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NewArts Founders Hoping To Transform ARC Into National Curriculum



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Each year since the locally-based NewArts nonprofit has provided its unique ARC training as a component to cast and crew members involved with annual summer musical projects, program founders have come closer and closer to transforming the training designed to instill grit, resilience, and posttraumatic growth into a curriculum that can be used in non-theatrical and educational settings.

According to organization founder Dr Michael Baroody and board member Raiza Arnone, 2019 marks the closest that NewArts has come to bringing this character development program into broader focus. The pair recently sat down with summer musical producer/director Michael Unger to talk about the latest developments happening with ARC.

The training helps NewArts participants internalize and operationalize things that are happening to them in the theater environment — and then translate those skills to their everyday lives outside of theater.

ARC sessions are interwoven within the summer’s rehearsal schedule for the musical Matilda, and provide participants with this custom-built character development curriculum that was designed by volunteers from the Yale School of Management and the University of Pennsylvania Masters of Applied Positive Psychology department.

Mr Unger has described ARC training as providing “a sense of ensemble, trust, and friendship — everything you need for good theater and life as well.”

The NewArts mastery experience, in combination with its flagship ARC curriculum, guides students through the pathways of self-efficacy, self-regulation, and self-awareness to improve students’ overall well-being, Dr Baroody explained.

Mr Unger told The Newtown Bee in a recent interview that for 2019, the ARC program has brought in students who have been part of the NewArts program since it was launched in the summer of 2013 following the Sandy Hook tragedy.

“We’ve taken some of these students who have been with us from day one and turned them into ARC leaders,” Mr Unger said. “And we’re already seeing some absolutely incredible collaboration.”

Ms Arnone said about ten college students or college grads have come back. “Some are involved with the show, and others just came back to help teach our younger ones about the ARC program and are playing a very large leadership role throughout the rehearsal process.”

That is no small task, as this year’s split cast numbers more than 80, and at its height, there are dozens of other technical support individuals engaged as well.

“These older students and graduates are making sure all of our kids are connecting the dots between what they are doing as cast or crew members in our musical, Matilda, and what they are learning in the ARC program,” she said. “And it’s so exciting to stand back and watch them step up and take on that responsibility.”

Mr Unger said while the older company members are not involved in directing the youths in theatrical blocking or choreography, they are on hand during rehearsals.

“If something happens in rehearsal, and it can serve as an example of an ARC concept, they may take the lead in relating that concept to the situation that presents,” he said.

Ms Arnone said that this summer marks the first time there has been two fully dedicated employees for ARC.

“Maddie Oldham, who spent years in the program on stage, is back for the second year in a row giving back to this organization,” Ms Arnone said. “This year, she was awarded a grant by the Connecticut Office of the Arts Department of Economic & Community Development to work as our ARC Lead Intern.

“And Thomas Valenti, who is brand new to the program, said he gravitated toward the 12.14 Foundation as his first choice in the same grant program and received support to work with us,” she added. Both these students embrace our mission; they are creative, hardworking, and have brought a new level of energy to the program. We are thrilled, and so are the kids.”

Building Involvement

Dr Baroody said this year, NewArts board members like Ms Arnone are more involved than ever — not only so they can be better equipped to deal with fiscal and operational concerns, but to provide them a full understanding so they are able to communicate the aspects and benefits of the ARC component.

“We want to teach these kids about their strengths and how to build their confidence levels and regulate their emotions,” Dr Baroody said. “I suppose we could sit around a table all day and talk about the ARC concepts, but I think once they get up and leave, they will also leave some of the important aspects of those ARC concepts behind, and they won’t be able to as easily implement what they’ve learned.”

Dr Baroody said with the organization’s relationship with Mr Unger and his familiarity and uncompromising support of the ARC program and its principles, the director is able to mirror and integrate those ARC concepts of grit and resilience organically.

“That’s what his directing process actually does,” Dr Baroody said. “So by combining what our kids are experiencing in rehearsal for the musical and having an intellectual grasp of what’s happening to them, they’re able to implement and transform what they are learning into other areas of their life when they leave the NewArts environment.”

Dr Baroody said the program has come far enough that he is regularly witnessing NewArts participants merging that mental understanding with their experience, “where they actually feel what’s happening, they can mentally understand what’s going on, and they can stop and realize they have the tools to be able and replicate the right behavior and process at home and in school and in every other area of their life. That merging this year is the best it’s ever been.”

Mr Unger added that he, too, is witnessing incredible confidence growth.

“It’s inspiring to see the kids who have come back from previous years taking newbies under their wing,” Mr Unger said, adding that even younger returning NewArts participants are reaching out to help support and guide older peers who may be brand new to the organization.

Mr Unger said he had never been part of a character development program before being introduced to ARC by Dr Baroody.

“What’s interesting is the initial team’s wheelhouse was more corporate team building and development,” Mr Unger said. “And the first time I watched their workshops, I remarked how similar the results they were trying to get from corporate executives were to the exercises we do with actors — it was kind of shocking, really. So as the ARC program becomes more specific and replicable, we can integrate those concepts into a program we can take to other places and environments.”

Tweaking The Program

The NewArts organizers are constantly creating different ways to tweak the ARC curriculum so it remains interesting and valuable to youths who keep coming back year after year.

“The concepts are always going to be the same, so we’ll introduce it and then bring it to life through an activity,” Dr Baroody said. “And as each year passes, we have more and more different activities and ways to teach and reinforce those ARC concepts, bring them to life, and promote different ways to discuss them afterwards. Then they can also practice those concepts in rehearsal process, so they become more comfortable working on them all year.”

Now the ARC program is New York State curriculum compliant, Ms Arnone said, so we’re making it more standard so more volunteers can deliver it elsewhere.

Dr Baroody said the ultimate success of taking ARC outside the NewArt sphere will be based on how it can promote organic culture change among the people and in the institutions where ARC lands.

“It’s not just simply talking about what confidence is; it’s being surrounded by confident people who model what newcomers to the program aspire to be,” he said. “When you are surrounded by great people who have these ARC characteristics, there’s no other way than to emulate and become that way, whether they intend to or not.

Ms Arnone said especially this year with the integration of new ARC leaders, the college-age participants are walking and talking the very concepts they may have first learned back in 2014 or 2016.

“It’s in there, and you can see it,” she said. “Those seeds were planted, and now it’s really blossoming. They were really absorbing it and applying it to their lives; you see the younger ones looking up to them. We’ve already got some of our high school students asking how they can become ARC leaders next year, so it’s bringing longevity and sustainability to the program and permitting us to see the fruits of all our labor over the years.”

To learn more about NewArts and its ARC curriculum, to obtain tickets, or to volunteer for or support this summer’s production of Matilda, visit newarts.org.

NewArts board member Raiza Arnone, on stage, asks Associate Choreographer Katie Taintor, far left, about stretching outside her comfort zone in order to reach greater professional success during a 2019 training session as ARC Intern Thomas Valenti assists with the projector. — photos courtesy NewArts
Dr Michael Baroody, founder of the 12.14 Foundation and since renamed NewArts, is working with collaborators to develop the nonprofit’s ARC character development and resilience training into a system that can be replicated in academic and other organizational environments to help youths and others who may have been exposed to trauma or who wish to build grit and self-confidence.
ARC program collaborator Dr Jane Hunter, standing right, discusses grit with the high schoolers, cast and crew of the NewArts summer musical, Matilda. In this session, cast and crew members are creating a goal and thinking about the hard work and steps they will need to endure (grit-out) in order to achieve the goal.
Eliza Foley, young ensemble member from the 2019 NewArts musical Matilda cast, draws about her top character strength, which is creativity, during an ARC training session.
Hayden Hughes, who plays Lavender in one of the two casts of NewArts summer musical, Matilda, works on building confidence during a recent ARC training by standing in the middle of the circle of her peers.
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