Grant to Help UH Bring Arts Programs to Houston Elementary Schools

Elementary school students in Houston's Fifth Ward will discover the power of the performing arts thanks to the creative minds at the University of Houston's School of Theatre & Dance (SOTD).

With the assistance of a $260,000 planning grant from the Houston Endowment, SOTD will work with Houston Independent School District (HISD) to introduce theater curriculum to students at elementary schools in the city's Fifth Ward.

This two-year grant will support a summer camp that will allow students to explore acting, puppetry, storytelling and dance under the guidance of UH teaching artists, which include theater faculty and graduate students. It also will provide resources necessary for UH artists to collaborate with educators at E.O. Smith and Atherton elementary schools to develop performing arts programs at the participating elementary schools.

"This grant is the largest that the School of Theatre & Dance has ever received," said Steven Wallace, director of UH's SOTD. "In addition, it supports the university's commitment to community partnerships and funds a pilot program that will be the seed for an ongoing arts education relationship between UH, HISD and the Fifth Ward."

This summer's camp will run June 4 - 26 at E.O. Smith Elementary School. It is aimed at third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders from E.O. Smith, Atherton, Crawford and Nat Q. Henderson elementary schools. All activities will be conducted on the campus of E.O. Smith Elementary School. During this three-week program, UH teaching artists will guide students through a host of creative projects. Drawing inspiration from the works of popular children's author and poet Shel Silverstein, students will develop plays, dances and other performance-based works. At the camp's conclusion, they will have the opportunity to take the stage and perform for the public.

"Public performance is an incredible experience for a student and certainly builds confidence," said Jackie deMontmollin, associate director for theatre education at UH. "Performers are always working to give their absolute best performance. Working at that level to inspire an audience creates an amazing sense of confidence and encourages strong work ethic in young people. That confidence and work ethic can translate into many other areas of their lives."

The summer camp will set the stage for UH's teaching artists to work with HISD educators and develop performing arts curriculum and after-school programs to be implemented during the upcoming school year. The after-school activities are available to students who meet specific grade requirements.

Taking cues from the renowned Detroit's Mosaic Youth Theatre, UH's teaching artists will work to create a program that sparks creativity, while promoting personal and academic growth.

"Theater has a transformative power for kids in an educational setting because it is a place where kids are allowed and encouraged to experiment, take risks and are safe to make mistakes and try again," deMontmollin said. "It provides a setting where they aren't looking for one right answer, but exploring the possibility of many answers. That is how all of us learn best."

UH's School of Theatre & Dance has an extensive history of introducing adolescent audiences to the art of theater. Its most recent outreach program, Theatre for Young Audiences, presents plays for students in area middle schools and provides educators with lesson plans based on its productions.

The school also has developed a unique summer graduate program designed to bolster the talents of theater educators. This 36-hour program is targeted toward middle and high school theater teachers and offers them an opportunity to pursue a master of arts in theatre.

To learn more about the UH School of Theatre & Dance, visit For more details on its educational outreach programs, contact deMontollin at or at 713-743-2879.

"Even if you do not believe in the arts as part of a well-rounded education, just look around," Wallace said. "We are surrounded by art everywhere we go. It is on our walls, in our homes and offices, in the creation of new products and in the minds of the creative thinkers. The arts involve the ability to synthesize, to take the ordinary and look at it from a different point of view. The very process of creating requires invention. Inventing requires self-confidence. Self-confidence is required to withstand criticism, which helps to move past failed attempts in order to break conventions and find new solutions to problems. All of those things --creating, self-confidence, invention and creative thinking -- defines the very core of the arts."