A 13-week after-school program called Teatro Comunidad (Community Theater) uses the theater as a tool to teach students English. Students from each of the district's six schools gather at Public School No. 4 on 66th Street between Palisade and Hudson avenues each day from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
"These sessions give these kids a better understanding of the English language, while making the learning process fun," said Gisela Ferrer, the program's coordinator.
Ferrer said that the 16 students who volunteered for the program have only been in the United States for one or two years.
The children have also taken field trips to see a symphony at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and an Afro-Cuban dance workshop at the Park Theater, and they are hoping to get to see a Broadway play.
This program was paid for by a Federal Emergency Immigrant Educational Program Grant.
A new tool
When Piero Romano, the music coordinator for the program and a teacher in Weehawken, first came to this country from Cuba in the sixth grade, he didn't have the advantage of bilingual programs to help him learn English.
"This is very innovative way for them to learn English," Romano said last week. "I didn't have any bilingual programs. We had to learn cold."
However, during this program, students are writing their own plays and songs and getting the chance to perform them.
"They are enthusiastically writing plays," said Steven Greenstein, the program's artistic director. "They almost want to show you, 'Yeah, I got something!''
Greenstein has worked with similar programs in eastern Los Angeles and said that this program is being modeled after the programs he taught there.
"There is such a need in this area," said Greenstein. "This is a very powerful way to reach kids." So far, it seems that the program does work.
"When I come here, I learn more English than I do at school," said Lisandra Lavadie, an eighth grade student at Harry L. Bain School.
Reaching their goal
The students will get a chance to showcase the work they've done during the 13-week program on Jan. 29 when they perform their plays and songs in front of their families and friends on Jan. 29.
"We needed to give them a goal to look forward to," said Greenstein about the play. "This program focuses on self-esteem building and using theater as a tool for expression."
However, what makes this play special is that it is completely written by the students themselves. The play will include different skits and poems written and performed by the students. The students will even create the scenery for each skit.
The rest of the artistic team involved in the program is guest artists John Wood and Steve Gillian, choreographer J.T. Moye, and parent assistants Adriana Revans and Judith Zuniga.