Classic theater warm-up games like, 'Zip, Zap, Zop!' can help teach focus and teamwork in a fun way. And recently, Emily Anderson has been borrowing these techniques with a unique group of young adult students.
Anderson is the advocacy and program coordinator of The Bridging Program through Champlain Community Services or CCS.
This program helps high school-age students from Mount Mansfield Union, Burlington, South Burlington, Colchester and Winooski who have intellectual disabilities and autism bridge the span between school and adulthood.
Anderson, along with paraducators and interns, guide the group of 12 students through modules like career exploration and independent living. This is the second year that Anderson has incorporated drama-based instruction like theater games and skits into the curriculum.
Recently, Anderson visited VPR to talk about the Bridging Program and how the group chose to create skits that would foster the students' advocacy and decision-making skills through rehearsal and acting.
"A lot of times ... kids who are growing up in special education may not feel like they have a choice," Anderson said. "And yet, it's really important for them to participate and make those choices."
As part of the class, the group of students decided they wanted to go to a restaurant and order from the menu on their own.
Anderson said, "Their goal was: 'As a group, we want to go out, we want to sit down and we want to order our own food,' which, unfortunately, is not the case for a lot of the students that I work with ... as that decision may already be made for them."
The small group visited VPR's Colchester studios four times throughout their school session and used the performance space for playing theater games and practicing their skit.
"We put tables in. We had people be waiters. We had a little script of kind of what normally happens in a restaurant. And the students just practiced the whole thing of coming in, sitting down, getting menus, deciding what they're going to eat ... having that little small talk in between while the waiter goes away and comes back ..." she said.
Anderson said that many of the students use different methods of communication - some speak, some use gestures, others use devices like tablets - and she said through the course of their work in the Bridging Program, they were all successful in their goals.
The 12 students recently all graduated from the Bridging Program at a ceremony held earlier this month.
Emily Anderson is the Bridging Program Coordinator and an artist who founded Awareness Theater Company in 1998 for people with and without disabilities.