Transforming at-risk students’ school experience through puppeteering

A unique partnership was struck in 2007 between the CMHA Grey Bruce Friends and Neighbours (FAN) Club program and students from an alternative school. The students were trained as puppeteers and put on shows for children aged 4 to 11 that encouraged them to talk about issues such as self-esteem, bullying, and separation and divorce. The students earned their 40 hours of community involvement and a drama credit, and the CMHA benefited from having creative, dramatic, young volunteers.

In 2009, the students wanted to take their involvement one step further by creating a similar program for students in Grades 7 and 8 about substance use prevention. Drawing on their own experiences and the strategies they wished they had known when they were younger, the students created a multimedia presentation called “Break Free.” The students created a new puppet show and a PowerPoint presentation that featured facts, pictures, websites, music, and contact information for youth-friendly resources and support services. The students and CMHA also partnered with the local radio station popular with youth in Grey County to create a “PSA” that ran during the presentations; this was very well received by the audience.

The students were involved in every step of the project from the writing of the scripts, creating the supporting PowerPoint presentation, and performing the puppet scripts. In addition, the students created a flyer, made all of the phone calls to the local schools to book the presentations, and planned and held an “Open House” to have local stakeholders including school board trustees, local press, and funders watch the presentation.

The Break Free project was transformative for the students. The students came to be seen by their community and themselves as leaders and agents of change. They received positive comments from their audience during “meet and greets” held after the presentations, and were featured in the local paper. The students learned that they ARE role models and younger students ARE watching what they are or are not doing. Not only did most of the students go on to complete high school, but many went on to post-secondary education in a drama and/or social services field.

Learn more about the FAN Club.