Media and Movements Student Blogger Study USA

Fun Time

Image shows a group of adults and kids standing outside in front of a sign that says "fun time"

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Leah Nelson is HECUA’s student blogger for Media and Movements Fall 2021. Leah is a student at the University of Minnesota, majoring in independent studies. Read on to learn about their reflections from their internship at Open Eye Theater. 

This semester, I am an intern at Open Eye Theater, located in South Minneapolis. Open Eye aims to foster the development of arts programming that is both inclusive and accessible and supports the growth of both local artists and audiences. 

Recently, I completed a project in partnership with the co-founder of the theater, Michael Sommers, in which we guided six children from southside Minneapolis in creating and performing their own theater production. It was a puppet-oriented show, which we called Southside After School Fun Time. 

Image shows the fun time theater booth complete with red balloons.
Photo credit Emily Sladky

At the beginning of the semester, I could not imagine how participating in “Fun Time” was contributing to social change. However, I now realized that giving children the opportunity to fulfill a role in their own community as creators and artists contributes to a more just society, in which all people, no matter their ability or stage of development are considered important and respected for their contributions. 

Right before the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, I had a dream that I was riding the bus through downtown Minneapolis. Out of the window, I saw children walking alone and in groups, having meetings over coffee, and singing together on street corners. Upon waking up, I thought to myself, what would it be like if kids were more included in society and not shuttered away in public education buildings? Only days later, the pandemic hit the United States and shut down schools. American society immediately had to transition into accommodating the existence of millions of children outside of the confines of educational infrastructure. Predictably, the displacement of childcare most impacted those with less privilege, specifically lower-class families, families living with disabilities, single-parent families, and families of color. 

The forced American experiment of removing children from schools during the pandemic revealed to me that access to childcare is not only important for healthy development, it is fundamental to the financial success of most families. It suggests that in a capitalist society, childcare should be a human right. Moreover, the hasty transition proved that the existence of children in American society is most frequently discussed through a monetary lens, as children’s education and childcare is predominantly examined in public discourse in relation to financial burden and potential strain on taxpayer dollars. However, in a more just world, children would be viewed as a demographic of people that have inherent worth, with or without their ability to contribute to the workforce or accrue capital. 

When I worked as a reading tutor in a public elementary school, I was encouraged to view children solely by their potential. Their potential was to measure up to standardized testing scores and to reach grade-level reading skills by the end of the year. In contrast, when I was working with the children at Southside After School Fun Time, I realized that we had created a safe space in which the burden of adult imposed, standardized expectations did not exist. The agenda was to have fun and to support kids in reaching their own goals. By setting this as the expectation, not one hour went by in which a child did not achieve or exceed the limits of their potential. 

Michael emphasized the importance of the kids having ownership of their ideas and that we were only there to help organize and implement them. I believe this ground rule is foundational to empowering children and creating an equitable environment. In developmental psychology, the term for providing the right amount of support at the right time is called “scaffolding.” In a way, I think scaffolding can also be applicable to community organizing, in which the voices of the people are not co-opted for political gain, but brought to the foreground and provided a platform from which change can be enacted. 

Photo credit Leah Nelson

The Funtime After School Puppet show debuted the last week of October, for its first and final performance. With the kids front and center and taking charge of their own production, it was almost as if my dream had come true. We had created a reality in which space was held for the contributions of children outside the confines of school. Around fifty people came out to witness the work of fabulously fearless community members who just happen to be around a decade old. 

At the University of Minnesota, I study Developmental Psychology and Communication, as two of my concentrations within a Bachelor of Individualized Studies degree program. Media and Movements constitutes my third concentration, off-campus through HECUA. With this degree, I hope to pursue a career in children’s media. It has been an awesome experience being an intern at Open Eye Theater. From the very beginning of the semester, my supervisors were eager to integrate my interests and mediate a project in which I could work with kids to create art/media in my community.

 

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