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All Ages Invited to Free Event on Friday, February 10th at Veterans Memorial Complex
Fourth grade teacher Shonda O’Neal from Farragut Elementary in Culver City Unified School District shared, “Several weeks into our new school year a new student joined our classroom. Her family has had challenges that have impacted her confidence and self-concept. It has been a goal of mine to highlight her contributions in class, put her in leadership roles and send a message to her that she is important in our classroom family and her voice, ideas, thoughts......matter. When her writing piece was selected and performed (by Story Pirates) she could not believe it. The joy was overwhelming. We all celebrated her and she truly received our pride in her work. She was proud of herself. Thank you. We all needed it.”
This is one of dozens of stories of how individual Culver City Unified School District (CCUSD) students have benefited from theatre arts programming offered through CCUSD’s Front and Center Theatre Collaborative. With more than 4,500 TK-12th grade students per year receiving access to storytelling, set design, movie-making, improv, playwriting, performing, and being part of a theatre audience, CCUSD’s Front and Center Collaborative is a unique partnership that brings together teaching artists from professional theatre groups with local funding partners to create an unparalleled collective impact – the highest concentration of theatre arts programming per student in any Los Angeles County school district.
In response to public school budget cuts that curtailed access to the arts, Janice Pober, Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Social Responsibility at Sony Pictures Entertainment, founded the Collaborative in 2009 with support from CCUSD, Culver City Education Foundation (CCEF), and the City of Culver City. Sony Pictures Entertainment funded a year of strategic planning before officially launching the program in 2010 with the support of The Carol and James Collins Foundation, CCUSD PTAs and most recently the Fineshriber Family Foundation. Past major funders include Playa Vista and the Drown Foundation. Since 2010, the Collaborative has worked to provide theatre arts at no cost to CCUSD families. The art partners deliver their services at a deep discount, providing many more hours of instruction than the compensation they receive.
Now in its 8th year, the Front and Center Theatre Collaborative has offered a variety of assemblies, residencies, workshops, professional development and opportunities to experience professional performances for all elementary and secondary students as well as teachers throughout the district. Today, the Collaborative provides sequential, standards-based TK-12 theatre arts programming to CCUSD students at nine school sites: El Marino, El Rincon, Farragut, La Ballona, Linwood Howe, CCMS, CCHS, Culver Park, and iAcademy.
For the 2016-2017 school year six art partners are providing nearly $200,000 worth of programming. 24th Street Theatre, The Actors’ Gang, Center Theatre Group, Story Pirates, We Tell Stories, and Young Storytellers are delivering a total of 475 hours of classroom and afterschool instruction, and more than 30 assemblies and field trips across all school sites and grades. “This remarkable initiative gives every child the opportunity to experience the arts, an essential component in developing the whole child and empowering them to embrace becoming life-long learners,” said CCUSD Superintendent Dr. Joshua Arnold.
In an LA County Arts Commission report, UCLA School of Education and Information Sciences Professor Emeritus James Catterall, PhD, is quoted, “A large body of research shows that high quality arts education is associated with a wide range of benefits including improved academic performance, better standardized test scores, increased involvement in community service and lower dropout rates.”
Furthermore, “Studies have demonstrated that students who attend schools where the arts are integrated into the classroom curriculum, outperform their peers in math and reading who did not have an arts integrated curriculum,” reported Americansforthearts.org in the 2013 study Art Facts. “Thus, while arts education at the K-12 level may lead to cultural enrichment, it may also be important for social and economic reasons.”
While access to every art form is beneficial to students, theatre arts offers a different type of student engagement. In particular theatre arts encourage students to be brave, daring and expressive by using their bodies, faces and all five senses. Theatre arts enhance both verbal and non-verbal communication, boost self-esteem, fuel collaboration, create empathy and respect, and offer leadership opportunities. Furthermore, theatre arts goes beyond performing to offer a wide spectrum of artistic opportunities, from storytelling, music and dance to writing, set design/visual arts and production.
“The idea is not to make actors or performers out of all these kids but to broaden their educational base and offer them different ways of processing the learning that they are getting in the rest of the curriculum,” continued Dr. Arnold.
The Front and Center Theatre Collaborative, in which multiple nonprofits with similar missions sit down together and look for solutions, is the first program of its kind in the country. “Having organizations talk to each other and provide services that complement, build and expand on programming from year to year is pretty rare and inspiring,” said Leslie Johnson, Center Theatre Group’s Director of Social Strategy, Innovation and Impact.
“The Front and Center Theatre Collaborative has successfully impacted thousands of students through the breadth and depth of its comprehensive theatre programming,” said Bill Thompson, executive director of art partner Young Storytellers. “As an arts partner we have been thrilled to use this collaborative as an incubator to design new and innovative programming that we have scaled to other areas of Los Angeles. We know the impact of the Front and Center Theatre Collaborative is greater than the sum of its parts. Our collaborations with other world-class theatre institutions have had an exponential impact on the many students we serve each year, inspiring them and their community, through the unique stories they have to tell.”
Due to the collective impact that the art partners have across the spectrum of schools, the funding partners find the Collaborative a worthwhile investment. Cathy Hession of The Carol and James Collins Foundation said, “As a smaller grantmaker, we are always looking for opportunities to leverage our dollars to make greater impact and this has been the perfect place. The Front and Center Theatre Collaborative is one of our most successful and exciting grants. We are insuring that every student, K-12, in CCUSD will have the chance to experience a sequential theatre arts curriculum, richly and beautifully delivered by six arts nonprofits, working closely together. We know how important it is for young people to experience the arts, critical to improved cognitive, social and behavioral outcomes in people across their lifespan. We are so grateful that Janice Pober of Sony Pictures, our friend and leader in the arts community, invited us to be part of this unique collaborative.”
“With school budgets focused on literacy and numeracy efforts across elementary classrooms, our arts community itself has stepped up to the task of assuring that our children get the enrichment experiences that are so crucial to their formation as complete individuals,” added Dr. Arnold. “For this and more we are immensely grateful, and we continue to seek sustained and increased funding so we can provide more theatre and more art for every student in Culver City Unified.”
A Culver City Middle School parent whose two children have been a part of The Actors’ Gang Free Afterschool Program since the 4th grade (they are now in the 7th grade) wrote about the impact of the program on her twins, whose father died just before they started kindergarten. “In their own way, kids form relationships often based on their life experiences. After their father’s death my children had innumerable challenges. Their experiences on stage allowed for open and sensitive ways of communicating their feelings and thoughts. Over the years with the Gang they have grown deeper, more open and empathetic. One of my favorite things was watching the kids on stage – trusting and relying on one another, listening and supporting one another. And through this I have found the ground to stand on as we go through these years together. We laugh, we cry, we feel with each other and our family and friends. We are so grateful for this program.”
Learn more on February 10th during the Front and Center Theatre Extravaganza: A Showcase of Theatre Arts Education in CCUSD. This free event, open to all ages, will feature interactive theatre arts activities, performances by all six art partners and CCUSD students, and a rainbow art installation. It will be held from 5-8:30 pm at Veterans Memorial Complex, 4117 Overland Avenue, Culver City, CA 90230. RSVP via http://ccef4schools.org/ #CULVERPRIDE #CULVERCREATES