Want to help children develop confidence and learn how to work as part of a team? The answer might lie in theater education, which School District 91 brought to their Summer University this season as a partnership with local theater.
Forest Park Theatre, which began calling Forest Park home three years ago, is a professional theatrical company dedicated to drama to the community, including free showings of Shakespeare in the park.
Richard Corley, artistic director, following his commitment to providing access to theater education, reached out to Nurys Uceta-Ramos, the family and community engagement manager for D91, and they began working together for the past two years to develop a theater curriculum for students at Grant-White Intermediate Elementary School, 147 Circle Ave.
“I looked around and saw that the community needed a professional theater, and I immediately thought that one of the aspects of what we needed to do was to have an educational component,” Corley said. “We planned very careful and decided that this summer school would be a new venture for D91 and Grant White, and we decided to do a pilot program for teaching artists in the schools.”
Corley, who also works as a theater professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, reached out to current students who would serve as teachers for the summer. UIC students Angelina Davila and Noella Bonsol began working with students this summer, teaching them theater games and helping them grow their imagination and their sense of play, said Corley.
Jennifer Uhlmann, Summer University administrator, said the partnership has energized this summer’s program.
“It was wonderful to have the hallways of Grant-White come alive this summer with learning, laughter, and play,” Uhlmann said. “Alongside our dedicated educators, we are excited to collaborate and partner with community organizations to explore and develop new interest and skills in our school.”
Uhlmann said the interactions have been very positive and they hope to continue the partnership in the future.
For Corley, theater education brings students an opportunity to not only gain confidence but also develop critical skills that will benefit them in their future.
“What we do in the theater is literally come into a room with people we don’t know from vastly different backgrounds,” Corley said. “That ability to find a way to work together is something that is not only extremely valuable but extremely necessary in our society right now.”
Theater, along with martial arts and dance, were added as an enrichment and accompaniment curriculum for D91’s Summer University, which consist of English, Language Arts and Math curricula.
Uceta-Ramos said the district hopes to continue the partnerships and will be offering three classes as after-school options for interested students during the 2023-24 school year. According to Uceta-Ramos, martial arts and dance were offered during the 2022-23 school year after school but theatre did not generate enough interest.
“This year we are hoping to actually get more, considering we have some interest already from summer school and beyond,” Uceta-Ramos said.