KC Special Ed: NAEA National Convention 2017

Photograph of Jenna Gabriel in the Grand Foyer of the Kennedy Center

I walk into the Hilton 2nd floor lobby to pick up my NAEA registration materials and one thing is abundantly clear: I am not in Kansas anymore. The largest education conference I’ve ever been to topped out at 400 people and when Patricia Franklin, the President of the National Arts Education Association (NAEA) welcomes 7,000 art educators to the NAEA National Convention, my jaw drops. There are more than 350 sessions each day to prompt noisy, messy, and vital discussions of how we ensure that every child receives a well-rounded education enriched by meaningful participation in the arts. I feel like Dorothy in the wonderland of Oz.

I had the privilege of spending 4 days in this glorious cacophony last week, when I travelled to NYC to present “Arts as Inclusion: Holding Ourselves Accountable in Reaching Students with Disabilities” at the NAEA National Convention. In addition to my own presentation, I got to observe sessions, participate in conversations, and connect with arts teachers from around the country. I learned a lot, but want to share 3 things that have stuck with me as I return to the real world here in DC:

1.)  Our work at the intersection of arts and special education is vital—perhaps more so now than ever before.

Spare me a quick moment for a #humblebrag: My session was packed. In a room with chairs for 50 people, between 80 and 100 tried to cram in. People sat on the floor in the aisle and by my projector, stood in the back and spilled out into the hallway. As uncomfortable as they must have been, these teachers were actively engaged the entire time, asking questions about IEPs and instructional practice, offering insights from their own classroom experiences, and staying after to continue the conversation.

I want to be so flattered by this—surely it’s because people *really* wanted to see me present, right?—but the truth is that every single session about students with disabilities was like this. Every single session I went to that covered strategies to support inclusion or adaptations for students with disabilities had a full classroom, ran out of handouts, and had attendees pushing through to make more space. Because art educators need this material.

Let me say that again: Art. Educators. Need. This. Material.

We know that, despite the fact that almost every arts teacher teaches students with disabilities, only 21.8% of arts educators had university coursework that prepared them for this work, and that (according to one survey) only 26% feel comfortable preparing engaging arts learning experiences for students with disabilities, compared to 93% when asked about instruction of non-disabled peers. What I saw at NAEA supported this: I met art educator after art educator seeking out resources to better support their students with disabilities. What was so incredible about this, though, was their perspective. I didn’t meet a single teacher who needed to be convinced that students with disabilities should be in the art room. Instead, every single teacher I met was asking questions that spoke to the incredibly high standards they set for their instructional practice: How can I set up an environment that encourages my students with disabilities to develop agency in their creative process? How can I advocate for my students with disabilities to ensure that the supports they are legally entitled to in academic settings follow them into the arts classroom? How can I develop new and better methods to support diverse communication methods that allow students with disabilities to express themselves fully? What adaptations can I create that allow students with disabilities to participate in the same arts activities as their peers, instead of modifying the activity or diluting content?

And the presentations met them there. Laura Hubbard and Kelley DeCleene shared simple but powerful adaptations that art teachers can make to increase access in the classroom. Maude Wiltshire offered visual supports that can integrate with students’ AACs to support communication and agency. Juliann Dorff and Linda Hoeptner-Poling presented the VSA Teacher Resource Guide and introduced the inclusive lessons published late last year. Samantha Varian spoke on choice-based instruction in the inclusive classroom. And the amazing folks of the Special Needs in Art Education interest group grappled with the responsibility to share our knowledge widely with art educators across the country to improve learning outcomes for students with disabilities.

In a changing educational landscape with rapidly diversifying classrooms, I saw a hunger for more tools to reach our highest-need young folks, and an incredible opportunity for those of us who work at this vibrant and fertile intersection. 

2.)  Continuing professional development and inservice trainings are important, but we must prioritize preservice instruction.

Photograph of Jenna presenting at a conferenceInservice trainings like those offered to the working arts educators at the NAEA National Convention are critical to reaching students with disabilities learning in today’s classrooms. But as a field, we must recognize that this need is the symptom of a larger issue at play in art teacher development: arts educators are not receiving adequate training to reach students with disabilities before they enter the classroom. Innovative and incredible programs like the MA in Arts Education with an Emphasis on Special Populations at Moore College of Art and Design and the Masters of Music in Music Education with a Concentration on Autism offered by the Boston Conservatory at Berklee are efforts to address this problem, but these programs should be the standard. The norm, not the unique.

In addressing the critical questions facing art educators in higher education today, Rhoda Bernard highlighted this truth, and the Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs she manages will undoubtedly be a leader in this work. Steve Seidel, Program Director of the Arts in Education Masters Program at Harvard, described the current educational landscape as particular and frightening moment in the history of public education in this country and argued that today’s young arts educators will have increased responsibilities to advocate for their students’ needs. For students with disabilities, this advocacy begins with arts teachers having a foundational understanding of strategies and practices that support meaningful engagement in and through the arts.

This starts in preservice.

Photograph of conference name badge, agenda book, other swag and materials.3.)  The arts matter.
Arts education matters.
Students with disabilities matter.

This work matters.

Perhaps one of the most impactful moments of NAEA National Convention came in the first general session, when President Patricia Franklin asked us all to rise and say together: The arts matter. Arts education matters. Hearing 7,000 voices in chorus affirm this simple truth was beautiful. We spend so much of our time fighting to convince others that our work in the arts is important, so the 4 days I spent alongside educators who share this belief was a powerful moment to draw inspiration and energy from.

I add to this mantra that students with disabilities, and their access to high-quality arts learning experiences, also matter. It is critical that the voices and life experiences of our students with disabilities not be left out of conversations about well-rounded and holistic education. The right to participate, and to participate fully, must be guaranteed for all of our students. It falls on us as educators to ensure this right is protected and advocated for in the art room and beyond.

It was a joy to travel on behalf of the Office of VSA and Accessibility and to share our resources and knowledge with a national audience. I’ve got a busy spring on the conference circuit, so I encourage you to follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We’ll be using the hashtag #kcspecialed to share photos and anecdotes from American Alliance for Theatre & Education’s DC Theatre in Our Schools Regional Event, Council for Exceptional Children Convention & Expo, the Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference, and the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention. Of course, it all culminates with VSA Intersections in Austin, and I look forward to seeing you there!

November 2016 VSA Webinar: “Teaching Students with Autism: What Teaching Theater Teaches Us”

In this series, three psychologists share insights from their research on how theater activities affect cognitive and social skills in children with autism spectrum disorders. On the final webinar, a special educator discusses how those findings impact classroom practice.

Click on the play button below to watch a free recording of the Webinar. (You will be prompted to enter your email address and contact information prior to viewing the Webinar.)

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Presenters:

Blythe Corbett, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Her research program, the Social Emotional NeuroScience Endocrinology (SENSE) lab, evaluates the socioemotional responsivity of children with autism. Dr. Corbett founded SENSE Theatre, which uses behavioral approaches and theatrical techniques to improve social and emotional abilities of children with autism.

Laura Guli, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Austin, TX. She authored a social skills manual for children with autism, Social Competence Intervention Program, that uses creative drama to help children and adolescents become fluent in nonverbal social cues that make interactions difficult for them. Prior to private practice, Dr. Guli was a theater arts teacher and a school psychologist.

Matthew D. Lerner, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Pediatrics at Stony Brook University. He is the founding Director and current Research Director of the Spotlight Program at the Northeast Arc in Massachusetts, a program for social competence and confidence development. Dr. Lerner’s research focuses on “real world” implications of social problems in children with autism, and evidence-based approaches for ameliorating those problems.

Alida Anderson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at American University. Her research focuses on language development and literacy acquisition in diverse populations. Recent publications include Arts Integration and Special Education, an edited volume connecting interdisciplinary frameworks in human development and linguistics, special education, and urban education with primary action research by special educators.


Links and Resources:

We want to know-what did you learn from this webinar?

Drum Circle Class Impacts Students and Educators

Three students play drums with two teaching artists. Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

A new partnership between the Westminster Center for Community Engagement and Critical Pedagogy and Trenton Public Schools in New Jersey (U.S.) offers children with autism the opportunity to learn drumming alongside Westminster music education students. The program, called Junior Vitamin D after the Westminster Choir College’s own Vitamin D Drum Circle, provides students in self-contained classrooms at three elementary schools and one middle school the chance to participate in a drum circle, play a variety of rhythms, and perform original compositions.

Frank Abrahams, Director of the Westminster Center for Community Engagement and Critical Pedagogy, says a Westminster alumnus experienced in drum circle facilitation leads the Junior Vitamin D classes. Six current music education students assist that teaching artist. The elementary school session for Junior Vitamin D began in January, and concludes in April; approximately 18 students attend each class, and 75 young students with autism are served in all.

A boy plays a drum held by a teaching artist while a girl watches, smiling. Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Abrahams says the children have learned a host of skills during the Junior Vitamin D classes, from how to hold and where to hit a drum, to how to copy and improvise rhythms, to how to work collaboratively on a project (like hitting their drums at the same time). He adds, “[The children] learn how to express their own musical ideas through the drums.”

The young participants with autism aren’t the only ones having a valuable learning experience at the Junior Vitamin D classes. Abrahams says the experience has had an enormous impact on the six college students helping facilitate the sessions, teaching them about adapting lessons for students with disabilities and thinking on your feet. “I’ve seen a dramatic change in their perception about what teaching is about, and their give and take to go to plan B if plan A isn’t working,” he says, continuing, “I think the college students are coming away as kinder, gentler, more understanding teachers.”

A teaching artist leads three boys in a movement exercise while playing a drum. Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

When designing the Junior Vitamin D program, Abrahams and his collaborators made sure it maintained the integrity of a high quality school music program. They set measurable goals for the program in three areas: arts learning, academic learning, and social and emotional learning. The instruction also aligns with National Core Art Standards for Music Education and New Jersey Core Curriculum.

Abrahams says it is exciting to observe how the program has changed both the children and college students. “The children are learning to express their own original thought and emotion in playing drums,” he says, “…and the music education students are having a participatory, pre-service experience you cannot get by reading or watching a video.”

Five Tips on Using Picture-Based Visual Supports for Students with Complex Communication Needs During Music Instruction

By Lisa Pierce-Goldstein, M.M., M.S. CCC-SLP

Visual supports are an integral part of the day for all of us, from street signs to calendars to scrawled reminders on Post-it® Notes. Visual supports in the form of pictures can be an effective and integral part of music instruction for students with complex communication needs, who cannot rely on speech as their primary means of communication. Unlike manual signs or verbal cues, which are transient, pictures provide a stable form of support, as they are fixed and can be referred to repeatedly. This is especially helpful for students who need extra time to process information. Picture symbol software is not necessary. Some assembly is required. So fire up your smart phone, Google Images, or your favorite word processing and presentation-making software to make:

An image with two columns: the left side is labeled

1. Visual schedules: A visual schedule uses pictures to show the sequence of activities that will take place during a class. For example, for a chorus rehearsal, a visual schedule might consist of pictures representing welcome, warm up, pass out music, practice song 1, practice song 2, put music away, all done.

 

Five side-by-side images showing where to place fingers on an oboe while playing Mary had a Little Lamb.

A visual sequence for the fingering of Mary had a Little Lamb.

2. Visual sequences: The cousin of the visual schedule, the visual sequence uses pictures to depict the steps necessary to complete a specific activity. This can be useful for showing steps for instrument fingerings, changes in body movements for a physical or vocal warm up, or setting up and putting class materials away.

 

This image contains pictures of instruments in small yellow square boxes. The instruments include egg shakers, triangle, maracas, sand blocks, rhythm sticks, bells, xylophone, tone block, boomwhacker, and sound shape.

3. Choice boards: A choice board has pictures of choices available for a specific activity. For example, pictures of several instruments may be presented to a student, from which they could make their choice. A choice board could also consist of pictures of the covers of pieces to be practiced during class or rehearsal, from which students could choose the order.

 

4. Scripts and social stories: Using PowerPoint or Google Slides is an easy way to pair pictures with sentences. Putting several pages together, you can create a script to help a student know what to say and do at an audition. A social story can show and describe what is expected in a specific situation, such as being an audience member at a live performance.

 

A two column image with the word first and a picture of a person singing on the left, and the word "then" with a picture of the Hamilton the musical logo on the right.5. First Then boards: A ‘first then’ board consists of two columns with the headings ‘first’ and ‘then,’ with a picture beneath each word representing the present activity and the subsequent one. It might show a non-preferred activity (practice scale), followed by a preferred one (sing ‘Alexander Hamilton’). This is useful for helping students manage transitions.

To see examples of all of these visual supports, head to Google Images and search. There are hundreds of examples to fire up your imagination. Now have fun downloading, formatting, printing, laminating, and using in class!

 

Lisa Pierce Goldstein croppedLisa Pierce-Goldstein is a speech language pathologist who has spent the past 15 years working with students on the autism spectrum, first in New York City’s District 75 and now in the Boston Public Schools.  She is a classically trained singer and a guest lecturer at Boston Conservatory’s program for Teaching Music to Students on the Autism Spectrum.  She is a frequent presenter at conferences on the topics of augmentative and alternative communication, autism and adapting arts curriculum for students with complex communication needs.  

Combining Movement and Classical Music at the Australian Chamber Orchestra

A woman plays a cello while a teenage boy in a wheelchair touches it with his right hand.At the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), access and inclusion are core organizational values. Their triennial disability action plan is a major part of the strategic plan, and comprehensively sets goals for inclusion in every aspect of the organization’s work. This includes their signature education program for students with disabilities, ACO Move.

ACO Move is a series of sessions for young people with disabilities featuring movement and live music. ACO Customer Relations and Access Manager, Dean Watson, who has a background in dance, conceived of the program six years ago to offer adolescents with disabilities an arts learning opportunity with the Sydney-based string ensemble.

ACO Move takes place over five two-hour sessions, with a group of approximately ten young participants alongside program facilitators, a quartet of ACO musicians, and a percussionist. Each session begins with a welcome, warm up, and introductions, followed by a series of music and movement exercises. Watson says the facilitators plan many exercises to allow for flexibility in the sessions and “are prepared to adapt.”

Two teenage boys raise their arms in the air while musicians play violins.Watson says some of the student participants have never heard classical music before, and creating a “soundscape” helps to familiarize everyone. The percussionist brings instruments for the participants to use, and everyone works together to build up sound based on a given idea, such as a storm or wave. This builds a sense of community and trust among the group, says Watson, adding, “Everyone performs together, including the ACO musicians, and by the end we’ve created a new ensemble with a composition we can call our own!”

The sessions focus heavily on the theme of dynamics, and Watson and his collaborators use musical terminology like crescendo, diminuendo, staccato, rhythm, and rest to convey this idea. When a term is introduced, the ACO artists first demonstrate the concept musically. The facilitators then turn it into a movement, and the participants imitate and improvise, ultimately building a theatrical piece.

Tactile and sensory learning are also core components of the ACO Move sessions. Participants touch instruments at rest, lay on the ground while a cello is played, or hug a double bass while it is played. Watson also incorporates the sensory learning and soundscape creation as major parts of the ACO’s education sessions in primary and high schools for students with disabilities.

Young adults with disabilities dance to live classical music.Each year, Watson seeks to engage a guest artist with a disability to collaborate on the ACO Move program. The upcoming 2017 sessions will incorporate original compositions for string quartet by a young Australian composer with cerebral palsy. In 2016, the young writer and actor Emily Dash diarized the project and created original spoken word pieces to perform at the presentation day that concludes each ACO Move series.

According to Watson, ACO Move’s success can be attributed to the organization’s commitment to the program, from the administrators to the board to the musicians. He says, “When we invite people to participate [in ACO Move], we want them to feel as though they are part of the ACO family. This means they have access to everything in the building, can communicate freely with the musicians and staff, and feel like an equal part of the ensemble we create.” ACO is currently investigating opportunities to expand ACO Move through partnerships with arts and disability organizations, as well as with the venues in which the orchestra plays.

For more information, contact dean.watson@aco.com.au.

West Virginia Program Helps Teachers Utilize Music with Young Students

The West Virginia University Music Therapy Program will host its Creating Capacity Through Music professional development workshop this month for educators in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the surrounding areas. The five-hour, interactive, continuing education opportunity helps classroom teachers utilize music to engage all students and support various learning objectives for children ages three to seven years.

Picture of a woman wiht blonde hair, a green shirt, and a pink scarf.

Dena Register

Program Director and Associate Professor of Music Therapy Dena Register says she was inspired to create the professional development program by her work with preschool-age students with disabilities. She hopes the workshop will help attendees feel more comfortable using music in the classroom, and give teachers music-based tools for successfully conveying information to all students.

In addition to the workshop, which will be held for 20-25 participants at four different points during the year, teachers are also invited to apply for a six-week, in-classroom consultation opportunity. Those selected will have a music therapist come to their classroom once per week to lead a 30-minute group music experience tailored to the needs of the children in that class, and a 30-minute consultation with the teacher on implementing various strategies presented each week.

When asked what she would recommend to educators hoping to integrate more music into classrooms inclusive of students with disabilities, Register emphasized the importance of strengths-based assessments. She says, “It is helpful to focus on what students can do rather than what they cannot do. This is especially true for music, when many people think, ‘Oh, I’m not a musician.’ Everyone has a musical capability! They just need to focus on their strengths.”

Five Tips for Preparing New Teachers to Work with Students with Disabilities in the Arts

by Rhoda Bernard, Ed.D.

Many of the strategies for teaching the arts to students with disabilities are components of what is widely considered to be good teaching practice for any student population. The critical difference is for teachers to magnify, deepen, and personalize these aspects of their teaching when they work with students with disabilities.

  1. Learn as much as you can about each student. Read IEP (Individualized Education Program) documents, and meet with Special Education staff members at your school, other teachers, administrators, and parents. If time permits, observe your students with disabilities in other settings. Use what you learn to personalize your teaching for each student. For example, a drama teacher learns that a student who has difficulty with expressive language is more successful when she writes down responses to questions asked aloud in class. The drama teacher can incorporate opportunities for the student to answer questions by writing rather than speaking.
  2. Provide structure and schedules. Arts teachers should use a similar structure to every class session, and should put the day’s agenda on the board and go over it with the students. A typical structure for visual arts classes could be to begin with a whole-class demonstration, followed by student work time on individual projects, with a whole-class wrap up during which students share their works in progress at the end of the lesson.
  3. Use simple, clear instructions. When working with students with disabilities, arts teachers should use specific words and instructions whenever possible. For example, a student with autism spectrum disorder may not understand when his music teacher speaks about a note being “on the line” in music notation. The teacher could shift the wording to “with the line through it,” which is a more literal explanation of how the musical note looks on the staff.
  4. Engage multiple modalities. Sometimes arts teachers give more emphasis to the modality that dominates their art form—for example, music classes may be more focused on the auditory modality, or visual arts classes may emphasize the visual modality. Arts teachers who work with students with disabilities should engage two or even all three modalities in their lessons. For example, a dance teacher can incorporate visual cues in her instructions by using diagrams or color-coded charts to illustrate the form of a dance.
  5. Remember that fair doesn’t always mean equal. Rather, fair means giving each student what he or she needs to succeed in your class. Some students with disabilities require modifications to tasks, assignments, expectations, or the environment in order to succeed. For example, a music student might need to play only certain notes or sections in an ensemble piece. A visual arts teacher might offer all students a choice of materials, such as playdough or clay, so that options are presented to students of all abilities to set them up for success.
A woman with dark, wavy hair in a gray short-sleeve shirt.

Rhoda Bernard

Rhoda Bernard is the Director of Autism Spectrum Programs and Chair of the Music Education Department at Boston Conservatory at Berklee. As of 9/1/17, Bernard will become the Founding Managing Director of the Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs at Berklee College of Music. She is the author of many essays, articles, and book chapters.

Preparing Art Teachers to Work with Students with Disabilities throughout their Careers

Six adults looking at pieces of wood while they collaborate on an art project.

Educators participate in an art education symposium at Moore College of Art and Design.

At Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, preparing art teachers to work successfully with students with disabilities is at the core of their art education programs. From their undergraduate art education major, to the Master of Arts in Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Populations program, to their art education symposiums, helping current and future educators make art accessible to all students is an institutional priority.

Assistant Professor Amanda Newman-Godfrey says preparing Moore students to serve people with disabilities in the art classroom is a thread that runs through everything they do. That begins with first year undergraduate students in the Art Education program, who get hands-on experience in creating and implementing art curriculum for a diverse aging population thanks to a partnership with the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

From there, Newman-Godfrey says undergraduate students take several different classes that address working with students with disabilities, to include topics such as differentiated assessment and instruction strategies, Universal Design for Learning, and the history and regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The hallmark undergraduate course is a Special Populations class, which offers Moore students the opportunity to teach art to students with disabilities alongside a certified special education teacher. In Special Populations, Moore undergraduates plan lessons and learn how to be observant, reflective, and thoughtful in the classroom so they can be constantly adjusting, modifying, and adapting based on the needs of their young students.

Moore’s Master of Arts in Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Populations graduate program similarly launches students into a hands-on learning experience, through partnerships with the Barnes Foundation and SpArc Philadelphia. Graduate students create and implement lesson plans for the SpArc participants based on artwork from the Barnes Collection. Graduate Program Director Lauren Stichter notes that graduate students often enter the program eager for mentors and peers to connect with, as it can be hard to find others with an interest in art and special education in their home communities.

A woman with blonde hair and a black dress standing in front of an urn with branches

Lauren Stichter

For art educators seeking a continuing education opportunity, Moore offers semi-annual symposia on topics in art and special education. The next symposium, Going Beyond the Art Room: Engaging Diverse Learners in Museum and Community Arts Settings, is on April 1. At that event, attendees will have the opportunity to visit neighboring sites, including the Barnes Foundation and Franklin Institute, to experience hands-on learning with inclusive tools. Stichter says a goal of the symposium is to make teachers more comfortable accessing local museums with all students. The symposia, now in their eighth year, usually attract about 100 educators.

Stichter, Newman-Godfrey, and their students at Moore are eager to share their work in art and special education with others, and are able to do so through partnerships with local arts organizations and colleges. Stichter says sharing promising practices across the field can only increase everyone’s success in the classroom, and ultimately make more art teachers comfortable and ready to work with students with disabilities.

Five Tips for Submitting a Good VSA International Young Soloists Competition Application

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Each year, a select number of outstanding young musicians with disabilities, ages 14-25, are recognized by the VSA International Young Soloists Competition. These emerging musicians from around the world receive a $2,000 prize, professional development activities, and the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center. If you or someone you know is interested in applying for the 2017 VSA International Young Soloists Award, check out these application tips before submitting your entry:

  1. Upload high quality, live recordings. Professional recordings are not necessary. Video recordings are recommended but not required. If you are using accompaniment, it should be live and not pre-recorded.
  2. Submit pieces that showcase your proficiency as a musician. Please choose selections focusing on your primary instrument regardless of whether you play multiple instruments.
  3. Variety is encouraged. We encourage you to submit selections by different composers showcasing facility with different styles or eras of music.
  4. This award is for excellence in performance, not songwriting or composition. Original compositions may be submitted, but will not augment your score. Select pieces that showcase your technical skill, artistry, and musicianship as a performer.
  5. Carefully review all elements of your application before submission. Applicants will not be notified if components of their application are missing.

You can find more information about the 2017 VSA International Young Soloists Competition on the Kennedy Center’s website. Application materials should be submitted no later than February 8, 2017. Questions about the VSA International Young Soloists Program can be sent to VSAinfo@kennedy-center.org.

Six Tips for Submitting a Winning Playwright Discovery Script

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Do you know a budding playwright or screenwriter? The annual VSA Playwright Discovery Program invites young writers with disabilities and collaborative groups that include students with disabilities, in U.S. grades 6-12 (or equivalents) or ages 11-18 for non-U.S. students, are invited to explore the disability experience through the art of  writing for performance: plays, screenplays, spoken word poetry (for single performer or a group), or music theater. Writers are encouraged to craft short works from their own experiences and observations, create fictional characters and settings, or choose to write metaphorically or abstractly about the disability experience.

Selected winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12 / ages 15-18) will receive exclusive access to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to participate in staged readings and workshops alongside the nation’s premier collegiate playwrights as well as participate in the festival’s award ceremony.

Before your students apply online at www.kennedy-center.org/PDP, encourage them to consider the following tips for creating a winning script.

  1. Address the topic of disability in a meaningful way. Be thoughtful about how you incorporate disability into your script, and try to avoid clichés. Check out the playwriting resources available on the Kennedy Center’s website, including a series of short essays on the disability experience written by theater professionals with disabilities.
  2. Thoroughly develop the plot. Vary the stakes throughout your story to increase the sense of mystery and interest. Incorporate plot twists and subplots, but remember to resolve them.
  3. Pace the action well and sustain interest throughout. Many scripts have promising starts, but convenient or rushed conclusions. If the plot unfolds throughout your script, you will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
  4. Make your characters believable and compelling. The characters in your play should elicit an emotional or intellectual response from your audience. Work on making them relatable and give them opportunities to learn and grow throughout the story.
  5. Use dialogue effectively. Dialogue is the playwright’s tool to further character development and express a range of human emotions. It should also reflect the writer’s language skills and a sense of natural speech patterns.
  6. Make your script your own. Tell a story that is unique, complex, and surprising, and your script will stand out!

The 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Program is accepting applications until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, February 1. For more information or to apply, visit www.kennedy-center.org/PDP.