It seems the first day of class causes jitters for students and teachers alike. However, in this instance it was my first day and the students’ second so the nerves were mine to shoulder alone. Before my time in the Teaching Artist Training & Internship Program (TATIP) I had forgotten how intimidating a room full of first and second graders can be. Yet, as is usually the case, the kids are the best at teaching us how to show kindness and generosity towards those they don’t know and I was immediately welcomed to join in the fun and the conversation.
My Mentor Teaching (and Theatre) Artist and I puttered into the afterschool program at P.S. 516 in Sunset Park and immediately found ourselves amongst a flurry of energy and rapid-fire conversation about the merits of Pokemon. While Ferdinand the Bull was the focal point of this lesson, the 1st and 2nd grade boys in the Wingspan afterschool program still found ways to talk about Digamon and Pikachu. The TA was able to skillfully focus the group’s energy and the students were tasked to draw their favorite scenes from the story, and then cast their classmates in live-action reenactments. Their excitement for the assignment was palpable. And though the stray Pokemon drawing did make its way into more than one sketchbook, the majority drew some pretty impressive renderings of the scene they loved most from Ferdinand.
As we walked around the rooms to observe and offer assistance during the drawing process, I couldn’t help but notice the varying levels of intensity and focus that each child brought to the task. One first grader named Evan was particularly engaged with his work and was the first student to cast and direct his scene — a task, I might add, he took quite seriously. The highly prized roles of the titular bull and a few mustachioed men were quickly snatched up and just like that a rift was caused. But as the boys began to fight, the TA so gracefully explained that everyone deserved a turn and that the respect they would give Evan would be the same respect they would want others to give them once they took the director’s chair. It was the best simply observing how they listened to her and absorbed that important lesson. Even the most reticent student volunteered for one of the smaller roles and he acted his part beautifully.
We didn’t get to finish everyone’s scenes but those brief bouts of anger and frustration turned into cooperation and friendliness. As for me, what began as nerves is now nervous excitement for next week’s scenes. New residency, new insights, new community.
-Jehan Roberson, TATIP Trainee, Writer