A closer look at the development of First Stage's Next Steps program!

First Stage Theater Academy launches Next Steps, a new program designed specifically for students with autism this August.  Guided by the Academy’s philosophy of teaching life skills through stage skills, the program enables students with autism to take their next steps as an artist and as a person. 
When First Stage Program Director Jennifer Adams took on the task of creating curriculum and lesson plans for Next Steps she did her research.  Jennifer studied other programs across the nation including the Chicago Children's Theatre's Red Kite Project and reached out to area autism professionals.  Emily Levine of the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin and Mary Stone a Cross Categorical Special Education Department instructor at Alverno College (and parent advocate) became invaluable resources during the process. 

Having Mary Stone involved early in the project helped Adams know what questions to ask parents and what elements to consider. As a professional and a mother involved in the world of autism, Stone brought a unique perspective to the table.  “When my son was diagnosed I searched for programs and activities that he could participate in and enjoy. I often found great programs that did not have the support or trained staff he needed to be successful,” said Stone.  “When First Stage approached me to become involved in training their staff about Autism Spectrum Disorders, I was excited and hopeful.  First Stage has created Next Steps with thought, sensitivity and a deep commitment to our children who are amazingly creative, funny, gifted and on the Autism Spectrum. Families need hope and need to know that the community will not only welcome our children into a program, but also provide experienced teachers who understand the strengths and the challenges that our children face. Next Steps offers our children a chance to shine, have fun and be creative in a safe, accepting and nurturing environment. Bravo First Stage,” she continued.

On why theater is so effective in breaking through to students with autism, Emily Levine commented on the power of dramatic play, “Many children who have difficulty with social interactions respond to music, rhythm and dance. Theater is a great venue to tap the creativity of children with autism. Everyone needs a chance to shine,” she said.

W. Riley Braem, a specialist in facilitating drama with youth with autism joins the Next Steps team as a lead teaching artist.  Riley, a 3rd year MFA Candidate in Theatre for Youth at Arizona State University, is currently developing his thesis which will focus on curricular development and implementation of recreational drama classes for youth with complex disabilities (Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities or an Autistic Spectrum Disorder), and is thrilled to be in Milwaukee to work with our students.

In general, a typical day of Next Steps will include two classes, a drama class which explores expressing emotions and stretching the imagination and a music and movement class which will focus on freedom of expression through song, creative movement, and rhythm. As students register, Jennifer is getting know parents, finding out as much as she can about their child’s needs and incorporating this into their tailored lesson plan.  Next Steps will reflect our summer Academy structure including beginning and end-of-day community building time and a joyous and informal presentation of class work at the end. 

If you would like more information about Next Steps visit us at www.firststage.org or contact Jennifer Adams at (414) 267-2975 or email nextsteps@firststage.org. 

Registration is now open for the August 27-31 session for students entering grades 6-12 in fall 2012. Classes are held at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center located at 325 W. Walnut Street, Milwaukee.  

About Mary Stone
Mary Stone is a special education teacher, college instructor at Alverno College in the Cross Categorical Special Education Department, parent advocate, and a parent of a child with a disability. Mary has a Master Degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. She is a trained Parent leader and Special Education Advocate who has worked with families across Wisconsin in helping them to advocate for their children with special needs. Mary has presented trainings to parent groups, Milwaukee Public School teachers, UWM Children
Center daycare employees, child care providers, parent groups, college students, and community partners on topics which include teaching children with disabilities, effective teaching strategies in working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, parent advocacy, parenting a child with special needs, and working collaboratively with community partners across the State of Wisconsin to increase Autism Awareness.

About W. Riley Braem
W. Riley Braem hails from Chicago, IL and is a 3rd year MFA Candidate in Theatre for Youth at Arizona State University. Riley received his undergraduate degree in Theatre Performance and Theatre Design with a Minor in Dance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. He has worked as a director, performer, designer, and teaching artist in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arizona. He is also an Artist in Residency Apprentice for the iCreate program with Phoenix Children’s Hospital. For the past 17 years he has also volunteered for Camp MARC, a camp based out of Kentucky for mentally and physically disabled adults. Recently, Riley worked with Theater Works in association with One Step Beyond, an organization for that provides a comprehensive program for people with developmental disabilities, to provide weekly drama classes and performance opportunities for their clients. Braem is currently developing his thesis focusing on curricular development and implementation of recreational drama classes for youth with complex disabilities (Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities or an Autistic Spectrum Disorder). After his thesis is complete he will complete an internship with Nashville Children’s Theatre. Riley is excited to work with First Stage and looks forward to his time in Milwaukee.

1 comment:

AutieMom said...

Kudos to First Stage for their efforts to reach this growing population of kids!

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