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