Over the past ten years, just shy of 10,000 New Americans have resettled in Onondaga County. Often not native English speakers, these individuals commonly experience discrimination and other hardships due to a language gap. A new program recently brought to Syracuse by the Adult Education Roundtable (AER)* is working to ease this burden through a fun introduction to English-as-a-New-Language (ENL) and the arts.
Cultural activities, like theater, are frequently out of reach for adult education students due to high costs and understanding difficulties. It’s even more uncommon for these students to have an opportunity to showcase their own academic and arts achievement.
Symphony Space, a multi-disciplinary performing arts organization in New York City (NYC), set out to change that by creating All Write!, a program that exposes adult students to educational opportunities through literacy, theater and creative forms of writing. What sets the program apart from others is how All Write! students are provided with the opportunity to create and witness their own writing performed on stage.
The program provides a six-hour professional workshop for its adult literacy teachers to ensure they are up-to-speed on creating lessons for students learning ENL. Students collaborate together to write literary works in the forms of poems, short stories and musical numbers. They create lyrics, choreography plans, costume design and any other necessary details. Then, All Write! brings NYC artists to perform the students’ works for their peers and other community members during live performances.
“Letting the students know that their perspective is important and is worthy of being listened to and told is so valuable”, said Rozlynn Cespedes-Johnson an adult education teacher at Syracuse City School District’s Refugee Assistance Program. “These communities of New Americans often feel that they are pushed to the sidelines because of their language gap so this program is very impactful.”
AER received a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation to support an expansion of the All Write! program into Syracuse City schools.
“This program has given our students a sense of equality here,” said Cespedes-Johnson. “Many of them only know the parts of Syracuse that they have to. All Write! helps expose them to much more of the community that they can enjoy.”
On April 10, 2019 students and teachers from the All Write! classrooms and Syracuse community members piled into Redhouse to watch these stories come to life. The performances ranged from recounting favorite foods to overcoming hardships and racism in America. Every story shined a light on a different part of the life of a New American living in Syracuse, a valuable insight for every member of this community.
*The Adult Education Roundtable is a collaborative group of local adult literacy and education providers and supporters. It is an initiative of the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County.