University of Saint Francis teacher education professor Dr. Martha Meyer and Allison Ballard, director of the Jesters program at USF, will present the workshop, “Theater Arts for Persons with Mild/Moderate Disabilities: Cooperative Learning between Creative Arts and Teacher Education with the ‘Jesters,’” June 23-26 at the joint Indiana and United States Society for Education Through Art Regional Conference in Indianapolis.
The pair will present on the implementation of a program like USF’s Jesters, founded in 1978 for children and young adults with special needs. The 35-year-old program showcases participants’ multi-media performing arts skills, including movement/dance, instrumental, vocal and percussion music and theatre/story telling on the public stage, teaching creative drama to those with mild to severe cognitive and physical disabilities. The 40 participants now range in age from young adults to senior citizens. USF’s teacher education students collaborate with the program to work with participants and learn various teaching skills through theater arts.
The workshop will demonstrate how the integration of USF’s two departments, creative arts and teacher education, culminates in an annual community theater arts experience featuring Jesters participants. Teacher education students observe and work with participants to understand and learn teaching skills.
Workshop participants will learn how to offer similar programs in their communities and gain an understanding of the global nature of theater, story lines and acting in terms of advocacy for those with disabilities. They will also see how the universality of movement, space and communication through words and music broadens opportunities for such individuals. Students preparing for careers teaching students with disabilities will also learn in a deeper dimension.
“My EDUC 140 students have learned so much from Allison and from the Jesters,” Dr. Meyer said of the inter-departmental collaboration at USF. “Since I am a special education person, I thought this was a Midwest regional conference and would be a low-key introduction of our Jesters to our region. After I read our acceptance letter, I quickly learned that this is really an International organization and this ‘regional conference’ is North America — USA, Canada and Mexico. We are ecstatic.” Ballard also expressed her excitement in presenting at the conference.
Held in collaboration with Indiana University’s Center for the Study of Global Change and the Art Education Association of Indiana, the regional conference will focus on how education through art helps in teaching global understanding and engagement. Meyer and Ballard’s proposal holds that youth with mild to moderate disabilities have few theater arts opportunities, and their learning and artistic expression needs remain generally unfulfilled in the community and in our culture. The Jesters program allows a medium for such expression and a vehicle for advocacy while providing a unique education tool for teacher training.