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Chicago Shakespeare Theater / New Victory Theater

White House Honors After-School Programs

Michelle Obama in black tank top and red, blue dress with checked pattern and flowers, Jennifer MacCaskey in white with black cross patterend fblouse and black sweater and pants and cross necklace, Halperin in grey dress with black sleeves holding award. American flag behind first lady, gold curtain across the back to the right, drum set to the left.
From left, First Lady Michelle Obama with Jennifer Guadalupe Gonzalez, participant in the CPS Shakespeare! program, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater Director of Education Marilyn Halperin at a White House ceremony honoring arts and humanities programs for youths. Photo by Steven E. Purcell, Chicago Shakespere Theater.

Michelle Obama in black tank top and red, blue dress with checked pattern and flowers, Sendie Brunard in black dress and blue sweater,, Pound in dark gray suit holding award. American flag behind first lady, gold curtain across the back to the right, drum set to the left.
From left, First Lady Michelle Obama with Sendie Brunard, a second-year New Victory usher, and Anthony D. Pound, New Victory Usher Corps manager. The ceremony presenting the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award was held in the White House East Room and included musical performances,

Chicago Shakespeare Theater's arts-in-education partnership with Chicago Public Schools called CPS Shakespeare! and New York City's New Victory Usher Corps were honored with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation's highest honor for after-school arts and humanities programs, presented by First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House ceremony on Monday.

“You teach kids more than just skills in the arts and humanities—you light a fire in them; you help them grow emotionally and socially,” Obama said at the award ceremony. “And as all of you know, that has an impact on our kids not just their success in the arts and in the humanities but on their success in school and in life.”

The signature program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award recognizes the country’s best creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s CPS Shakespeare! and New Victory Theater's Usher Corps were two of only 12 programs honored from across the country this year from a wide range of urban and rural settings.

Developed by Marilyn Halperin and stage and film director Kirsten Kelly, CPS Shakespeare! empowers an intergenerational ensemble of CPS students and teachers—guided and supported by a full team of CST theater professionals—to master Shakespeare’s text and create a fully produced play on Chicago Shakespeare’s stage. The theater launched the initiative in 2006 as a way to reach students with untapped potential from under-resourced schools who were at risk of falling through the cracks socially or academically, sometimes facing poverty, gang-related violence, or homelessness. As a partner in literacy with CPS for more than two decades, Chicago Shakespeare serves more than 40,000 students annually, promoting reading proficiency, effective communication, and cultural awareness.

Representing CST, Executive Director Criss Henderson, Director of Education Marilyn J. Halperin, and Ray and Judy MacCaskey education chair, attended the ceremony along with current CPS Shakespeare! participant and Prosser Career Academy junior, Jennifer Guadalupe Gonzalez, selected as the student representative to address the gathered elected, civic, and cultural leaders at the East Room ceremony. The 16-year-old Jennifer spoke to the transformative impact of her two years in the program on her development both academically and personally.

“CPS Shakespeare! has honestly transformed me," she said at the ceremony. "It has made me see who the real me is—and that’s someone who is goofy and full of energy. In our ensemble, we are all such different people, but yet there is no worry about other people judging you. We come from every part of the city, and we’re all from different cultures. This program has made me notice every person out in the world. We are all human beings with feelings."

The New Victory Usher Corps provides paid employment, job training, academic support, mentorship, and an introduction to the performing arts for 50 young New Yorkers each year. Created to address the urgent need for youth employment in New York City, the rigorous three-year program offers an opportunity for teens to invest in their future while earning a paycheck. At every performance, these young people assist audience members, ensure public safety and work as teaching assistants in arts-based workshops for families. Between shows, New Victory Ushers interact with professional artists from all over the world, participate in job and life skills workshops such as time management, resume writing, and personal finance, and discover how a theater runs—all while experiencing new cultures and art forms.

Committed to the transformational power of the arts, The New Victory Theater launched the New Victory Usher Corps the day the theater opened nearly 20 years ago; since then, the program has provided over 400,000 hours of paid employment to over 500 teens from across the city. Some New Victory Ushers are recruited from social service agencies, some are recent immigrants, and others are from families who have called the City home for generations. For most participants, however, The New Victory marks their first introduction to the world of the performing arts.

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities spearheads the award in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In addition to the recognition at the White House, all awardees receive $10,000 to further support programming.

Novwember 11, 2014

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