While some teens might opt to relax after school, seniors in the Theater Tech Program at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier are making movies — and simultaneously boosting their chances of graduating high school.
The Theater Tech Program recruits low-income, low-performing seniors from area high schools and offers them academic support and technical training in media and theater arts. In December, the program launched a digital media component that incorporates photography, videography, graphic design to further improve participants’ skills and marketability.
“Ultimately the goal is for [the students] to incorporate digital media skills into what they’ll do in the theater,” said Tewodross Melchishua, who instructs the digital media component. “And really just open them up to [career] possibilities and opportunities.”
Melchishua, of Washington, D.C., is an associate professor of visual communication and digital media arts at Bowie State University. He said the skills students learn through the program can transfer to a variety of fields, including marketing and design.
Participants in the Theater Tech Program, which launched in 2009, are nominated by their schools and apply to Joe’s Movement Emporium like they would a job, said Melissa Rosenberg, Joe’s development director. The students selected are high-risk, meaning they face challenges such as living in foster care or having excessive absences or suspensions from school, she said.
Students who complete the theater tech program have a 96 percent high school graduation rate, Rosenberg said. The most recent data from the Maryland State Department of Education’s Maryland Report Card website shows the average graduation rate for the county at 77 percent.
“We do have a wonderful relationship with the schools and the kids are required to bring in their quarterly report cards,” Rosenberg said. “We’ve seen those grades and the attendance levels go up already this year.”
There are 18 students enrolled in the Theater Tech Program, with another 14 scheduled to begin in March, said program director Anthony Henderson. Students are paid minimum wage for their time and also receive bonuses for good attendance and academic achievement, Henderson said. Program participants often complete work-study programs at sites like Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, he said.
Michael Delaney, 17, of Hyattsville is currently enrolled in the Theater Tech Program and said the experience led him to pursue a degree in mass communication.
“The program is creating the opportunity for me to earn money, help myself and my family, and meet a lot of people that work in the industry,” Delaney said in an emailed statement. “I am able to use and even enhance some skills I learned in the TV production department at school.”
Henderson said he is pleased to see how quickly students show mastery of theater tech skills as well as academic improvement. He said several students who had 2.0 grade point averages have made their schools’ honor rolls after one quarter in the program.
“[To see that] feels amazing,” he said. “It tells me that we’re doing something right.”