In keeping with its founding principles of access to the arts, the Yocum Institute has worked to adapt and grow to meet the needs of the greater community. This growth has included programs and opportunities that utilize the arts for both art and non-art outcomes in and beyond Wyomissing. As part of this effort, in 2008 the Yocum Institute became a national site for the Children’s Theater Co.’s critical literacy Neighborhood Bridges© program, as part of a dissemination project of the US Dept. of Education.
Surpassing a lengthy waiting list of schools and organizations across the nation, the Yocum Institute trained and became recognized as a satellite site to bring Bridges© to Berks County schools. Neighborhood Bridges© was originally funded by educational improvement tax credit funding and piloted in a 4th grade ELA classroom, with very encouraging results.
Since then, the program has been successfully facilitated in over 80 classrooms in the Reading School District where it has proved to be effective both academically and socially in conjunction with existing programs. In 2015, the United Way began to support Bridges© for third graders as part of the continuum of the Ready. Set. READ! initiative. Bridges augments and supplements the district’s curriculum as it pertains to reading and writing to build better fluency and comprehension.
Neighborhood Bridges, is a critical literacy program designed to
Develops students’ abilities to write, speak, and think clearly
Improves their achievement in reading and writing
Stimulates creative problem solving
Improves their ability to communicate with peers, family, and teachers
Bridges© is a weekly, school year-round program that runs from September – May. It meets 90 minutes – 2 hours in the classroom, for approximately 31 weeks of the year. The project culminates with all the participating student classrooms coming together to share a story onstage.
Weekly Class Activities
The Fantastic Binominal: The teaching artist and students spontaneously create a story through free association based on two chosen nouns and a preposition. Then students create their own stories and write them in their Bridges© notebook. Each week 2 to 3 students are asked to present their stories to their peers.
Storytelling: The teaching artist and classroom teacher each tell a contrasting tale. The tales are drawn from an anthology provided with the Bridges© curriculum. Over the course of the year, tales are presented from several genres, including fairy tales, pourquois tales, peace tales, and myths. The stories are followed by discussion designed to help students think critically about the content of the tales and the implications for their lives.
Skits and Theatre Games: Students work in small groups to create and perform brief skits based on the stories they have just heard. The teaching artist leads students in games designed to develop their skills in areas such as focus, diction, gestures, and collaboration.
Writing Games: Students participate in reflective writing exercises to solidify the day’s learning and incorporate the creative energy of their skits into their own stories.
Between each class, the co-teachers connect to enable the integration of the program into the everyday curriculum and how to infuse specific needs of the classroom into Neighborhood Bridges©.
Very quickly students find confidence in sharing their voice, reading aloud, and discussing stories in the classroom. Longitudinal skill building occurs over the course of the year and is measured through state level standardized testing and internal Bridges© assessments.
Additionally, Neighborhood Bridges© has aided in a positive culture shift in each classroom that allows students to learn good citizenship. This behavior not only affects the individual, but the ability for all students to grow academically in a positive learning environment.
"The program supports the curriculum […] and allows for creativity in thinking and writing which has often translated into more developed writers […] which is a tough thing to teach. An additional benefit is the effect it has on the classroom environment. Students learn how to build relationships and work through issues in a healthy way. They have the opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment. It is my hope that the more we are able to do this in classes, the more this type of self and community awareness will translate into the community surrounding our school."
– Rowbee C. Kasisky, Principal 10th & Penn Elementary
The Neighborhood Bridges Team
Renee has over 20 years experience working both nationally and internationally in theatre as an actor, director and educator. She earned a BFA in Acting from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and also completed an MA in Educational Theatre from NYU. She was awarded the Marcia L. Hubbard Endowed Faculty Chair for Excellence in Teaching from Lancaster Country Day School. Renee enjoys hiking with her husband and dog, Beauregarde.
Joel Gori is the Yocum Institute’s Artist-in-Residence and key theater instructor. Gori founded the Metamorphosis Performing Company in 1978 and, as its artistic director, created interactive theater for audiences of elementary school through college age students and for government agencies and the corporate world. Joel Gori is a movement-theater artist whose solo shows for young audiences physicalize literature and emphasize the creative process and imagination. He was a drama consultant coordinating arts in education for the Lewisburg School District and an arts specialist for gifted students for Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit.
Andrea Kennedy Hart is a Berks County director, playwright, performer, teaching artist, and dramaturg. She received her MFA in Playwriting from Boston University and her MA in Theatre from Villanova University. She teaches as part of the Neighborhood Bridges Program and she is a member of the Reading Theater Project’s creative team.
Kristina Dennis is a graduate from Cedar Crest College in 2007 with a B.A. in Dance. She was a member of the Cedar Crest College Dance Company, performing in the modern, ballet, tap, and jazz ensembles. She also performed in five student companies as well as having her own. Kristina was a founder and the president of the CCC chapter of Nu Delta Alpha (a dance education honors society). Her work at the Yocum Institute integrating the arts in their outreach and summer arts programs has made her an exciting fresh addition to the Bridges© team.
In addition to the team of individuals above, collaboration with the administration of the Reading School District, the principals of the schools that are hosting Bridges© and the classroom teachers is essential. Additionally, the ongoing support of the CTC Bridges’ team to help maintain the fidelity of the program is necessary. The generosity of the Miller Center for the Arts that allows the students to perform in a beautiful theater space for their final sharing of stories provides the backdrop for the cumulative experience.
For more information, contact Renee Morth, Community Engagement Director at 610-376-1576 ext. 204.
Mid Penn Bank
Henry Janssen Foundation