BY CARSEN HOLADAY
Art is the windows and mirrors to the soul.
Fort Greene Preparatory Academy in Brooklyn recently announced that they are expanding their art education through the groundbreaking Windows and Mirrors program. This development, made possible by grants from the Department of Education and Two Trees Management as well as a private donor, partners Fort Greene Prep with Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble.
Windows and Mirrors is a creative program that allows students to explore storytelling and the magic of theater in a new and imaginative way. With the help of teaching artists as well as their own teachers, Fort Greene Prep middle-schoolers hone skills such as listening, writing, editing and performing. Through many mediums– oral, audible, visual and writing– students learn to create empathy through art and build their own self-confidence. These skills, while valuable in educational settings, are also hoped to be impressive on resumes.
“Critical problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, these are all skills that are going to be needed as we move into a more technologically advanced world,” said Leese Walker, founder and producing artistic director of Strike Anywhere. “That’s the kind of skills that we’re going to be imparting with this program, as well as teaching students to have confidence in themselves and articulate their ideas.”
The residency is book-ended by two professional performances that model to the students what they will participate in at the end of the 8-12 week program. As the professionals act out pivotal moments from their own lives, the show is accompanied by live music. Throughout the program, students focus on the elements of an engaging story. Each participant has the opportunity to perform their own story. At the end of the residency, a select group of storytellers are highlighted in the final show, accompanied by Strike Anywhere musicians.
“There’s a lot of different techniques we can learn about having hard conversations, staying engaged, and hopefully finding a place of understanding at the end and being able to see someone else’s experience,” said Amanda Hinkle Wallace, Strike Anywhere’s director of education and partnerships.”Specifically, through Windows and Mirrors, it happens through reading other people’s stories, writing your own story, listening to other stories and ultimately telling your story. I think giving students a voice is the most important thing we can do as educators.”
Although the program normally takes place at the actual school, the pandemic pushed the school to adapt to alternative ways to keep students safe. Piloted by school Principal Paula Lettiere, Fort Greene Prep Academy adapted the Windows and Mirrors program to be completely virtual for the 2020-2021 school year. The academy funded the digital component of the program, bringing wi-fi and screens into the homes of students in need. This virtual replication will also take place this year at the International High School for Health Sciences in Queens.
Windows and Mirrors is unique in that it centers world languages. The program previously collaborated with International High School for Health Sciences in Queens, a school designed for newly immigrated students. English Language Learners were able to access the universal truth of the art both through performances by the residency artists and through their own hilarious and heart wrenching stories. The storytelling residency was so successful at IHSHS that their film of the final Windows and Mirrors performance was featured in FILLET OF SOLO Storytelling Festival in Chicago.
“At IHSHS, one of the students said, ‘I learned to speak from the heart’ and I thought that was actually a profound statement,” said Walker. “In a time where we’re so isolated and we’re craving connection, it’s really important to give students these skills to be able to connect with other people in a really meaningful way.”
For more information on the Windows and Mirrors program, visit Strike Anywhere’s website.