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How The ENACT Program Is Making Our Schools Better

Peer pressure, poverty, violence, and drugs at home and in the schools is too much torment for a young mind to accomplish the necessary grades to graduate and live a fulfilling life, not to mention the cultural and economic challenges. There is however, an organization called in ENACT that is doing exciting, innovative work.
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I am going to be doing a monthly column on how The ENACT Program makes a life-changing difference to the lives of school students through its methodology. As you read, you will be amazed at how impactful these tools are. You will learn that even the hardest to reach child can be touched and opened up to their potential. Though ENACT's Program is generally used for the most troubled inner-city kids, I can say without reservation that I think it should be used in all schools, including private institutions. I say this because I was bullied as a child, my step-daughter was bullied and it was heartbreaking to watch her go through this without the advantage of help from the adults in charge, also one of my nephews was used as the target for other kid's jokes. Both children went to very prestigious private schools. Bullying crisscrosses all social, economic, and class terrain. It's a state of mind empowered to be destructive towards others, and it gets results. It can continue throughout life, until the moment when it is no longer getting the same results, and a person is lost for understanding why they are suddenly isolated. This is where The ENACT Program can help children now to meet a healthier happier future.
More than ever, we need an emotional/social plan in schools not just an academic one for kids.

Managing the modern virtual and physical world is not one that people over 30 could ever have imagined would have such intense ramifications. School violence, the use of guns, suicide, bullying plague our kids. The challenges that are set before them without the benefit of emotional/social skills loom like great heavy dark clouds filled with anxiety and depression.

Peer pressure, poverty, violence, and drugs at home and in the schools is too much torment for a young mind to accomplish the necessary grades to graduate and live a fulfilling life, not to mention the cultural and economic challenges. There is however, an organization called in ENACT that is doing exciting, innovative work under the direction of its founder Diana Feldman, (a Board Certified Drama Therapist) which is making a huge difference in the lives of young people with profound results-- through a methodology which she developed over last 25 years.

Ms. Feldman explained that The ENACT Program has a reputation for reaching and empowering troubled youth students. Professionals in New York City schools have come to see us as the "resource of choice."

I asked Ms. Feldman if she could give me any examples of an exercise and the results:
Favorably Sighing, she began to tell me a story about a Bronx High School where she was to work with kids in the Dropout Prevention program (kids that have missed at least 50 days of school and were on the flunk list if they didn't improve. "It was a once weekly program that culminates into live performance called 'Show Up.'"

"I saw the classroom cast of characters that after years of experience I view as actors playing roles; there is the class clown, the bully, the victim, etc.. I just observe for a minute always impressed by how they have honed their roles in relation to the teacher and the other students. Soon, through the ENACT method, they will learn how to embody other parts of themselves and take on new roles; they will learn how to make conscious choices about when and what role to play, instead of being stuck in an unhealthy pattern, which ends up with the negative consequences of ultimately getting in trouble or kicked out of school. I was drawn to Gemma, who lives out the "victim" role, who seems isolated, not engaged with the other student's and alone at her desk half asleep or out our of her body all together.

The class is out of control. The teacher is unable to manage them. My teaching partner and I are armed with the task of interrupting their disruptions and engaging them in the observation of a role play. So We decide on a scene that also has familiar characters that they can relate to but in a humorous non-judgmental way; to engender trust; so they feel , see and hear, this is the key to the ENACT method. We have constructed a first-day scene carefully. A little humor, a touch of romance and of course conflict!! It's a teenager trying to convince his female friend to cut class and go to a party where all the cool kids are so she can fit in and she will see John, the boy she has a crush on. She explains that she can't miss the class, that the test is important because she has failing grades, and it's her last chance, He gets angry, and becomes almost threatening giving her ultimatums, "Are you coming, he says ?" I'll count to three. 1) She doesn't answer 2) He threatens her, "you won't be hanging out with my friends anymore!" 3)"Are you coming? She doesn't answer. 3)"M...I'm outta here and watch out in the halls tomorrow!"

I look up and notice that not only is the entire class engaged, Gemma is sitting up from her slumped position, with an expression of recognition on her face as we see the female character do an inner monologue expressing her feeling of being victimized and isolated. I also notice that the seemingly bully types are engaged too because we play that character in a totally funny non-judgmental way. Tomorrow we will do this inner monologue explaining why he feels he has to act like a bully.

All this is our hook into a real discussion as we ask questions after about how realistic the scene is, how both character's feel. We see some movement to gaining empathy for Lisa's feelings of isolation as we also validate the bully's motives of needing a female friend to go to the party with him (explained by a student). After teaching the student's skills around finding and listening to their voice and expressing it in an empowered way, we ultimately replay the scene with various The third round Gemma is standing with me coaching another student; replaying the scene with my actor partner. We see her take a deep breath, do a little self-talk (ENACT tools) and say, "I don't want to go with you, I am going to pass this class, and you won't, and if you are a real friend you wouldn't push me" The Class applauds, she gets teary-eyed and bing the transformation begins!!!!!

We ask the class if they want us to return tomorrow. They all say yes and that's when we pull out our ENACT set of agreements around creating a respectful, supportive space of belonging for which they are all accountable. They sign it!! Now the work can begin. Three months later Gemma participated in an off-Broadway play with her peers, in an empowered, embodied way explaining why it's important to find you voice and stand up for yourself!!!

For long term programs, Ms. Feldman explained that a social workers sits in and follows up with students one on one when needed.

Here is the best part about The ENACT Program, they have successfully improved attendance by 80 percent! If that isn't the best evidence for something working in schools, then what is?

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