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Students, Leaders, Changemakers

Center Theatre Group Student Ambassadors Turn Big Arts Dreams into Reality

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L-R: Student Ambassadors Bethlehem Seifu and Yaya Gomez.

What can young people accomplish if they are given the tools to build leadership skills? What happens if they are given these tools—and then empowered to take charge?

This is the experiment conducted each year in the Center Theatre Group Student Ambassador Program. Over the course of seven months, participating L.A. County high school students take part in workshops, exercises, and projects designed to transform them from passionate students into arts leaders, team players, and advocates.

Our goal is for every student who participates to come away with more confidence in themselves as leaders and the knowledge that they can do anything, said Program Director for Next Generation Initivatives Camille Schenkkan.

This year, 14 Student Ambassadors served on two teams: Arts Advocacy: Making an Impact and Marketing & Social Media: Peer Engagement. They collaborated to organize and promote the Center Theatre Group Youth Summit. The students chose to title this year's Summit Reimagine Your American Dream, inspired by our production of Soft Power at the Ahmanson.

The Arts Advocacy team planned three workshops called What's Our Story, What's Our Future, and Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation for the event, which included a talk with playwright David Henry Hwang. Through writing and physical theatre-based sessions, participants practiced their storytelling while discussing cultural issues and envisioning a future America.

The Marketing & Social Media group produced digital communication resources and outreach strategies to engage students with ideas about art and democracy. Ambassados Sophia Reyes, Julia Nieto, Daniel Najera, and Giselle De Paz arranged social media takeovers where they asked their peers and teachers questions like, What emoji would you use to represent democracy?

The Youth Summit is a great opportunity to empower students to use theatre as a way to discuss themes of culture, identity, and social responsibility, said Director of Education and Engagement Tyrone Davis.

Additionally, Student Ambassadors put their newly learned skills to use in the community. Many of them acted as student concierges at the August Wilson Monologue Competition Regional Finals. And at the April L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting, guided by mentors from the arts advocacy organization Arts for LA, Ambassadors Yaya Gomez and Bethlehem Seifu spoke in recommendation of the Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in the Arts Learning—a plan to ensure that all California students have equal access to high-quality arts education.

The Ambassadors shared deeply personal stories about how they found community within the arts and how the Declaration would support students from different backgrounds. I felt I had no way of opening up, sharing my interests and talents with others, until I found an empty book in the computer lab one day, recalled Seifu about her journey to becoming a creative writer.

Gomez talked about how theatre has opened new doors—but only since discovering theatre class as a high school senior: Can you imagine all the amazing things I could have done three years earlier if I was given these resources [sooner]?

The Board voted to endorse the adoption of the Declaration by school boards throughout L.A. County after hearing the students' speeches. We're sure it's just the first victory of many for Gomez, Seifu, and their fellow Ambassadors as they become the next generation of arts leaders and change makers.

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