In the fall of 2014 and in my second year as Head of School at GVP, I was introduced via email to Susie Purcell and Synchronicity Theatre’s Playmaking for Girls (PFG) in-school residency program. Sometimes I still can’t believe what a wonderful gift that virtual introduction was to me and our school. PFG is an innovative theatre program that aims to empower teen girls who have been living in group homes as wards of the state, as well as refugee young women who are acclimating to life in a new country. By January of 2015, PFG was running weekly classes at GVP for all of our students. Since then, our work with PFG and teaching artists Susie Purcell and Jennifer Denning has continued and grown. Often, when I try to describe what PFG means to our school and students, I find myself referring to it as a perfect partnership—something fully and finely suited for this particular place and our particular work. I honestly can’t imagine GVP without PFG now.
This powerful partnership is designed to build empathy and community while empowering girls to discover and strengthen their own unique voices through writing, acting, movement, music and poetry. Through storytelling experiences of all kinds, students stretch and grow to become leaders and change makers. As PFG puts it: “These young ladies come together as playwrights and actors, and through theatre, are empowered to ‘find their voices’ and ‘speak their stories.'” While our partnership started with the in-school residency, our collaboration has grown to include free summer camp programs for some GVP students and an annual culminating GVP Performs! event.
Classes focused on community building, collaboration, and on the development of confidence and voice are particularly important for our refugee students at GVP. As newcomers to the US and new learners of English language and literacy, our students need opportunities to develop their written and oral language skills and to build the confidence and self-esteem needed to speak up for themselves as young women and students in school. In American schools, participating actively in class, asking questions or reading out loud, and making presentations are all expected and highly rewarded. Girls at GVP need support for language development, confidence-building, and practice with performance and presentation. PFG provides all of these things and more. They learn about what it means to work together with others, how to be empathetic, how to be self-aware, and how to manage their own feelings in community. For young people who might struggle to find the “right” English words to tell their stories, PFG provides alternative modes for communication through dance and movement, poetry and plays.
Yesterday, our Curriculum & Assessment Coordinator shared a story with the Administrative Team about a student who had joined an online PFG class on Monday and had her family jump in to be part of what was happening. The PFG teachers were leading students in a guided movement dance, inviting them to stretch towards the sky and swoop down towards the ground. This young woman’s older brother and two younger siblings joined her as she started to move, and by the end of the guided session all four were dancing together in front of the computer screen while mom smiled and looked on from behind. Students at GVP love PFG. They look forward to Marvelous Mondays or Wacky Wednesdays with the PFG team of artists and interns.
One of the things I look forward to most each spring is the GVP Performs! showcase event in which students and PFG staff bring to the stage and share with the community their stories and voices in a culminating program. The students (almost all of them) are energetic and enthusiastic about the performances and exude confidence. They are well-prepared and are ready to bring themselves and their creations to the wider GVP community—parents, teachers, volunteers, mentors, and friends are all invited.
GVP provides bus transportation for all students and families to attend GVP Performs! events because we want to make sure that parents and siblings can join in the celebration and enjoy the energy and efforts of the PFG@GVP collaboration. This year, there won’t be a GVP Performs! event for our community at the Decatur Library auditorium. I don’t know whether there will be any virtual event either at this point, but I am deeply grateful that PFG weekly classes continue online and that students are still excited about them—excited enough to include the whole family!
I am grieving the community events that won’t happen this spring—GVP Performs!, the GVP Chorus Concert at the Decatur Library, May Authors’ Tea, the Girls on the Run 5K, and Graduation. Being together with families from around the world, community members, volunteers, mentors, donors, and partners to celebrate our students and their accomplishments is always a moving and memorable experience. I had never experienced community in such fullness before coming to GVP. The community of support that surrounds our school, students, and staff is tremendous. The generosity of spirit and love is profound and powerful. GVP is a space, a place, a project, and, most importantly, a people—committed to care, compassion, and cooperation towards a common vision of educational and social justice. I am deeply grateful for the beauty, diversity, and generosity of our GVP community and for all we accomplish together. I look forward to the times when we will all celebrate and sing together again as our students share their stories on the Decatur Library stage. Until then, we will continue to stand united in our distance and listen carefully for the stories coming from our community.
“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much” – Helen Keller
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”– Maya Angelou
“Those who tell the stories rule the world.”– Hopi American Indian proverb