Published on July 27, 2018 | SI Live | Written by Dr. Gracelyn Santos
STATEN ISLAND, NY. — Sundog Theatre is making a difference in the reading scores of Staten Island children, a recent study showed.
Data from the Department of Education reflected that students participating in a literacy-through-theatre-program delivered by Sundog Theatre at 10 Staten Island schools had increased reading scores this past school year.
Nearly 700 student at Public Schools 16, 20, 31, 36, 39, 44, 54, 57, 59, and 65 in second through fourth grade classrooms participated in the program; 88 percent of those evaluated by DOE standardized testing increased their reading scores by at least two levels, some as many as 10 levels.
A whopping 46 percent increased reading scores by four to seven levels.
The 3-D Literacy is a carefully designed program that integrates studies on neural systems. As a result, children remember what they learn for a longer period of time.
This is crucial when children need to retain information for testing and beyond.
“Principals and teachers in Staten Island have been very receptive to the program,” said Susan Fenley, Sundog’s executive director.
“It works hand in glove with traditional teaching methods, supplementing them with theatrical techniques and brain-based research.”
In addition, in the classrooms, teachers have seen added benefits that include more positive peer interaction, leadership skills, and teamwork, according to Fenley.
“Teachers have also seen their students become more confident, which is key to effective learning and socialization. The program prepares children with career and personal skills they can use for future success in school and life.”
The Staten Island Foundation enabled Sundog to initiate the pilot program seven years ago and now the Foundation, Northfield Bank, ConEdison, and the New York City Council with the Department of Cultural Affairs are helping continue its success.
At least half of the students are special education students, English Language Learners, and/or need help with reading.
“We all learned to work together. And the new words are in our brains now,” said a P.S. 39 student who participated in the program.”
School teachers agree that the exercises help their students focus longer than they ever did before and the children didn’t get upset when they made mistakes, taking ownership and not wanting to let themselves or others down.
One teacher said, “We watched them take the state tests and the students did hand motions they learned along with the words to help them remember. It worked!”
Tracey Wright, principal of P.S. 39, said, “3-D Literacy has empowered our students to have confidence in their abilities to break apart a text, focusing on vocabulary and sentence structure as well as the underlying message.”
“The Staten Island Foundation is an enthusiastic supporter of Sundogs 3D Literacy Program which uses theater arts strategies to help increase student reading levels and improve self steem, classroom behavior, and socialization skills,” said Betsy Dubovsky, executive director of The Staten Island Foundation.
“The activities, presented by brilliantly creative teaching artists, include literacy games that use vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation, improvisation, and emotional connection exercises, scene creation, and performance. We would love to see this widely replicated.”
Sundog’s program developed by teaching artist Richard Grunn — incorporates theatre games, vocabulary, emotional connection exercises, and writing. Approaching literacy through these methods applies the way the brain stores information through active learning.
Formed in 2002, Sundog Theatre has been presenting original and contemporary theatre for 16 years. The arts company is unique on Staten Island in that it also presents in-school arts programming rooted in theatre, visual arts, dance, music, and literacy.
Programs are offered to students in kindergarten through high school in New York City’s schools as well as community-based organizations. In addition, Sundog Theatre offers acting classes year-round for children ages 6 to 14, and it tours productions throughout the year. For further information, please call 718-816-5453 or go to www.SundogTheatre.org.