At Ánimo Jefferson Charter Middle School, Room 106 might seem like a regular classroom, but once the final bell rings, it turns into the Jefferson Theater Club: A place where students sing to their favorite music, work on wardrobes, set up audio, rehearse, and most of all, have fun.
This fall, the theater club brought nearly 30 middle schoolers into drama and theater programming on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The club provides a safe space for students to express themselves and find a community where they can flourish socially and emotionally.
"Theater saved my life, it was a second home, and I wanted to bring something like that for students to feel safe, " Samantha Burnell, English teacher and co-founder of the theater club said. Burnell hopes to build the community she enjoyed as a teenager at Jefferson.
Although the club had just started, students immediately prepared for their first talent show. Students prepared wardrobes, backdrops, props, choreography, set design, and more.
Jeremy Farkas, English teacher and co-founder of Jefferson’s theater club, believes students have opportunities to explore identity and nurture self-expression in the club. "There is great potential for this age group, particularly when they're trying on different identities," Farkas said. Theater and drama enhance students' self-concept as they utilize their imagination, work in agreement, and express themselves.
"Try your best. You guys don't have to be perfect. Try it again," Farkas said, sitting in the back of the room, encouraging students to keep going through their talent show rehearsal. Through these experiences, students have learned to overcome anxieties and feel confident.
"They're so shy and afraid of being vulnerable with themselves. This (theater) gives them the confidence to step into themselves," Burnell adds. As a drama teacher, she has seen many students start middle school shy and nervous. However, through drama she's seen students blossom and overcome fear and anxiety. Burnell believes students choose theater clubs because it pushes their boundaries, and although it might be uncomfortable at first, it will grow on them.
Sixth graders Irene Torres, Michelle Flores, and Mike Aju worked on the wardrobe for their show. All three joined the theater club together, eager to be part of something they consider fun and creative.
This eclectic group of students adapts and learns new skills to tackle creative problems, as their group is small but mighty. "I did not have anything to do at home, so instead of going home, I can be creative," explained Aju, a sixth-grade student at Jefferson, as he detangled thread for his costume.
"The kids in the theater club have made connections with each other. We see them around the school. They're like this little posse– it is beautiful, " said Burnell. In Room 106, students have found a place to be creative and find confidence and a community of their own.