by Patrick Torres, Middle School and High School Program Director
I recently attended the Texas Juvenile Justice Summit, a week-long conference for people who work with court involved youth. It was an incredible experience to be among so many people who are working hard to help young people make more positive decisions and overcome the roadblocks they experience on their path to healthy relationships and bright futures.
I was the only person attending the conference from an arts organization – which was actually great! Everyone I connected with was very impressed with Theatre Action Project’s dedication to working with these youth and expressed their confidence in the New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble to affect change in the lives of these students. I sought out and soaked up every bit of knowledge from the Probation Officers, Casework Managers, Detention Guards and Social Workers who I had the pleasure of meeting. During the conference, one thing became abundantly clear:
TAP’s work to intervene in the lives of youthful offenders begins far before they get involved in the court system. As an entire team of staff, teaching artists, volunteers, etc., working to achieve our mission of activating the academic, social and emotional development of young people we are giving the all of our students the tools they need to live healthy and productive lives.
This realization hit me during an inspiring keynote address by Dr. Steve Parese. During the speech, he stated, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
In childhood education is essential to diverting youth from the system. One simple statement, he affirmed all of the work we do here: Every effort we make as a company is to equip students with the tools they need to succeed, so they have a variety of tools to access in the myriad of situations they will encounter in their lives. This starts the moment we step into any classroom to serve our youth no matter what their age. Another affirmation of TAP’s work came through one of the refrains of the conference: Early childhood education is essential to diverting youth from the system.
So, to truly impact the level of juvenile crime in Austin, we must continue to ensure our Elementary and Middle and High School Programs are functioning as a team. One of the most shocking tidbits of information I learned at the conference was that the state estimates the number of prison beds they will need by assessing how many 3rd grade students are unable to read.
So this is the work we do. From our Pre-K classrooms all the way through our New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble, we are committed to giving students tools to navigate this tricky world. We teach them there is no need to use a hammer when glue will do just as well. And we know that if we give them the best variety of tools possible, the community they build for us will be something to behold.