-two week program, the learners will greatly improve their reading skills through the creation of theater,” said Paul Whelihan, Pushcart producing artistic director, and one of the teaching artists for the AIM to Achieve initiative. “I follow a very similar process for guiding these young actors as I do when directing the professionals in Pushcart’s troupe – perhaps a slightly more age-appropriate academic approach. But by translating stories for the stage, we open an engaging pathway to learning both language and reading skills, while vastly improving comprehension. And, I have to say, the process is a whole lot of fun -- not only for the children, but for their teachers!”
Ellen Beattie, the Pushcart co-teaching artist for AIM to Achieve, is a theater teacher and director at Franklin Middle School in Somerset, NJ. A professional actor, theater administrator, casting director, and producer before becoming a drama teacher twelve years ago, Beattie has a long standing relationship with Pushcart Players, variously as an artist, staff member, and trustee on the board of directors.
Funding for the AIM project is through the NJ Board of Education Title I Arts-Integration Program. This is a federally-funded pilot program designed to explore and investigate how arts education can be applied as a strategy to assist Title I students in meeting New Jersey's academic achievement standards. It is also designed to bolster school improvement efforts. Title I grants are intended to ensure that the most financially and socially disadvantaged children have a fair, equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high quality education and reach proficiency on challenging state academic standards and assessments.
This and many similar projects are supported by the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership (NJAEP), a diverse group of constituents who agree on the educational benefits and impact of the arts, specifically the contribution they make to student achievement and a civilized, sustainable society. In September, NJAEP launched the “Arts Ed Now” campaign. Spurred by collaboration with the NJ State Council on the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Americans for the Arts, “Arts Ed Now” is a multi-year campaign designed to increase participation in arts education in schools across the Garden State. Pushcart Players serves on the NJAEP Steering Committee. Visit www.ArtsEdNow.org for further information and resources.
Pushcart Players is the award-winning professional touring theater company specializing in arts education for children. Twice nominated for an Emmy©, Pushcart is the recipient of numerous state and private awards for excellence and innovation. A social-profit organization founded in 1974, Pushcart brings substantive musical theater, workshops, and residencies to young people and their families in schools and theaters nationwide. The company has traveled more than 6 million miles nationally and abroad, from the rural red schoolhouse to the nation’s White House.
Pushcart Players addresses social studies, literature, history, the Autism spectrum, special educational needs, and values clarification for young people, their families, and their educators. All performances by professional artists (Actors’ Equity Association) are supported by study guides, post-performance assessments and other supplemental materials, and adapt to any location with innovative scenery, lighting and sound systems.
PHOTO: Ellen Beattie conducts AIM To Achieve Session at MLK School 6 in Passaic. Photo by Harvey Glick