“The Magical Library at Caritas Village”

Every week, LBC drama students rewrite their script so everyone gets a part!

Once a week since February, a handful of 4 – 6 graders have been gathering on a rug in the magical library of the Farley Family Education Center at Caritas Village in Santa Rosa. The library, if you haven’t heard, is home to a powerful wizard. One day, the kids find themselves trapped inside one of the books! Luckily, one of them has been studying magic and can help them find their way out, but not without key information about the history of the library. The kids decide to work together to find the hidden clues they need, which also is the only way everyone gets to play a part in the skit they are creating.

Welcome to the older-kids’ drama class at Caritas Village!

Hannah Keefer, LBC’s Curriculum Specialist, leads the weekly drop-in group for students of families who receive housing or other support services at the Caritas Village, which Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa opened last year. LBC entered into a partnership with Catholic Charities to launch the Creative Arts for Resilience and Expression (CARE) program at Caritas Village to provide arts experiences for youth from high-risk environments.

“Though not to be confused with arts therapy, the arts as activities for self-expression, creativity, and fun are therapeutic and healing opportunities for children who struggle with homelessness and poverty,” said Ashleigh Worley, Director of Education and Community Engagement. “The drama class (along with future CARE classes) supports their emotional and cognitive development, builds self-confidence, expands communications skills, and brings joy.”  Currently, LBC runs two drama classes during the school year: One for kids younger than 4th grade, the other for kids in grades 4 – 12  – the one this year’s students decided would take them into a magical library where they can be clever sleuths on an adventure once a week. Maybe meet a wizard. Maybe a fox.

Caritas Village is Sonoma County’s newest (and largest) homelessness services center. It was opened last year by Catholic Charities, a non-profit that serves and advocates for vulnerable people of all cultures and beliefs, prioritizing people experiencing poverty. Because homelessness can have a particularly disruptive impact on childhood learning, Caritas’ services emphasize housing for families in dire need as one of several early intervention programs intended to keep children from returning to the center as adults. Other programs include learning support as well as the CARE arts classes provided in collaboration with LBC.

“We started with drama because it allows for storytelling activities that can engage any number of kids who show up, from the ones who attend every week to those who might come and go depending on their family’s circumstances,” said Hanna.

Currently, a core group of three students – Alexa, Olivia, and Jesus — attend the drama class regularly, joined by anywhere from one to four more students in any given week. “The class is designed so that each week, we create a three-sentence story together and then act out a skit,” said Hannah. “But Olivia and Alexa turned out to be ambitious storytellers, and soon the group came up with a different class plan: They were sticking with the magical library story for the rest of the year.”

Given that drama class is meant to encourage students to trust their creative instincts, express their imagination, and open their minds to other views, Hannah saw their idea as a step in the right direction.

“They took their creative energy from each other, each of them adding more and more detail, and every time I suggested they come to a conclusion, they would get inspired with another great new idea,” Hannah laughed. “At some point, they decided to create a script and act out the play for other people in the building at the end of the school year. They even talked about bringing in some simple costumes and props.”

Collaboration has allowed all the students to contribute their ideas and to listen to the ideas of others. It seems to bring out the best in them. For example, Jesus was open to everyone’s suggestion just as long as there was a fox in the story. Taylor speaks only Spanish, so on the days he attends, the kids adjust the script so that he has a part and lines to speak. And since most of the kids also speak Spanish, instead of telling him what to say, they ask him, “What words would you choose to show what your character feels or wants to say right now?”

For one of the students who struggles with reading, the group talks through the story and improvises as they go. They also like to change the parts around – one week, someone might be the librarian and the next week the fox. “The kids just adapt to whatever changes come up, demonstrating how a supportive creative environment gives them options for upheaval, how their struggles can become their strengths,” said Hannah. “It also has given them the chance to flex their social-emotional muscles. Each time they rearrange the pieces, they are conscious of creating enough parts so that every student attending that day has a role.”

Each day, Hannah ends the class by calling on the students to give a shout-out to someone who’s done something well that day. A typical response might sound something like, “You had some good ideas,” or “You’re new, but you were brave and jumped right in.”

As of this printing, the students finally committed to creating an end for the play so they could print a script and begin rehearsals. Turns out, the fox and the wizard are brothers.

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