Ingrid, one of New York City Children’s Theater’s amazing teaching artists takes you inside the ARC classroom and tells us what this experience has meant to her.

I’m standing face-to-face with my 7-year-old student Shane (all names are changed). We’re playing “Mirror, Mirror” and Shane doesn’t seem comfortable following my movements. He watches me carefully, but is reluctant to do anything else. So I start following him. Quietly, without telling him what I’m doing, I keep eye contact and copy Shane’s tiniest movements, standing and holding my arms behind my back, rocking slightly from side to side, and so on. He begins to smile and gradually starts doing bigger and sillier things, lifting his hands up high, windmilling his arms, suddenly crouching down low, and then jumping up! By now we’re both fully engrossed in the game.

Shane and his sister Angela are two new-to-me students. Most of the students today are particularly exuberant, but Angela and Shane are quiet and shy. Shane and Angela stay with the group; it looks like they’d like to participate, and I want to encourage them to join in, but don’t want to frighten them away, or make them uncomfortable by being too eager or too loud. I lead the session as normal, but keep an eye on both kids, and each one slowly begins to come up and whisper ideas to me: “I like freeze dance…” “I know what that word means…”

When I describe my work as a teaching artist, I explain that I teach in various boroughs, in public and private schools, for preschool and elementary students. I always end with: “But my favorite program to teach is ARC.” And then I talk their ear off about it.

Students with families staying in temporary housing residences have access to After-School Reading Club (ARC for short). NYCCT partners with the DOE to bring our Literature at Play theatre program to residences all over New York City. I’ve taught at sites in the South Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Each week I come with a book and a lesson plan that includes literature and theatre based games like “Character Statues”, exercises like “Mirror, Mirror,” and scene work drawn from our story that week. My job is to help the students explore, create, and learn, but often the most helpful thing I can do is simply to listen to them. That’s where always I try to start.

The average age range of my students is 5 to 9 years old, but on a given day I might teach students ranging from 4 to 12 years old. My time with them sometimes includes snack or dinnertime. I might see the same students each Friday for several weeks, or I might have different students, and different numbers of students, from week to week.

This past year has helped me realize that I want to pursue teaching full time, but no matter where I go in the future, I plan to keep my Friday afternoons free to continue with ARC.

Sasha (again, this is not her real name) is a first-grader who speaks primarily Spanish. Today the friend who usually translates for her is absent. We’re about to begin our session, when Miss D comes up to let me know that Sasha is still sitting by herself.

As one of the DOE teachers at the site, Miss D knows the students better than I, and she points out another child, Aliya, who doesn’t speak Spanish but is good friends with Sasha. I ask Aliya to invite Sasha to join us. Between her friendliness, and my limited but persistent Spanish, we convince Sasha to come sit with the group.

“Today we’re going to read a book about green pants! ¡Hay pantalones verdes en este libro!”  Sasha thinks this is very funny. After we listen to the story, she starts talking a mile a minute, telling us “¡En mi escuela cantamos una canción!” and sings the song, while the rest of us bop along to the tune. Then everyone wants to share something special, so we take turns telling what we did that day in our school, or singing a favorite song. Another student reads out loud a letter that means a lot to her, from a social worker and speaker who visited her school.

Sasha is very patient with me, repeating herself slowly or letting me repeat key words in Spanish, and using English words whenever she knows them. During the rest of our session she is eager to tell me every idea she has, and she wants to go first every turn. We transition as a class from “Character Statues,” to “Beginning, Middle, and End,” to our “Green Pants Dance.”

Some ARC students have to join the session at different times, depending on when their grown-ups are able to bring or pick them up. Today Sasha has to leave early. Before she goes she runs up to ask how to write my name and brings me the sweetest note. From that day on Sasha never feels afraid to jump right into an activity, and I watch my students figure out ways we can all interact. Sasha is clearly learning English at school, too, and it’s a joy to hear her.

As I write this, I’m coming into the final week at my fourth shelter site. It’s starting to hit home how much I’ll miss it. I’ve had the privilege of working with students who have boundless energy, curiosity, creativity, understanding, humor, and emotional intelligence.

Families are moving on, out of the shelter. In this last month, my dedicated and supportive DOE teachers and I have had the bittersweet experience of saying goodbye to two wonderful students. We’ve had some valuable conversations as a class about how saying “goodbye” can be sad, but how we can still be happy that we had our time together. Checking in with each other and acknowledging “how we are feeling today,” no matter what those feelings may be, are always an important part of our ritual.

This past year has helped me realize that I want to pursue teaching full time, but no matter where I go in the future, I plan to keep my Friday afternoons free to continue with ARC. It is my favorite program, after all.

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