The Critical Role of Relationships and Extra-Curriculars
Ask someone what their best memory from school is. The answer is likely the powerful connection they had with a teacher or another adult in the school, the sense of belonging and achievement of a team or club, or some combination of those two.
At least for students who had a successful school experience.
Do we as schools place the proper importance on these two factors in our student’s education? At times people argue that the arts, athletics, and other extra-curriculars are the fluff in school and perhaps don’t have a real impact on learning. Teachers can feel as though they don’t have as much time to connect with their students due to the depth and breadth of content they are required to cover.
If you need convincing of the power and importance of these two factors then consider East Leyden student Daniela Leon. Daniela arrived to our school over a month after the year started from Colombia. Luckily, she landed in a class, Spanish III, with a teacher who understands that relationships and students being connected to the school play a critical role in student success and happiness.
Mrs. Porro realized very quickly after talking to Daniela in Spanish, Daniela didn’t speak a word of English at the time, that she possessed great charisma. Mrs. Porro knew that if she could connect Daniela to something beyond her classes at school that not only would she benefit but also it would benefit what ever group she would join. Luckily the timing could not have been better, this year was the first time Leyden was going to put on a play, La Gringa, in both Spanish and English. Time was short, Daniela arrived in school from Columbia on Thursday and auditions were Monday. On Friday, Mrs. Porro who had taken the time to get to know her new student, sent Daniela home with the play and told her to read it over the weekend and on Monday she would see Mr. Mitchell the play’s director to audition. Daniela was unsure, but those of who know Mrs. Porro know it’s difficult to say no to her.
Sure enough Daniela went home and read the play and practiced. She arrived Monday for the audition and landed one of the starring roles in Leyden’s first ever all Spanish-speaking cast of a play.
Rather than my recap, let me share with you some words from Mrs. Porro, Mr. Mitchell, and Daniela herself.
This experience will help her to not only overcome barriers that arise due to her sudden change in lifestyle, but also to adapt to a completely different school system than the school system in Colombia. In this way she will build up her confidence and feel like a member of the school and the Leyden community.
When I auditioned the 44 students for La Gringa, it was natural for me to want to
audition them in my native language of English. After all, it is the language I read in, think in, and dream in. It is the language I can be creative in and in which I can assess the creative possibilities in others. So, I auditioned the actors in English, regardless of whether they wanted to be in the Spanish-speaking cast or the English-speaking cast. Only one student mildly protested: a quiet, petite young lady named Daniela Leon, whom I had never met before. When it came time for her to read, she said she didn't want to. That she only wanted to audition in Spanish. I respected that and skipped over her, continuing to audition the remaining 43 students using cuttings from the English script. We read for male roles. We read for the female roles. We read some funny scenes and we read some dramatic scenes--trying to assess the breadth and depth of the many talented kids who hoped to be cast. As the clock ticked away, the two and a half hour auditions were in their final forty-five minutes and I had yet to have any of the students read in Spanish. And I knew it would be another fifteen minutes until I would do so. I went back to Daniela, who by this time had sunken so low with despair in her chair that she had almost disappeared. I asked her if she would reconsider reading in English for the last cutting so I could have a basis to compare her with the other actors. She reluctantly, but respectfully, agreed, knowing that my Spanish was severely limited. It doesn't take one long to realize that any Spanish-speaking preschooler would sound like Miguel de Cervantes compared to me. It was only then when she took the stage to read that I understood her apprehension. She read well, being able to pronounce the words, but she was understandably limited in her ability to LIVE them as though they were her own, since English was not her own language. I thanked Daniela for trying and she returned to her seat and sank lower into it than ever before. She was probably resigned to the idea that she would have spent the entire afternoon for naught and that she would never be an actress.
When it came time to read actors from the Spanish script, Daniela perked up. She
smiled a small smile, leaped up out of her chair, took the stage, opened her little mouth, and let out the sassiest, most spirited, most heart-felt reading I had ever heard! She literally transformed herself! She WAS the character! She FELT the character! She lost any vestige of her former self. Spanish was the language Daniele could read in, think in, and dream in. When she was done. She looked up at me with her timid brown eyes and saw my dropped jaw rise into the biggest smile. She reciprocated with the biggest smile of her own. Ever since than she and I have done a lot of smiling. And a lot of laughing! Daniela is a natural actress. You will see her on stage in the Spanish-speaking production of La Gringa as Iris, the comedic and realistic Puerto Rican cousin to the serious and idealistic American Maria. She is funny. She is adorable. She is a director's dream come true.
Daniela, thank you for your patience with me, "El Gringo," as I continue to discover
from you and the others the many beautiful layers of our precious show, La Gringa. Thank you for the lessons you have taught me. Thank you for the laughter until I am in tears. You are my little sister and I welcome you to Leyden Theatre!
Para mi es importante estar en “La Gringa” porque es una experiencia maravillosa
ya que me gusta mucho actuar y es un buen comienzo. Para mí fue un muy buen logro que yo recién llegada a los Estados Unidos, adicioné y entre a la obra con un muy buen papel. Desde pequeña me llama mucho la atención las obras de teatro y me siento muy orgullosa de estar en “La Gringa”. No hablo inglés pero siento que si lo aprendo muy bien poco a poco voy a poder también adicionar para obras en inglés porque me encanta actuar.
Translated quote from Daniela Leon:
(For me is very important to be part of “La Gringa” because it’s an excellent opportunity since I love to act and this is a good start. To reach this point was an achievement for me because I just arrived to United States, I tried out and I am part of a play and hold a very important role. Since I was little, I have been fascinated with plays and what is going on in theater. I feel very proud to be part of “La Gringa”. I don’t speak English, but I have the feeling that after learning the language I could be part of plays in English because I love to act).
Without our school and our teachers recognizing the importance of both relationships and extra-curricular opportunities I wonder if Daniela would have had such a successful transition from Colombia to Leyden? Thankfully we do recognize the importance of both of these and now I can just sit back and watch her shine!