Education: Extended Day


Education @ Hartford Stage

Hartford Stage Extended School Hours Program – Betances STEM Magnet School, Hartford

By Grace Clark, Education Enrollment and Marketing Coordinator

Deymien Rodriguez and other students participate in a Hartford Stage extended day theatre program at Ramon E. Betances STEM Magnet School in Hartford
Deymien Rodriguez and other students participate in a Hartford Stage extended day theatre program at Ramon E. Betances STEM Magnet School in Hartford

When ten-year-old Jordan Rodriguez first saw a table with information about Hartford Stage’s afterschool program at his school, he was immediately drawn to a mask of a tiger there. The fifth-grader at Ramon E. Betances STEM Magnet School in Hartford was intrigued by the artistic detail of the blue mask that depicted an animal he saw as fearless. Weeks later, Jordan sat with about a dozen other students after school to participate in an extended day theatre program – the first community collaboration between the school and Hartford Stage.

The theatre program, which began on March 14, will run daily through May 25, when students will perform a one-act comedic play, How the Elephant Got its Trunk – the story of an elephant whose extreme curiosity about the animals around him gets him into trouble. The cast also includes a handful of students from Burr Elementary School in Hartford. Some of the students have not had any experience on a theatrical stage. Most of the participants in the program have said the experience has already transformed them.

In the production, Jordan has been cast as the Tiger. “Scared” at first to participate in the program, Jordan said he increasingly feels brave. He has enjoyed most of the theatre games that have allowed the students to express themselves and liked that, as the Tiger. he gets to raise his voice. “It makes me feel like I’m not afraid to speak up,” said Jordan, who lives in New Britain. “It makes me feel more confident to speak up because there are people around me that don’t care that I don’t know some of the words [in the script].” Now weeks into the program, the once quiet fifth grader has been helping his peers with their scripts and giving them advice about how to portray their characters.

School Principal Tyrone Richardson said it is difficult to implement afterschool programs in a magnet school environment because many of the students don’t live in the area, and the school lacks the budget to pay for additional suburban transportation. Instead, the school tries to offer afterschool programs that students are excited about so that parents are willing to pick them up. Hartford Stage’s program is funded by a Hartford Extended School Hours Grant. Betances STEM, which primarily focuses on an engineering and technology curriculum, does not have regular arts education programs during the school day except for a music class.

Richardson, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts, Communications and Early Education, said the Hartford Stage program has helped to build academic success. “When you give [students an opportunity to] interact with the content, you build rigor. We can sit here and read a story, but when I interact with it, I learn the themes and the content more; it sticks with me,” said Richardson. “They don’t learn by lecturing to them all the time… When you have to take on that persona, that builds knowledge.” Richardson added that the school’s motto, “We’re not afraid to be smart,” is also aimed at training students to explore other concepts outside of technology, science and math.

“[Hartford Stage] thought why not promote that same curiosity and critical thinking through the arts, as well,” said Natalie Pertz, Resident Teaching Artist at Hartford Stage.

Curtis Porter, III, Program Assistant at Betances STEM, said the program has given students another vehicle to drive their energy and find their voices. Porter said he has seen one student who has struggled with behavior “channel his energy into something positive.” Other students who are often quieter in their learning environment, he said, have grown in their ability to express themselves more openly. Porter noted that two students in particular, Eric and Ethan, are now more vocal and interactive with their peers. He attributes the improvement to the theatre skills Pertz teaches. Students are encouraged to listen to each other and give positive feedback, whether they are practicing their scenes or participating in theatre games. Both Pertz and Porter have noticed how students who lack self-confidence off-stage reveal newfound confidence on-stage. The program has also encouraged students to find their own individuality.

Deymien Rodriguez and other students participate in a Hartford Stage extended day theatre program at Ramon E. Betances STEM Magnet School in Hartford
Deymien Rodriguez and other students participate in a Hartford Stage extended day theatre program at Ramon E. Betances STEM Magnet School in Hartford

“Being in middle school, it can sometimes be [perceived as] different to do something like theatre, especially for the boys. I think that it’s great that they enjoy the program and are doing something that’s not the norm amongst other friends,” said Porter. “For our black and brown kids, it’s exposing them to something that is not the norm in our community,” he added. “They can go home and say, ‘Hey Mom, I was involved in Hartford Stage. Can we go see a show there? Can I be involved in the summer program that they have?’ And, to be supported by their classmates in the program, [they] see its okay to be involved with something outside of athletics. That’s a big thing [because] everyone wants to play a sport.”

For Jordan’s big brother Deymien, who is also in the program, not following the “normal expectation among some of his peers” was a breakthrough, said Porter. Deymien, 13, has been singing since age six but has never done any acting. He said what he has liked most about the program is Pertz’s energy and the interaction with his peers. “[With] other people in the group, there is no, like, clashing – it’s just all peace,” the eighth grader said.

Deymien, who has admittedly “struggled with some big words and definitions” in his science courses, said the Hartford Stage program has helped him to become a better, more confident student. “I feel like I can do more than I thought I could,” said Deymien. “I would think I couldn’t memorize my lines and end of up memorizing them perfectly. It shows certain skills that I didn’t think I had. I can memorize more of the vocabs and the definitions so I don’t, like, fail.”

Deymien’s mother, Vanessa Ramos, said the theatre program is especially beneficial for Deymien, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, in building his social skills, which has sometimes been a challenge for him. “It’s been a good experience for him to learn how to socialize better and come out of his shell,” said Ramos. “That was the goal of getting him into the afterschool program.”

For more information about Hartford Stage’s afterschool programs, contact or visit the web page.