What if we created an education unit that teaches Dickens' own story of overcoming homelessness and poverty with his art? What if, to honour him, we teach it to children in shelters, who are homeless, who are in schools that have no or limited access to the arts? What if we call this unit “Your Stories Matter?” and what if they create their own projects across disciplines? Raps, poems, music photography. What if we feature them in our lobby during the show as part of the lobby festival?
What if this brings them hope? What if this creates jobs for our teaching artists? What if this supports our local schools, teachers and parents? And what if we give them free tickets to the shows, free copies of the Carol to keep (a real book)? And what if, just what if, we connect the children across the globe around this little book?
What if no child has to feel alone and hopeless again and what if, what if Dickens can teach us something still? Unify us still around the “lost child”.
All of us.
Why an education unit?
A note from show creator Laurie Strickland:
"I am going to tell you a story, because stories are the one way I know to communicate as an artist, the beauty of life. This story will be brief, it is true and it is all about Charles Dickens and the power of his work.
The little boy in this photo is Jeremy. I met him because of the Macy’s and Joseph Gehring grants I received in 2015 to take our education work forward to PS111 in Hell’s Kitchen.
It was a tough year for our funding and because of some arts programming cuts, the best I could do was go myself with a volunteer teacher to take the unit to them. We also had free copies of the Carol to leave them and because of my relationship with NYPL, we had arranged a special “Dickens Day” there to view the rare materials they have of Dickens works.
The children were studying storytelling so we tweaked our unit to support their teacher and we created a “Dickens Walk” through the holiday streets of New York City from Hell’s Kitchen to NYPL on 5th avenue. Hard working parents took the day off to help us shepherd 50 plus children across the city and we curated it to passages in the Carol. Dickens was homeless, a street kid, and during the teaching unit we had asked the children to think about the power of a story, how relevant it is to the times we are in, and to think about their own lives and stories. We taught them how Dickens’ biggest dream was to go to school to be a great writer but was too poor and instead went into child labour, writing poems on shoe cans and walking London’s streets, dreaming of being a great man.
And here we all are, reading and studying his works!
Jeremy was considered a problem child. He did not read. He could not focus.
By the last day, at NYPL, he came up to me and his mom and asked if he could get his first library card. And then he said, “I am a storyteller too”. And he asked me when we would all come back to class. I will never forget his eyes as long as I live. I handed him his hard-bound copy of Christmas Carol and as I left the library, my heart uplifted. I cried because I knew, no matter how hard that year was, we did it. We touched one child and he felt special.
And Dickens message of humanity rolls on.
I can give you fancy number and charts and graphs… but behind every number is a teacher, a parent and a child who need the message of ‘Everyone” now more than ever. Every penny we receive goes directly to a teacher, a child and an experience of what the arts alone can do in the very special way they only can.
To share stories around a camp fire that are a light in a dark time and connect us all.
We have taken our unit to children all over the world, in shelters and schools like this one. We have also connected them with each other around the story and would love to do so much more. We have heard from 34 countries who would like our education program and we would love to keep growing and touching the lives of more children.
So many times, people have asked me why I do this, is it worth it, why not just do the show and leave it be?
And my answer is “Jeremy” whose eyes lit up as he discovered his own story matters and felt he had found a friend and hope, in the works of Charles Dickens."
What we do:
We provide students with a way to tell their stories. Our education unit is entitled "Your Stories Matter" and has received sponsorship from Macy's and the Gehring Foundation. For the past six years we have taken the unit to schools with limited or no arts funding and shelters both in America and the UK, reaching hundreds of children and creating jobs for tens of teachers and educators. Through the unit, we use the Carol and Dickens' own example to inspire the children and help them realise that regardless of their past or circumstances, they matter, and there is nothing that they can't do.
We have connected children from different countries through our pen pal system, to help broaden their horizons and introduce them to new cultures and ways of living. All our children receive their own copy of the Carol to keep, and their multi-media projects created during the unit are displayed during our front of house festival before the shows. To date we have been contacted by 34 countries regarding bringing the education unit to their local communities, which is testament to the universal impact of the Carol and Dickens' example of hope and redemption. We aim is to bring the education unit, show and pre show lobby festival to each and Everyone of them.
We challenge students to write about the change that they would like to see in the world, as Charles Dickens did. We ask questions like:
- How would the world look if everyone valued the lives of their neighbours as much as the lives of their loved ones?
- How did you feel after learning that Scrooge could change his ways?
- What does it mean to be happy?
- What does it mean to be successful?
- What does it mean to be loved?
- How did Charles Dickens challenge his readers?
Our mission is simply to spread joy. We want to help students understand how their actions have an affect on all of those around them. We challenge students to honestly think about what it means to make the world a better place. How can one human make a difference?
In 2015, through our collaborations with the New York Public Library, we curated a special "Macy's Dickens Day Walk", where we took the children from PS111 in Hell's Kitchen across Manhatten to the NYPL on 5th avenue. Whilst there they were able to enjoy a private viewing of Dickens materials with the head librarian and to present their projects and receive their free books as well as tickets to the show.
Alongside PS111, we have also had the honour to work with children from the following organisations and schools:
- Sunset Park Elementary, Brooklyn (US)
- Gad's Head School, Kent (UK)
- Ealing children's shelter in partnership with Hestia (UK)
- International Refugee Centre, New York (US)