Diana’s Reflections: 30 Years Working in NYC Public Schools

Diana with Students

It is with a warm welcome back that I share our excitement as we kick off our 30th anniversary year working in NYC schools! To date, ENACT has reached over 200,000 students through our trauma-informed, creative drama method, delivered by professional actors and drama therapists.  We are so grateful to be able to do the work we love and it’s thanks to our wonderful school partners, students, parents and teachers that we are able to continue to do it year-after-year.

In these turbulent times of divisive politics, climate change, and frequent threats to basic human rights, we all rely on our communities as the glue that binds us together. As educators, practitioners and caregivers, we find strength and hope in our  firm mission to support and nurture students.  It is the resilience we see in our students that acts as a reminder for us to stay strong. Our students teach us how they  face and overcome daily, insurmountable obstacles with bravery and even a sense of fun.  Each year, I am moved as I observe students working hard to transform their sometimes negative life situations and beliefs into a more positive perspective. Yes, more than ever I feel a renewed sense of determination.

Thinking back over our 30-year history my mind wanders through our first few years in Special Education classrooms working with students with autism and developmental delays. ENACT responded to these students’ often nonverbal behavior with theater games, metaphor and role-play. These early experiences were the very beginnings of developing our method and after years of research and development, we continue to demonstrate that constant attunement and assessment is at the core of our work.  It is only when someone feels seen, heard and understood that meaningful transformation can take place. Now with a focus on behavioral change and understanding trauma as a trigger, our commitment to customizing our work to meet our students’ deeper needs, continues to guide us to unearth the obstacles these students face to achieve success in the classroom and in their lives.

In reflecting on our key moments in history, I can’t help but recall the inspiring and bittersweet experience of creating an original theater piece, “Finding the Words,” after the events of September 11th. The piece was devised in collaboration with ENACT Teaching Artists and students who had to evacuate their school because they were located close to the World Trade Center.  The students involved in the development, were unable to perform their own stories because they were too emotionally triggered. In a process of therapeutic theater, ENACT Teaching Artists interviewed the students to capture their stories, voices and roles. The students became the directors of the piece to honor their ownership of the content. As the ENACT actors performed the pieces, the students experienced catharsis, witnessing their stories told from a distance. The piece toured  NYC and Middletown New Jersey and was written about in Gail Sheehy’s book Middletown.

Our yearly performance event, Show UP! is another example of how therapeutic theater, both process and product, is a powerful tool to help students find and express their voice. Now in its 12th year, Show UP! serves as a  culmination of our school-year working in classrooms. Funded by City Council’s Drop-Out Prevention Initiative, the production brings 60 students together to share their obstacles and successes in “Showing up” for school and life. It is always an amazing experience for all involved and we look forward to seeing you at this year’s Show UP! performance.

ENACT also had some interesting and unexpected accomplishments in the past couple of years! In the 2015-16 school-year, we started a pilot program in two schools in Los Angeles. And, this summer, we were invited to present at a global conference, iEARN in Morocco. ENACT’s method was embraced as a “powerful new experience for teachers” and we look forward to continuing to build on the partnerships forged there and offer trainings and resources for teachers internationally. Personally, attending this conference, strengthened my belief that at the core, the human experience of compassion and empathy is something we share regardless of the language we speak or country of origin. Watching 350 educators collaborate and create together gave me just the jolt of joy and hope I needed to start the new school-year.  

On a final note, during turbulent times, self-care is often forgotten for caretakers. I encourage you to make sure to take time for yourselves to reflect and renew. ENACT will be offering some stress management workshops this year, so look out for that schedule. Additionally, we are offering training institutes for teachers and therapists who can receive LCAT and CTLE continuing education credit.

ENACT has a wonderful team of teaching artists, drama therapists and administrative staff. We are so excited to embark on our 30th year anniversary as we continue to work to support students and transform learning environments into safe spaces where all can thrive!

Warmly,

Diana Feldman
President, Founder & Executive Director

2017 Summer Training Institute

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In August, under the soft glow of an eclipsing sky, a group of therapists, students, social workers, and artists gathered for ENACT’s 2017 Summer Intensive. The 2-day Institute taught participants trauma-informed methods of engaging, captivating, and connecting with students and clients in fun and active ways. Pulling expertise from 30 years of direct service to put-at-risk youth in NYC public schools, ENACT facilitators challenged participants to broaden their view of trauma and how it affects those with whom they work. The end result of the two days was 14 hours of Continuing Education Credit, inspiration as well as turn-key methods to be utilized immediately, and a deep sense of community built between the professionals present.

What our participants said:

“Thanks for…a wonderful workshop. It truly was filled with unique, interesting, fun, and caring people both participants & presenters. I too can not stop thinking about the two days.”  -Laura, Art Therapist, Hearts & Crafts Counseling

“Thanks to ENACT! It was an extraordinarily informative workshop. I enjoyed very much to be a part of the group and gained quite a bit of confidence in the middle of my recovery process from my brain surgery in June.”-Toshiko, Art Therapist, Origami Therapy Association

  • Participants bring on the joy playing “Laughing Game” at Summer Intensive #1
14 CE hours
Monday, 8/21 & Tuesday, 8/22, 9-5pm daily
  • Specific focus on building connections and engaging students through trauma-informed approaches
  • Participants will learn about:
    • group dynamics
    • classroom management
    • trauma theory
    • active and fun group engagement
    • Social & Emotional skills
This Summer Intensive will use
active and embodied techniques alongside
didactic instruction and relevant discussion in order to
create a collaborative learning environment.

MONDAY, Aug. 21st: Building Connections
TUESDAY, Aug. 22nd: Captivate & Engage

This Advanced Training is appropriate for:
K-12 Teachers  –  Administrators –  Licensed Creative Arts Therapists Mental Health Practitioners  –  School Counselors   Teaching Artists 
Participants will earn 14 live, in-person credit hours focusing on turnkey techniques that ENACT has developed over 30 years of practice in NYC public schools. 

ENACT, Inc. is recognized by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed creative arts therapists. #CAT-0038, and as an approved Sponsor of Continuing Teacher and Leader Education, #3415, pursuant to Section 80-6 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education. 

Reflections by Natasha Amendolara, an ENACT Drama Therapist at PS 811

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This winter, I decided to make a shift out of the adult psychiatry field and back into schools with a population that I hadn’t worked with since I was an eager new drama therapy graduate. Since joining ENACT, I have had the joy of being reconnected with the vibrant and dynamic energy that fills the hallways of our public school system. At PS 811, I run four small drama therapy groups per week, two for girls and two for 8th graders transitioning into high school. The amount of creativity and passion that my students bring to these groups each week continues to be awe-inspiring. In my 8th grade groups, we tackle issues that students may be facing as they prepare to transition into high school, including self-esteem, personal responsibility and being able to access internal resources to help manage overwhelming emotions. Through collaborative theater games and role-playing exercises, my students have had the opportunity to sharpen their interpersonal skills and practice various responses to difficult situations in a space that is safe, supportive and most importantly, allows them to have fun and to be themselves.

Throughout this process, I have been consistently reminded of just how powerful imagination and play can be in breaking down barriers and cultivating connection. In my 4th-6th grade girls’ group, many of the students have had ongoing conflicts with one another. These students were individually chosen by school staff to participate in the ENACT drama therapy group in order to strengthen their peer connections. At the beginning of this process, it became increasingly clear to me that the girls had minimal tolerance for a group in which they were going to be forced to share their feelings with one another and somehow magically become best friends by the end of it. After observing this dynamic for several weeks, I entered one of our sessions and excitedly explained to the girls that we would be going on a camping trip. Of course, it was an imaginary camping trip but nonetheless several of the girls expressed their excitement to get the chance to do something they had never actually done in their real lives. To my amazement, these girls who had had such difficulty getting along in the weeks prior were somehow working together to gather supplies, set up tents, tell spooky stories around the campfire that they had built, and even fight off a monster in the woods. Group members shared responsibilities and supported each other in showcasing their individual strengths. The world of imagination had opened up a door of connection for them that had not been there before. They were allowed to lower their defenses and take off their armor for just a moment while in the playspace. There were no reputations or social hierarchy to worry about in the woods – they were all in it together and imagination was their universal language.

Moments like the camping trip have become incredibly important to me throughout my time at PS811. I’ve been collecting them in my memory bank as one might pick up small seashells along a vast shoreline, and I am grateful to my students everyday for reminding me never to take these moments for granted. Because amidst the colorful, confusing and often chaotic world of middle school, having the opportunity to explore life through imagination and play alongside such passionate and creative students has been absolutely priceless.

Natasha Amendolara is a Drama Therapist and Teaching Artist at ENACT. While she is not working with ENACT at various schools around New York City, she also works as a Drama Therapist for The Animation Project, a non-profit organization that uses digital art technology as a therapeutic medium to support the social, emotional and cognitive growth of put at risk youth. Natasha is a New York State Licensed Creative Arts Therapist (LCAT), a North American Registered Drama Therapist (RDT), and a Certified Contemplative Psychotherapist. Natasha received a BA in Theater and Psychology from Skidmore College, an MA in Drama Therapy from Concordia University, and received a certification in Contemplative Psychotherapy through the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science.

Training Institutes Reflection

ENACT is proud to have just launched what will be an ongoing program to provide quality training to professionals working with adolescents in public schools and beyond. ENACT’s Training Institutes provide an opportunity to share the evidenced-based, trauma-informed research and practical knowledge that our Clinicians and Teaching Artists have developed over almost 30 years. We kicked off 2017 with our January Institutes on “The Creative Container.” Through these workshops, participants ranging from Art Therapist to Neuroscience Graduate Student learned about collective trauma and how it impacts adolescents in the classroom via negative behavior patterns and reduced ability to reach educational and social and emotional goals. Through experiential processing, active exploration, and pieces of ENACT’s time tested methodology, participants developed empathy for the challenges their students face and insight into how to create safe spaces to foster self-awareness and expression.


A noted highlight of the two-day intensive training was the recognition of resiliency and its important role in both our and our students’ lives. Our second day of training ended with the creation of a “Resiliency Dance” where participants pieced together original physical images of challenge and resiliency in order to gain better understanding of the power to overcome. As ENACT moves forward with more training we plan to focus on the resiliency we see in ourselves and others as a strength-based approach to addressing collective trauma.

If you are interested in more information about upcoming Training Institutes, please contact Darci.Burch@ENACT.org

Makeup Mask-Making Group at Khalil Gibran International Academy

by Adam Stevens

I have the honor of interning at Khalil Gibran International Academy situated a hop, a skip, and a jump from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  As is the case with many adolescents, the love of pop culture is very present among the students.  The students, inspired by their celebrity idols, will go to great lengths to access the latest trends in fashion, music, and makeup.

I was drawn to the students’ love of makeup noticing the excitement it created.   The students at KGIA use makeup as a means to transform themselves into someone or something else.  At times, this aesthetic transformation occurs several times throughout the school day.

I was immediately transported back to my own high school experience where I was introduced to John Powell’s Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?  Powell’s book explores the complexity of sharing the true self and the fear that accompanies this reveal.  Are the students using makeup to shield their true selves OR are the students using makeup to accentuate and explore a collection of selves already integrated within them?

This curiosity encouraged me to ask my supervisor, Rebecca Elkin-Young, permission to begin a ‘Makeup Mask-Making Group’ that would be facilitated during lunch periods.  During lunch periods at KGIA, students gather in the ENACT office for a psycho-social clubhouse, and find a moment to breathe and/or connect with other students as respite from the chaotic high school rigors they encounter on the daily basis.

Students were asked to design mask makeup concepts on makeup face template using markers, colored pencils, and other art supplies.  After they finished their makeup mask design, the students where given the chance to apply their designs to their faces using makeup samples provided by cosmetics companies.  Upon completion of the makeup on to their faces, excited students gazed at their reflections in mirrors and cell phones.  Ms. Rebecca and myself took this time to allow students to express what they saw and what they felt in both group and individual settings.

The ‘Makeup Mask-Masking’ group was well received by students, female AND male.  Through playing with makeup, the KGIA students were given the chance to uncover and discover insights about themselves in a safe space.  We noticed students create projections of future selves and also, played with the idea of fantasy and celebrity.  We witnessed internalized emotions being externalized as students exhibit a great deal of bravery and courage.  The ‘Makeup Mask-Group’ has become very popular at KGIA.  The students have requested that ENACT hold the group as often as possible.

Rupaul Charles, female illusionist and Emmy Award-winnig host of Rupaul’s Drag Race shared a reflection, “A face is like a work of art. It deserves a great frame.”   I am grateful to be able to hold a space with an extraordinarily supportive supervisor where we can create frames for our students to express themselves openly and honestly rehearsing and performing the individuals they wish to become and see in the world.

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Collective Resilience

Dear Friends,

If school walls could talk you would hear the collective voices of our youth echoing messages of hope and hopelessness, bravery and fear, solidarity and isolation. Every day, through my work with ENACT in New York City public schools, I find myself humbled by the heroism our students use to overcome untenable life situations. Their extraordinary sense of resilience is a continuous inspiration to me! A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Woman’s March here in NYC. I found myself marching near a group of young high school girls chanting “we are the change”. The resonance of their chant and their powerful force of energy motivated me with every repetition. We have much we can learn from our students about resilience and it has always helped me look deeper at my own. To me, resilience is that seed of hope we water when we feel hopelessness, that creative spark that generates works of art to embody and express our feelings and that action we take to be part of a larger change. This month, I encourage all of us to tap into our own sense of resilience as a force that drives us to overcome and be the change maker we all seek to be!

This is the time of year when ENACT begins to work towards our culminating theater showcase with our professional actors working side by side our students in,” Show Up!.This year, the theme is “Resiliency.”  In the spirit of “it takes a village”  we will continue the momentum we built last year with a small, trauma-informed symposium preceding the student’s performance by bringing together a  group of like-minded practitioners, educators and parents to share out ideas and best practices. Stay tuned for more details about Show Up! in the upcoming weeks!

Warmly,

Diana Feldman
President, Founder & Executive Director