Introducing SPT In A High School, L.A.
November 26, 2018
Using the “Stuck”-Exercise to support students where things aren’t moving forward
Diego Rivera Learning Complex, South Los Angeles, CA.
The students at this High School come from various social backgrounds. Mostly, however, from low income families. In their daily lives they face many difficulties, often leading to anxiety and depression. As the kids go through so much, it can be extremely challenging for them to focus on school subjects. Cynthia Gonzales, the principal of the school says: ”We have seen it all: from drug abuse, to abuse in their homes, criminality, gang issues..” she says. “You just deal with of all of it.” Teachers are in a stretch between on one hand finding ways to create a safe personal space for the students - and at the same time do the class instruction itself. “The reality of the community we are working in, is that we constantly have to address this trauma.” Often the teachers are under-resourced for such a demanding job.
To work with students, teachers and principals, a team, consisting of Arawana Hayashi, Ricardo Gonçalves and Adam Yukelson, went to the school to introduce Social Presencing Theater.
In the program they used the “stuck”-exercises.
Cynthia didn’t knew SPT before. “At first I was a little hesitant, when I heard what they had planned to do! Will our kids do that? But I was really surprised how they took it on and were willing to do the different moves!” Each student chose a situation in his*her life, in which they felt stuck and formed a shape which embodied it. They worked in groups, where others could support this shape, adding more elements to it. “SPT works with the assumption that no one is stuck by themselves. We are part of social systems that contribute to the situation.”
Embodying a “stuck” allows the student to experience the situation in a more integrated way - not only thinking about it, but actually physically feeling it, seeing it. In everyday situations however, there is seldomly room for this kind of access to what is actually going on the inside.
Judging ones own feelings about a situation, turning away from them or simply ignoring them, can use a lot of energy and cause even more stress. To be given time and space to get in touch with the inner sensations and to show them to others, being seen with it, can have a great healing impact.
At the next step, the group moved together, helping the “stuckee” to get out of the first posture into a more freeing one. This was done by using the implicit, tacit knowledge of the body. The students were encouraged not to mentally plan a solution, but actually physically sense what is emerging from this posture. Where does the movement naturally want to go? (it might move in an unexpected way!) These physical informations could give them inspirations of possible changes in their context. Experiencing how it feels, when the arms are opening, could lead to embracing one’s situation more, releasing the hands could give one an idea of a possibility to let go, etc. In the movement there is no right or wrong. Instead of somebody telling them what to do, they found their own way how to deal with the situation. So they gain confidence and trust in their own resources.
The students took polaroid pictures of the two different poses (sculptures), to see the changes from one to the other from an outside perspective. “From the pictures it was visible how unique each of the sculptures were. They had brought in their personal situations and approached it in their individual ways.” Afterwards there was time to talk about the process and share their experiences. “Kids who I have never seen speaking, were sharing openly what they had felt in the exercises.” It became visible how much the sharing developed a ground for trust and safety among the students. The students took polaroid pictures of the two different poses (sculptures), which gave them the opportunity to see the changes from one to the other from an outside perspective. They then gave a title to their “stucks” and each wrote a statement: what would that sculpture say, if it could speak?
“From the pictures it was visible how unique each of the sculptures were. They had brought in their personal situations and approached it in their individual ways.” Cynthia reflects back. “I would turn each photo to see what they wrote on the back. I was so moved by how much they are going through. And somehow sad that on top of all that, we are still adding more pressure with grades and academic performance.” She wondered whether embodied activities like those could help the school become aware of students’ needs and voices even before larger conflicts or challenges erupt.
Afterwards there was time to talk about the process and share their experiences. “Kids who I have never seen speaking, were sharing openly what they had felt in the exercises.” said a teacher. It became visible how much the sharing developed a ground for trust and safety among the students.
Cynthia says that afterwards the students seemed like there was a weight lifted off of them. Another teacher confirms: “The transformation from beginning to the end was very obvious for all of us. In my classroom there are these kids who are so introverted and clearly struggling. It was the first time I actually witnessed a breakthrough.” The students wanted to build on the the experience together and asked for a follow up on that meeting.
As the principal, Cynthia is certain, that the school has to integrate this kind of social emotional learning in order to help students graduate. “Social Presencing Theater gives the schools extra tools to help the kids ground themselves and deal with the emotions that they have.”