The Dewitt Creativity Group is a united effort on behalf of the creatively-minded students at DHS to ensure continued innovation and expression in all forms.

Using Improv to Create Social Change!

 Using Improvisational Theater for Social Change

For the past three years, the DeWitt High School Diversity Team (comprised of DHS teachers: Jeff Croley, Bonnie Rios, Jeremy Battaglia, Eder DeLaCruz, Katie Noyes, and Jason LaFay) have held a “Day of Empathy and Inclusion” to promote greater acceptance and understanding among staff and students. The DHS Diversity Team was formed in response to a bullying incident at DeWitt Junior High School that occurred in fall 2016. An administrative directive was issued to create diversity teams at each building throughout the district to address the unfortunate situation. In addition to receiving outside training on issues related to diversity and inclusion, the DHS team developed an original event to help bridge the gap between junior high and high school students that often precipitates bullying for a myriad of reasons such as age, race, gender, social class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. DeWitt Junior High School teachers and students travel to DeWitt High School Auditorium to work with their DHS counterparts to address social problems for an entire school day.

A key component of the “Day of Empathy and Inclusion” is the use of improvisational theater to build trust between junior high and high school students. Collaboration and trust building activities require students to metaphorically represent their feelings to break down barriers. Once this happens students are much more likely to freely and genuinely share their views on issues such as cyberbullying, psychological safety, strategies for creating (informal) peer support networks, celebrating diversity, positive risk taking, and creative problem solving in both small and large groups. Along with improvisational theater, other kinds of communication are incorporated into the day to provide variety and ways to thematically link activities. Some examples of these include: video clips, shares, interviews, music, theater performances, dance, and written reflections. Together these elements help to immerse students in an environment quite unlike anything they have experienced before in their scholastic careers.

Another vital important aspect of this event is an opportunity for staff at both the high school and junior high school to share with students their views regarding the previously mentioned issues. This creates and sustains a powerful dialogue between generations, enabling honest exchanges that help students to understand the common problems we all face as human beings. Moreover, students and staff work together to develop strategies to change the climate and culture of both schools. One way this is accomplished is through pairing students from the junior high school together with upperclassmen from DHS. A special kind of mentoring occurs whereby older students reinforce the learning of new norms before younger ones attend the high school. The development of an “act as if” (adaptive) mindset further empowers students to accept and adjust to new contexts. This is the true value of using improvisational theater for social change. As a result of such a mindset, students have assisted the DeWitt Community Diversity Team in planning and executing events, using similar approaches as the DHS Diversity Team. The continuing impact of the “Day of Empathy and Inclusion” is still being felt. I am proud to be a part of such a noble effort to make a school district and community more inclusive and empathetic.

For a video of the event, please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjqlgOA24nA&t=732s