Student Service Projects Benefit Communities
An Improv Troupe Tackles Social Issues and Personal Growth (Cheyenne, Wyoming)
by Judy Kallal
Triumph High School, an alternative high school in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has used an improv troupe to engage its students in the social studies curriculum. For ten years, the social studies department has hired artists in-residence for one- or two-week stints to create drama productions. Social studies teachers Judy Kallal and Patrick Murphy thought that students' talents should be used more effectively throughout the year, so as to be of more long-term value to the at-risk students at Triumph. Thus, the idea of an improv troupe was born. Grant money from the Wyoming Children's Trust Fund paid a professional trainer for two weekend retreats and purchased uniforms for the troupe. The idea became a reality.
The improv troupe was well received by the community and Laramie County School District #1 schools. A new source of funding was needed to continue the improv training. Thinking that improv students who had completed training and the "Current Issues" class would be excellent trainers, the teachers and school sought and received funding for "Kids Helping Kids" from the Daniel's Family Foundation. This grant paid student trainers a stipend and financed two weekend training sessions at a local mountain retreat center.
Each semester, approximately twelve students are trained. Training takes place both at the retreat and during the last 20 minutes of the 90-minute "Current Issues" class. For the remainder of the class, students research social issues pertinent to young people, including bullying, school violence, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, family problems, and teen pregnancy. Students select topics that concern them personally. From their research, students produce PowerPoint presentations, brochures, posters, and surveys that relate to their topics. Their products are then distributed to local schools and community agencies.
Students perform during class time and after school for other schools and organizations. When students perform, teachers, counselors, social workers or community members suggest a topic. The students then have only two to five minutes to develop their improv before they perform. The reactions to the performances have always been positive. Students have performed at various local schools, Laramie County Community College, community organizations, and the Castle Rock, Colorado schools.
Laramie County School District #1 Violence Prevention Coordinator, Mike Hahn, said that a recent troupe performance was one of the most powerful improvs that he has seen. The numerous times that the Triumph High School Improv Troupe has been invited back to schools reflects positively on the effective way that the students deliver the message to help other young people. Graduates say that improv has helped them to speak comfortably in front of groups and, especially important, to stay in school. As Ms. Kallal and Mr. Murphy say, "What could be better for students at an at-risk high school?"
Visit Triumph High School on the Web.
Judy Kallal is a social studies teacher at Triumph High School in Cheyenne, WY.
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