TUCSON, Ariz. — Middle school can be tough. That's why Literacy Connects has a free program to help kids get creative and feel right at home. "We let them write whatever their mind can think about, " said Alyssa Ruiz, the Youth Center Site Coordinator at Literacy Connects.
From love stories to the pandemic to dancing possums.
"It's kind of their way to cope with adapting to all the fast changes that have recently occurred," Ruiz said.
Ruiz takes part in the free after school program just for middle schoolers that helps teach them how to bring their stories to life.
"We hope to give them these skills that will definitely help them with their future because it can definitely help in the workplace. As we know, collaboration is a big part of that," Ruiz said.
When kids we're coming inside the youth center, there's an area called the safe space. It's a place where students can come tell their stories and feel right at home. Now, for almost the past year they’ve done so online. "Oh virtual has been a learning experience. We've had to learn how to gain attention online. It's a lot easier to be distracted," Ruiz said.
She says the program is overcoming these challenges. First, kids talk about their ideas. Then, they take those ideas and write scripts. After that comes the acting. "We start playing fun acting games and getting comfortable with each other," Ruiz said.
Then it's time for rehearsals, filming and editing to push out a show.
That's when Ruiz says you can feel their excitement.
"We live vicariously through them and we're able to feel those feeling as well." As these middle schoolers work to put on a show, there's much more going on behind the scenes.
"If they're feeling these strange feelings that we do feel at this age, they can definitely talk to a teaching artist," Ruiz said. That's the best part of the after school program, making sure kids feel seen and heard.
"We want to make sure they're not out there you know getting into trouble. So, if there's a space here where they can hang out and also learn some good skills, i think it could do well for their future," Ruiz said.
Registration opens up for the after school program and their summer camp option today. It's all free. Literacy Connects also hopes to have a hybrid option for their summer camp.