How to Make Something Cool Happen at Your School
The Power Up team are regular special guests (or interrupters of regular scheduled programming) at our local middle school. Throughout the year we barge in on assemblies in costume and character, organize flash mobs, and shake up students’ expectations to spread the message that it takes all of us to create schools where everyone can be themselves. We’re there at the request of the school principal and have a great relationship with the teachers. It’s fun for the kids to have “outsiders” in school who can have a different relationship with the kids. But, these events could be organized in-house by a school staff.
Typically, many events or new themes at our school are introduced with a skit. These skits are often funny, surprising, and still convey a simple, helpful point. These activities help us to develop good rapport with our local students while helping them to identify caring adults who are a bit unhinged.
How we do it:
Embrace the awkward. We assume that students will roll their eyes–they are genetically predisposed to do this. When we are silly, we give students the permission to be silly and be themselves. Kids need more examples of adults who don’t take themselves too seriously (we believe). Sam and Travis have dressed as Santa’s elves, rap battle participants, mountain climbers, wizened guru, mad scientist and test subjects, among other concoctions of creative mayhem. They have rapped, tap danced, and played songs all without much of an attempt to maintain dignity (lol!). Tap into your own interests and talents (or even semi-talents) to create characters and situations that will allow you to share your themes and lessons without being didactic or preachy.
Find the theme. We often start broad. For example, for our Mix It Up day event, we wanted students to see that each of their lives could be opened up to more possibilities if they interacted beyond their usual peer group. From there we began brainstorming–out of the box thinking is super helpful here. Don’t worry about budget or feasibility at first. Examining the idea of ‘mixing’ we got to thinking about chemistry, from there we went to mad scientist (because that’s how our minds work). Once we created a mad scientist character, it wasn’t much of a leap to create a few test subjects for the mad scientist to experiment with. We drafted up a loose skit (keeping the skit loose allows for more humor and magic). And then, we basically take a deep dive into our ‘satchel of confusion.’
Maintain a “satchel of confusion” (aka a costume box). Collect old Halloween costumes, props from various occupations, clothes from thrift stores, wigs–anything that might be helpful in bringing a skit to life. An item from the satchel of confusion may spur some creativity.
Keep the students’ on their toes. We sometimes surprise the students by barging into the building and interrupting the principal during a school wide assembly (this, of course, is pre-planned, but the students don’t know that), and the principal plays along. At Roosevelt Middle School the kids never know what Sam and Travis are going to do next! Once, to advertise a local teen night, we showed up with a big boom box during recess, Love Train by The O’Jays blasting, and started a conga line through the play yard.
Repeat your main point or takeaway idea many times through the skit. Repetition is not a bad thing–particularly if you make the repeated point or phrase ‘catchy’ in some way. During our rap we created a chorus that was our main point for the skit/song: “Just be yourself and let others be themselves.” This was repeated many times and we had the kids rap it with us in call-and-response. Ridiculous and effective.
Build on and reinforce the theme or point of your skit by following up with an activity or lesson that is still fun, but more serious. This could be breakout activities in small group, discussions in classes around a topical piece of media. You could talk about a Power Up, Speak Out! A Day in the Life Story. If you’ve already attended a training and have a log-in, please see our array of extension activities in the Teacher’s Portal.
Try something! What’s the worst that could happen? The kids could think you’re strange (*they probably think that already)!
By Travis Burdick
Special events Power Up, Speak Out! staff have facilitated at Roosevelt Middle SchoolMix It Up Day at Red Lodge Middle School Teaching Tolerance Mix It Up Suggestions MLK Day 2016 at Red Lodge Middle School