Austin High School students are boisterous, outspoken and acting out, but that’s a good thing. These talented and spirited young people are part of the Austin Musical Theater, an after school apprenticeship program sponsored by After School Matters.
The theater apprenticeship is just one of six programs sponsored at the high school. There are two dance clubs and three other programs, including learning to swim, beverage and manufacturing, and Sports 37.
During the month of September, all interested students were invited to apply for the programs. Pamela Washington, a program specialist, and the instructors held a two-day recruitment fair in the school’s lunchroom. Students from all three high schools – Austin Poly Tech, VOISE, and Business and Entrepreneur Academies – were invited to apply for the paid apprenticeships.
The recruitment fair attracted more than 100 students who were instructed to go online and apply for the program of their choice. In addition, the students had to return required documents such as proof of social security numbers and parental consent forms. The students also had to successfully complete a personal interview in order to land one of the coveted positions. Candidates also had to audition and demonstrate their singing, dancing, speaking and acting talents.
Daren Hull, one of the youngest in the group, sang a few verses from his favorite gospel song and performed a small improvisational skit. When asked why he wanted to be in the program, Daren said, “Because I like to act, sing and dance, and this is a chance to do all three.”
The group is evenly split between males and females. Although most are students in the Business and Entrepreneur Academy, the other two schools are well represented.
The students are paid a small stipend for participating. In addition, they are instructed and trained for future employment in their program’s discipline. A few of the students stated they might be interested in show business. Marquez Haggard and Anthony Williams, who are good friends that sing together in their church choir, agreed it might not lead to future employment, but it’s a fun thing to do right now.
After School Matters, formerly known as Gallery 37, has brought an impressive group of instructors to the Austin campus. The well-educated and highly trained professionals collectively bring to the program more than 50 years of experience of working with teenagers.
“We want to make the Austin High School campus a model program,” said Washington. “We want other regions to take notice of what we are doing, and try to follow.”
After briefly observing the students in action, Washington, who is excited about After School Maters being able to offer a theater arts program this year said, “I’m looking forward to seeing the productions and the spring showcase.”
Shariff Walker, the director of Region 3, said After School Matters has even greater plans for the Austin area, including bringing an African-Caribbean Dance program to Michelle Clark High School in November and producing a dance documentary.
“We are responding to the Austin community’s desire and request to see more cultural and performing arts programs geared towards attracting and entertaining the Austin community,” Walker said.
During the program, which began Oct. 6 and will run until Dec. 9, the students will work on theatrical, spoken word, singing and dancing productions. A community holiday show, featuring a tribute to Michael Jackson, is planned for December.
The teens are not just program participants, they also assist in choosing the course content and deciding how the program will operate. The programs are designed to provide a safe, after school environment for the students; however, one of its primary goals is to provide a venue through which youth can develop and use leadership skills in addition to expressing talents.