In My Community, These Are The Things I See

Posted 15 December 2015 12:00 AM by Anjali Rodriguez

It’s 3:20 pm, the last ten minutes of our last class at the Tobin. The kids are sitting in a rows on stage, legs crossed, eyes looking intently at a group of fifth grade students. We’ve just run through their show start to finish, with an audience of fifth graders there to give them a sense of what it’s like to have an audience. Their nervousness melted away as they ran through their scenes, shared their group poem, and sang their song: “In my community (in my community)/these are the things I see (these are the things I see)...”

One of the fifth grade students, an older boy in a blue hoodie, raises his hand. “I’d like to give you some words of encouragement”, he says. Your song is really catchy, you guys were good. My advice is not to rush through your lines. You guys are really good and we want to be able to hearwhat you have to say. One of our students, raises her hand. “So, did you think we were good?” The fifth graders nod their heads vigorously, “Yes!”, as their teacher shares her own words of praise and encouragement. The following day, we had our final show. I had thought the dress rehearsal with the fifth graders would ease their nerves, but our group was as antsy as ever. A student who had joined our class just a few weeks earlier, sat quietly, tears streaming down her face. I walk over to her, and ask her what’s wrong. “I’m scared,” she whispered. Looking over at my co-teacher, Alice, we shared knowing glances about the kids’ stage fright. We knew they were going to be fine...the question was, would they be able to get over their nerves and pull it off? Moments later, the curtain opened. Parents, siblings, students, and administrators filled the seats of the auditorium, and our group stood up, “In my community (in my community)/these are the things I see (these are the things I see)/these are the faces and spaces and places that make my neighborhood” they sang, bopping in sync and clapping to the beat. As I stood off to the side of the stage, my face glowed with pride as I watched them act out their scenes, set in their classroom, in Dunkin Donuts, in a tree house and in a local park. I clapped loudly after they recited their group poem, not missing a beat, the new student joyously belting out her line: “In my neighborhood, we love to play and have fun!”

The show ended again with their song, this time louder and their faces beaming, knowing they had pulled off a beautiful show. I slipped behind the curtain as it closed, families and students clapping loudly. Backstage, the kids swarmed Alice and me. “We did it! We did it!” they screamed, jumping up and down, hugging and high-fiving each other.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Most of my experience as a teaching artist has been with teenagers, also around the theme of celebrating identity and community. Over the past ten weeks, our group at the Tobin has worked tirelessly to put their show together, with many moments of uncertainty and struggle. I wondered how it would all come together, unfamiliar with the process and wondering what this age group was truly capable of. After Wednesday’s show, I am reminded of the amazing potential of our young people, and the importance of not underestimating it. They pulled off the show with flying colors, and most importantly, discovered their own voices and creativity in the process. Most of the students had never been in a performance before, have never written poems, have never scripted their own scenes. As we prepare for our final day with them today, I am inspired and reaffirmed in my belief in the power of the arts, and the power of young people using them to tap into and share their experiences.

Thank you to our third graders and their incredible teacher for teaching us just as much as (if not more than) we taught you!

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