I recently had a small part in the conception and planning of the Roxbury/Goddard Youth Drama Intensive that was held at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. RGYDI brought together teens from Boston and Vermont for 5 intensive days of writing and theatre instruction that culminated in a public performance at the Haybarn Theatre at Goddard College. It was a magnificent experience.
It was taught by two brilliant women – Obie-Award winning director Robbie McCauley (also an actor and a professor at Emerson College) and Elliot Norton-award winning actor, Jacqui Parker (also director, playwright, founder of Our Place Theatre Project). There were also young adults acting as student allies in the dorms, each of whom was warm, engaging and lovely.
The point I’m going to make if I hurry up and get ‘round to it, is that it is both possible and easy to reach teens. To reach teens, it is important that a program:
- is staffed with caring, principled, skilled and passionate adults,
- is rigorous in its demands,
- allows young people to express themselves,
- immerses them in learning,
- stretches them beyond comfort zones and the familiar,
- gives them respite from their every day lives,
- allows ample time for discussions and small conversations,
- has good and ample food,
Such a program will be successful. It cannot fail.
Having directed several enrichment programs for young adolescents and teens, I find it frustrating when the powers that be act like they can’t figure out how to reach teens, especially those from the inner-city. This despite hundreds of programs across the country that have notable success with teens. It doesn’t matter whether its theater or dance or art or golf or tennis or gardening or cooking or travel or history or boat-building or photography or working with little children or elders…the common denominator is meaningful learning with measurable outcomes and high standards taught and supervised by caring and principled adults. Such programs work every time. Even the teens who don’t complete such programs, are influenced in positive ways.
It’s a shame, however, that such programs have to beg for money, pinch for pennies, and cannot be guaranteed to repeated or expanded.
I was very blessed to be able to secure funding from The Boston Globe Foundation for three editions of the four editions of the Roxbury Literary Annual Youth Edition that were published under my leadership. I was also able to provide a RLA Creative Writing Camp during February school vacation week. (RLA was published for a fifth year, also with Globe funding, with another edition planned for 2009. Kudos to a funder who wasn’t adverse to repeat funding.)
Getting funding for positive and effective work with teens is daunting. Just imagine what those people who care about and work with teens and young children could do if they had the proper funding? Can you imagine it? I can, in fact it is something I dream about.
If I hit the lottery big, I’d start a fund to underwrite attendance of inner-city teens at any of the hundreds of summer and out-of-school time programs that already exist. I would not create something new because I believe there are ample programs. Inclusive recruitment of students and increasing scholarships for the best programs are major obstacles. (Many of the most interesting programs – on college campuses, adventure and service tours, travel and arts immersion are seriously expensive and therefore mostly attended by upper-middle and wealthy teens.)
The hours after-school before their parents get home and summer and school vacation weeks are the most dangerous for teens. (Idle hands and idle minds are ripe for mischief and mishaps.)
During these hard economic times, I fear that money for programs for teens is seriously in jeopardy and will become even more limited than ever. Add this to the litany of casualties of the economy.