Everyone wants a place to belong. This year marks the 10th anniversary of a program at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton, which has engaged hundreds of students facing extra challenges by providing them the opportunity to experience hands-on arts workshops, world-class performances and life-changing moments.
The Frank C. Shattuck P.A.T.H.S., an acronym that stands for Performing Arts Touch the Hearts of Students, Program is an education initiative that uses the performing arts as a complement to the classroom.
“To serve as a community gathering place is the cornerstone of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s mission. One of the ways this is accomplished is by providing programming that meets the needs of all community members,” says Cassie Schroeder, education coordinator for the Fox Cities P.A.C. “Strong research shows that the arts have a powerful way of allowing students to express their feelings, find meaning and develop a sense of purpose. The Center believes that if students are provided opportunities through the arts, they will be allowed to grow in a unique way which will assist in the development of becoming passionate, connected members of the community.”
This year’s project, entitled “Reach Out,” fostered students’ development of values and creativity skills, encouraged them to come together and bond as a community, and form connections between art and the real world, Schroeder explains. The program centers each year on a new project that is connected to a Broadway performance and life lessons within that particular show.
“We also wanted to provide students with the basic understanding of hip-hop dance, how to express feelings through the written, rhythmic text of poetry, and how to share their life experiences in a safe and nurturing environment,” Schroeder adds of “Reach Out.”
This year, the program lasted about three months. Students were able to attend a performance of “Motown The Musical” and will close out this year’s program tonight with a P.A.T.H.S. Celebration Event, a private performance by participating students who will showcase their dance routines and spoken word poems.
“This musical was selected because it offers insight into how one person can impact the lives of many. Using themes in the show and from the professional world, each workshop taught the basics of hip hop dance and spoken word through an exploration of Time magazine’s six keys to success. The keys included: energy and stamina, focus, sensitivity to others, flexibility, tolerating conflict and getting along well with others. These life skills are all exemplified through the performance and Gordy’s life which will allow students to make connection from the arts to life experiences,” Schroeder says.
Students from three local youth programs — Boys and Girls Club, YouthGo and Appleton Central — were asked to submit applications and were accepted based on their submissions.
Angel Garcia, a student at Horace Mann Middle School in Neenah, described P.A.T.H.S. As: “Fantastic and really interesting to learn so much about dancing and ‘Motown!’”
Steve Schwandt, sr. para actuary for Thrivent Financial, was one of 10 mentors that were brought on this year to work with the students and drive home the idea that learning is a lifelong process, Schroeder notes. Mentors participated fully in learning the hip hop dance routines and creating spoken word poetry.
“I really enjoy working with young people and rooting them on,” explains Schwandt of why he became involved. “I’m always encouraged by their growth in character and confidence. I knew this program would be a great platform for both, and the development that I observed in our short time together did not disappoint.”
While the program was a learning experience for the students, Schwandt also learned to push himself.
“Putting yourself out there and stretching your comfort zone is a challenge we all struggle with, regardless of age. But when we dare to go beyond where and what we know, we tap into parts of ourselves we didn’t even know existed. The result? We build new skills, add new interests and realize we are far more capable than we ever imagined!” he says, adding it’s important for individuals to realize their potential to do great things both now and in the future.
“I think this program really helped the kids to become more self-aware of just how talented they are and that with a little thought, a little time, and a little effort they can do things they may have never thought they could,” Schwandt shares.
Bailee Kasbaum of Neenah High School described the P.A.T.H.S. Program as “very uplifting” and enjoyed the dancing. Jocelyn Perez also of Neenah High School was equally enthusiastic.
“Glad to have this opportunity, if I could do it again, I would!” the 16-year-old says.
According to Schroeder, “The P.A.T.H.S. program is always evolving. Week to week we see the students change dramatically as they become more confident and comfortable expressing themselves through the arts.”
Whatever the future of the program holds, the core attributes of improving students’ self esteem and self worth will remain, notes Schroeder of the responsibility.
“This was a really fun and uplifting experience. It was so cool to see the students grow out of their insecurities, increase self-confidence, and project themselves, their ideas, and their talents more confidently. I couldn’t be more encouraged, the future is bright!” Schwandt adds.