Center for the Performing Arts adds activity to student meal program

Heather Longley
April 03, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Getting an education during the coronavirus pandemic looks a lot different than it did earlier this year, especially for children living in homes without Internet access. The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State, in partnership with the Jana Marie Foundation, hopes to maintain a sense of playful learning during this time among younger students in households with connectivity issues.

The State College Area School District recently started distributing performing arts-themed, self-care kits, created by Medora Ebersole, to be inserted along with the food items being provided to students enrolled in the district’s meal program.

Ebersole, the center’s education and community programs manager, said that by including an aspect of the performing arts into their day, she hopes to encourage thoughtful play and other critical learning functions among the students at home.

“My strategy with the kits is to encourage informal learning that is voluntary, self-directed, and requires curiosity, exploration, manipulation, fantasy, task completion and social interaction,” she said.

“Partnering with school districts’ food services programs in the distribution of free meals to provide playful, performance-inspired activities that do not hinge on electronic devices and costly data engages schoolchildren of the families who face financial hardships,” Ebersole added.

The first self-care kits were added to some of the school lunches on April 2 and feature a postcard-sized worksheet for planning an aquarium-themed production (inspired by the recent presentation of Erth’s “Prehistoric Aquarium Adventure” at Eisenhower Auditorium). The kits will be added to bags of groceries weekly. The performing arts self-care kits program will continue until funding runs out.

The kits are funded by the Honey and Bill Jaffee Endowment for Audience Development, which usually provides funding for the center’s School-Time Matinee performances. The UPS Store on Colonnade Way also provided support via donated printed services. Two matinees, along with the remainder of the center’s regular season and engagement events, were canceled due to the coronavirus mandates.

Ebersole said the self-care aspect of the kits stems from the concept that the performing arts help to engage the mind, emotions, voice and body; and to facilitate empathy and higher-level thinking. In addition, she said, the performing arts can be used in almost every situation as a tool for exploration and understanding.

With the kits being added to a family’s weekly bag of groceries, “it becomes more like something that all the kids or the family might do together,” Ebersole said.

“The Jana Marie Foundation’s strategy to use the arts as a vehicle for self-expression and communication came from Jana herself, whose artmaking was a solace for her,” Ebersole added.

Almost 600 kits were distributed in the first week, but Ebersole said she and the district’s food services organizers will gauge how many might be needed from week to week based on meal service requests.

In Centre County, according to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, an estimated 12% of children younger than 18 live in households that lack federally defined broadband Internet access.

While Ebersole initiated the self-care art kit project with the State College Area School District, she said the program also was adopted by the Tyrone and Penns Valley area school districts. She said at least 17,854 kits were provided to the three districts for distribution in meal programs and curriculum packets.

And, with safety in mind, Ebersole added that each kit’s cardstock elements are minimally handled at the copy center then aired out for three days.

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  • Two woman wearing face masks drop postcards into paper bags.

    State College Area School District Food Services employees Sharon Burkey, left, and Tammy Woomer drop activity cards into bags of food that will be delivered to students enrolled in the district’s meal program. At least 17,854 kits were provided to the State College, Penns Valley and Tyrone area school districts.

    IMAGE: Stephanie Swindle Thomas
  • A number of postcard-sized art kits are spread out on a table.

    Each self-care kit features a postcard-sized worksheet for planning an aquarium-themed production (inspired by the recent presentation of Erth’s “Prehistoric Aquarium Adventure” at Eisenhower Auditorium).

    IMAGE: Medora Ebersole
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Last Updated July 08, 2020