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VAST Enrichment Program: Creating accessible pathways to classroom engagement for English Language Learners & Special Education students

The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company

Nonprofit

My LA2050 will allow US to expand our free VAST Enrichment Program for Special Education, ELL, and other marginalized students, increasing the breadth and depth of our impact. VAST nurtures under-represented voices with an inclusive, nontraditional curriculum of in-class theatre workshops that reduce barriers to participation for high-needs students, improve their language, communication, and teamwork skills, and boost classroom behavior. To amplify our impact, US will also provide on-campus professional development for partnering schools.



Please describe the mission of your organization.

The mission of The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company (US) is to mentor, educate, and enrich underserved youth through the creation of collaborative, original theatre. Our mission powers our vision of a world in which all youth are given the opportunities and support they need to succeed.

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • San Fernando Valley
  • South LA

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program

If you are submitting a collaborative proposal, please describe the specific role of partner organizations in the project.

While US does not have collaborative partners who receive funding from US for this project, we do work closely with our school site administrators and classroom teachers to effectively serve our VAST students. Our partnering LAUSD schools for this project include:

David Starr Jordan High School San Fernando High School Hollenbeck Middle School* Markham Middle School

All four LAUSD schools are Title 1, indicating a majority of students who live below the poverty line; US acts as the sole theatre-arts programming at each campus. We strategically offer our VAST Enrichment Program in classrooms that include a high proportion of special education and/or ELL students, as well as classrooms that exclusively serve these student populations.

*New VAST site to be funded by this project

What is the need you’re responding to?

US strategically offers our VAST (Voices for Arts & Social Theatre) Enrichment Program at arts-poor Title 1 schools to provide equitable access to quality theatre-arts education & mentorship for marginalized students, particularly those learning English or receiving Special Education services. With 88% of LAUSD students experiencing 3+ traumatic events, over half suffer from PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Thankfully, art is a proven tool for healing trauma, instilling confidence, and fostering solidarity among diverse peers. Research reveals that students with arts education have increased compassion, improved school attendance & academic performance, and are 3x more likely to earn a BA.

Yet just 25% of LAUSD students have access to theatre-arts education, and opportunities are even sparser for Special Ed and other high-needs students. Beyond arts education, VAST provides an inclusive environment and alternate learning pathways vital for students who struggle in mainstream classrooms.

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?

US has disrupted patterns of inequality for 27 years, partnering with 45+ LA County schools, community centers, and Probation facilities to fill the gap in arts education access for thousands of students. Our inclusive VAST model adapts to student/classroom needs with a curriculum aligned with Common Core ELA standards and state standards for English Language Writing and Visual & Performing Arts. Personalized mentoring, ensemble-building, and theatre exercises that utilize universal, non-verbal & visual storytelling help create a safe space for high-needs students to explore their creativity and develop 21st Century learning/life skills—providing a gateway to learning often unavailable in traditional settings.

As a leader in the field, US is also often asked to provide professional development services, cross-training hundreds of educators, Probation Officers, and professional teaching artists (TAs) on trauma-informed curricula, classroom-management strategies, and cultural empathy.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?

660
Direct impact
100,000
Indirect impact

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

VAST addresses diverse learning styles, creating positive environments where students of all abilities can explore, reclaim their education, and succeed. VAST students recognize their intrinsic talent & self-worth and report feeling comfortable sharing their thoughts. With our presence on campus extended year-round, our ELL & Special Education students and classrooms will truly blossom, enriched with continuous arts engagement and mentorship.

The 15+ teachers we will partner with through VAST in 2020-21 will go on to teach roughly 3,000 students during their careers, while the 250+ faculty & staff we might empower via on-site professional development will multiply our impact, benefitting entire campus communities and their future students.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

With My LA2050’s support, VAST will double its impact. We will expand into a 4th arts-poor school and grow our 13-week model into a year-long, 26-week residency in all sites —a 110% increase in workshops & 42% jump in participants— increasing arts education enrollment in LA and instilling lifelong socio-emotional & academic competencies in the city’s most vulnerable students. With hands-on, sequential learning activities, high-needs students will work effectively in small groups to create short theatre pieces based on their shared experiences. Led by 2 veteran TAs and 1-3 volunteer mentors working alongside the classroom teacher, VAST will:

*Provide pathways to learning that accept & engage hard-to-reach students. *Promote 21st century learning skills and English proficiency. *Improve well-being, encouraging youth to develop creativity, connections, self-respect & empathy. *Increase hope, confidence & self-efficacy among withdrawn students. *Improve classroom dynamics & campus culture.

US evaluates VAST quantitatively & qualitatively with pre- & post-residency surveys, candid student reflections, and testimonials from TAs, faculty, and families. Helping make LA the best place to LEARN, the majority of VAST students will demonstrate measurable increases in one or more social skills (confidence, collaboration, communication) and abilities in line with Common Core ELA standards (editing, rewriting, sharing point of view).

Additional on-campus teacher trainings will extend our impact beyond 2050.

Which of the learn metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Arts education
  • Student proficiency in English & Language Arts

Are there any other LA2050 goal categories that your proposal will impact?

  • LA is the best place to CREATE

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?

  • Access to the LA2050 community
  • Communications support

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