New in 2017: The Prism Project at The Hartt School Community Division
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New in 2017: The Prism Project at The Hartt School Community Division

The Prism Project rehearsal 2017For 90 minutes on 12 Sundays this past winter and early spring, 15 students participated in a brand-new program called The Prism Project here at The Hartt School Community Division (HCD). Directed by Hartt faculty member Jackie Smith, the project, specifically designed for students with exceptionalities, is a unique program intended to provide the students—also known as cast members— with a performing arts experience and with opportunities to practice important social skills. It culminates in a full performance on Sunday, April 30, 2017, at 6 p.m. in Lincoln Theater.

The original Prism Project was founded at Ball State University in Indiana in 2009. The current director and one of the originators, Ryan Hourigan, has offered extensive assistance to Smith and was instrumental in helping her get the project off the ground at HCD.

An important component of the project is participation and assistance by University of Hartford students, known as buddies, who interface with the cast members. This participation is an opportunity for university students to get first-hand experience working with students with exceptionalities. Currently there are 20 University of Hartford students involved, all of whom were asked to write a personal statement and get a faculty recommendation in order to participate and commit to the program. 

Another job of the University buddies is to greet the parents at each rehearsal. Then the buddy stays with the child throughout each rehearsal, encouraging them to participate, making some music together, and dancing as partners. When rehearsals are over, the buddies return the children to their parents and give each parent an update of how it went that day. The buddy becomes the liaison between the program and the parents.

Smith has seen tremendous progress throughout the 12 weeks the program has been underway, as it has brought students with exceptionalities and college students together in a way that is both joyous and mutually beneficial:

“The Prism Project has turned out to be more than I ever expected. What I love about it is that we have U of H students involved from many different majors across campus. I have enjoyed watching the relationships develop between the University buddies and the children. Children who struggled to make it through a 45-minute rehearsal now seem disappointed when rehearsals are over. I see big smiles from the children when they arrive at Hartt and see their buddy, and high-fives and hugs when they say good-bye. This is my favorite part of the program.” 

She continues:

“I believe the program benefits the cast members because it helps them to learn social skills, how to be part of a group, and perhaps learn some coping skills when situations cause anxiety or frustration. In addition, they have a performing arts experience in music and dance and learn how to work together to put on a show.”

Jamie Marci, an HCD faculty member and parent of a student with exceptionalities, sees peer modeling as another benefit that Prism provides: “Kids with exceptionalities enjoy the campus atmosphere, watching buddies, and watching other students as well. They really enjoy observing their peers and the social interactions. It truly is a win-win.”

The aforementioned performing arts experience is the capstone event for The Prism Project, and for this semester is being held on Sunday, April 30, at 6 p.m. in the University of Hartford’s Lincoln Theater.