Posted Date: 06/29/2021
Legacy Regional Community Foundation and the USD 470 Early Literacy Initiative teamed up to pilot a new program called Nitty Gritty Theatre in Arkansas City public schools this summer. Nitty Gritty Theatre emerged from a county-wide partnership and is a unique approach to children's theatre that combines elements of storytelling and improv play to help strengthen social-emotional awareness and mental health in young children, while simultaneously developing early literacy skills.
Preschool and kindergarten children in the USD 470 MindCraft Summer Learning Program took part in Nitty Gritty Programming over the course of three weeks. Hannah Klaassen, an ACHS alum and recent graduate of Tabor College, was hired as the summer facilitator using a Kansas Health Foundation grant supporting early literacy efforts in USD 470.
“Early social-emotional skills promote positive mental health, interpersonal relationships, educational achievement, community involvement, higher employment rates, and better physical health later in life. Through theatre, storytelling and play, the three to six-year-olds in the Nitty Gritty Theatre program are developing these skills without even realizing it,” Klaassen said. “The students are having fun, and are given a safe space to tell their story and express difficult emotions (such as fear, sadness, and anger). All the while they are playing, learning coping mechanisms, and even enhancing their literacy skills by listening to a story, retelling it, and eventually acting it out as the characters. You are never too young (or too old) to start building strong social-emotional awareness.”
Legacy Foundation Director, Yazmin Wood, sees this work as crucial to making progress on daunting issues in Cowley County.
"Legacy Foundation first recognized the need for this work after identifying a common theme of depression and anxiety in scholarship application essays," stated Wood, "Our leadership began discussing ways to support proactive endeavors to address mental and emotional health for the young people of our community. Legacy Foundation was excited to receive a matching grant in 2019 from the V.J. Wilkins Foundation to hire Roger Moon as a consultant in researching and developing what is now Nitty Gritty Theatre/Itty Bitty Play. Holding pilot programs with community partners this summer is the first step toward a fully implemented effort."
Nitty Gritty Theatre was also implemented in Winfield through Roger and Allyson Moon’s Southwestern College Summer Theatre Festival. Roger Moon originally worked with Legacy Foundation to develop the Nitty Gritty Theatre idea.
The community partners are exploring avenues for expanding Nitty Gritty Theatre programming to more students during the 2021-2022 school year.