Acting as two females gossiping on the phone, Bowman High School students Edwin Lopez and Samuel Nolasco hold up large, blown-up telephones and discuss the rumors surrounding this weekend’s party.
“Did you see what those girls were wearing?” Nolasco asks Lopez during their “phone call.”
“Yeah. And did you see what that girl was doing with that guy by the porta potty?” Lopez followed.
The role-playing exercise was a lesson in communication to evaluate how different genders speak to each another and other individuals in their lives.
It was also part of a larger program called “Relationships 101,” where teachers use theater and the arts to train students in self-expression to engage in healthy, happy and supportive relationships and live productive and fulfilling lives.
Hosted by the Advot Project, the Relationships 101 program incorporates role playing exercises, icebreakers and common theater practices into its curriculum to build self-esteem, prevent violence, encourage social change and promote self-empowerment.
“We use theater arts to explore healthy relationships and communication skills and every class focuses on different exercises and different aspects of communication,” said Naomi Ackerman, founder and executive director of the Advot Project. “It’s a lot of improv and a few writing exercises.”
The program also complements California’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) standards by highlighting the visual and performing arts, focusing on literacy through English Language Arts standards, fostering positive school climates and pupil engagement and assessing pupil achievement through participation, presentations and written assignments.
At Bowman, the program was held in Christine Desuse’s theater class where students participated in more than 10 workshops about different topics like communication, choices, love, forgiveness, accountability and change.
“I’ve never been in a relationship so I learned a lot,” student Elizabeth Jimenez said. “I learned about compromise.”
The students also participated in several dramatizations where they worked together in different groups to learn relationship lessons and communication skills.
In one exercise, students held up puppets and acted as adults and couples as they gave each other advice on how to handle common relationship struggles.
In other exercises students spoke “gibberish” while another translated on his behalf and students worked in groups to represent each character’s inner voice and outer voice.
A favorite among students was the telephone exercise, where students acted as the opposite sex or as their parents as they answered phone calls and discussed the events of a party.
“I liked the telephone because you see two different perspectives and see what they think,” student Wright Delano said. “You’re not yourself, you’re stepping outside of yourself.”
Throughout the Relationships 101 program, students also used word associations to describe healthy and unhealthy relationships and completed writing assignments about the 10 commandments of healthy relationships and about how they deserve to be treated.
“I can say that I gave them a writing exercise and I could see in what they were writing reflections of things that we learned,” Ackerman said. “These kids were really good at articulating themselves and expressing themselves.”
As they completed each exercise, students slowly became more comfortable communicating with their peers and with adults about common relationship topics.
“Over the week, I’ve witnessed them becoming more comfortable,” Advot Project Facilitator and Visionary Trainer Whitney Wakimoto said. “The male population is very stoic and, over time, they kind of loosen up — and I think that’s where a lot of the change happens in society.”
The program also taught students how to recognize dangerous behavior, to stand up for themselves and to leave unhealthy relationships they are a part of.
“It’s about you being respected and treated with dignity. If you’re not being respected or listened to you leave,” Ackerman told the class. “I hope you come out of here saying what you want and saying what you need and knowing that no one should ever hurt you.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_