After-School Program with At-Risk Youth

We have established a year-round collaboration with the Knox County Public Defender’s Office and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Knoxville for an after-school program for at-risk youth, which received remarkable recognition when then-First Lady Laura Bush made a visit to one of our classes at the Public Defender’s Office to see our approach to using theatre activities for non-discipline based education.

Our work with at-risk youth is designed to provide opportunities to develop decision-making and communication skills, in addition to building self-esteem through the development of basic theatre skills. This program has two goals: 1) to provide opportunities for self-directed expression by developing self-sufficiency: improving communication/life skills and enhancing social interaction skills through the teaching of basic theatre activities, and 2) to improve decision-making: a cognitive skill difficult for many at-risk adolescents. Research has shown that drama is an effective way to model appropriate behavior and focus on positive decision-making for many at-risk adolescents.



A free program for underprivileged and at-risk youth. Aneisa MacDonald developed the STAGE decision-making model, which is the basis of our work with at-risk youth, emphasizing the development of better decision-making skills.

STAGE Decision-Making Model

Theatre programs with at-risk youth are designed to provide opportunities for the learning of life skills. The skills taught during such theatre programs include decision-making, self-esteem building, communication, self-awareness, creativity, coordination, ability to work with others, social skills, public speaking skills, imagination, physical movement and reading.  A popular teaching device used in theatre programs to teach these life skills is STAGE, an acronym for the following five steps in successful decision-making:

  • State the problem
  • Think or brainstorm about different solutions
  • Assess the options
  • Go for it!
  • Evaluate the outcome

In theatre programs that involve STAGE as a teaching tool, the objectives are to:

Provide hands-on opportunities for self-directed expression by developing self-sufficiency, increasing self-esteem, improving communication skills and decision-making skills, and by practicing social interaction skills through the teaching of basic theatre activities such as Acting 101, Stage Movement and Dance, Auditioning, Stage Combat, Improvisation and Script Analysis.

The long-term goal of a theatre program involving the use of STAGE, is to set the stage for young people to discover new ways of learning, communicating and behaving in an ongoing arts program, and applying their new skills to their everyday lives.