Julie Pappas has been performing since she was seven. Her first appearance was at the local community theater in her hometown. Though school was a difficult place for Julie as a kid, she danced in high school and attended a performing arts group every summer.
“[Performing arts] gave me life. I enjoyed it. The arts have given me confidence and courage as a person. “
She now uses her gifts as a performing arts teacher at Fortune Academy in Indiana, where she has taught for 11 years. It is not only her experience as a performer that makes her Fortune, but also her personal experience with attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When they hired Julie, they put her in charge of a newly created theater department for all grades.
The Fortune Academy is a school for language-based learning differences. The school should offer an environment that promotes the development of every child, builds on their individual strengths and remedies weak points. Students have a bespoke educational program where the facility works with each student’s unique challenges including dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and more. The academy has approximately 90 students and the class size is limited to six students. Since the beginning of the school year, classes were personal with masks and strict protocols. This affected the after-school program Julie created, which limited the number of attendees and held rehearsals outdoors rather than in a classroom or auditorium.
Meeting students where they are and being able to educate and help other students with ADHD is a dream come true for Julie.
“The class was a platform to use my creative abilities.”
Julie created an after-school program with three main performances: Take One, Take Two, and Take Three. Take One with her junior high students was the first performance to adapt to the new protocols due to COVID-19, but Julie was determined to make that happen.
“These [performances] Give students a sense of value and a sense of purpose. Stopping it would take a lot of energy. “
Julie decided to do a socially distant performance outside. The program revolved around Shel Silverstein’s poems from his book “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and others. First, the students presented a poem, then they performed slam poems based on the poem, and finally played a scene that focused on one topic. Silverstein poems included in the program include: “Invitation”; “Alpha Balance”; “Hector the Connector”; “No difference”; and “The garden.”
They created a stage on the edge of a sidewalk. The students were socially distant with their own chairs. The audience was spread out on garden chairs or parked on the sidewalk. The weather was perfect and the students rocked their performance.
Not only was her first performance of Take One a success, Julie also noticed how these types of events benefited the students.
“Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of children go through my program and I’ve seen them transform. The first thing I notice is that they are increasing in confidence. “
Julie explained how drama can be a perfect fit for students with learning-based language differences. In their experiences and observations, students with ADHD may feel empowered to use their energy in this format. Students with autism can improve their social skills through drama, which will help them find a suitable way to express themselves. Students with learning difficulties / dyslexia can learn vocabulary by memorizing them. All students, regardless of their disability, often find creative ways to safely learn the performing arts. Believing in a student – giving them a platform to try out – is transformative and has an academic impact on them.
Other teachers who watched the program took pride in certain students who really excelled with the performing arts. Students who were shy and reserved during rehearsal “oozed expression” during performance. Parents were thrilled to see their children blooming on stage.
Take One was not an easy program to prepare. Even without the challenges of a pandemic, preparing the students was associated with their own challenges. Organization, leadership skills, remembering lines – all these are factors that students need to work through. Rehearsals presented Julie’s students with challenges to tackle, but when they met where they are, they were ready for a curtain.
Perfection is not required. As with all of us, it’s fine if they’re not on the pitch, miss a line, or forget something.
One way Julie helps her students with their personal challenges is to understand their disability through their own experiences.
“I have ADHD. I get it. You will not be perfect. You have a message and the message will be clear. That’s what counts.”
The message of the program was to recognize, accept, and celebrate people who may be learning or who are different from us. The students were proud of their achievement. It was clear in her energy. They talked to each other, smiled, and hopped around to put things away.
Julie’s ultimate goal is to show her students with learning difficulties that they can live up to expectations and are valuable participants in the school and community. They are a precious part of our society and they have important things to say to make our world a better place. Teaching them that they have a voice gives them value and gives them confidence and courage to make a difference in the world.
“We need people who are willing to be brave, get out and get the job done. These children deserve a chance to say what they can say in our world. We will not give up. We will hold out. “
Julie is now preparing for her next after-school program with her students in January for Take Two.
Blog articles provide insights into what schools, programs, scholars, and other educational stakeholders are doing to fuel the ongoing discussion about educational innovations and reforms. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum, or pedagogy.