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The arts - a powerful tool for engaging kids

Belvoir last night celebrated its new partnership with the Public Education Foundation, launched by NSW Premier, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell, and the foundation’s CEO, Verity Firth at Belvoir. The partnership focuses on Belvoir’s Theatre Enrichment Program for senior English students in Western Sydney and regional NSW.

As Verity Firth said, ‘What a powerful thing the arts can be for engaging kids.’

Ms Firth described her interactions a few years ago with a group of rebellious year 9 boys who, after some reluctance, took part in the School Spectacular with a hip hop dance. She said the experience was ‘absolutely galvanising for those boys’.

Belvoir has been at the forefront of making theatre accessible to students who would not normally get the opportunity. Brenna Hobson, CEO of Belvoir, said the theatre had so far worked with 50 high schools over the course of this program.It provides its Theatre Enrichment program free of charge, thanks to the generosity of its supporters—and its continuation will now be assured through the PEF partnership, with whom Belvoir will undertake fundraising for the program.

‘The foundation is now moving into the arts education space. We are looking for people to help us spend the money—and who better than Belvoir!’ Ms Firth said.

‘They have already had a commitment to quality education through the arts and have been running this program for a long time. We hope it is a long partnership.’

Mr O’Farrell acknowledged Henry Parkes in his address as the most important premier of New South Wales because he was a pioneer of public education. 

He also emphasised the importance of an arts education, one that he himself lacked having grown up in Darwin when the only live performance he saw while at school was jazz musician Don Burroughs.

‘The creative arts help us to understand our society, our history, ourselves.With the advocacy, support and vision of the PEF and of Belvoir—which is one of the artistic gems of this state—we have no lack of potential.’

At the launch we heard directly from teachers and students the enormous impact the Belvoir program has had on students.

Amanda Clark, drama teacher from Evans High School in Sydney’s west, said at her school she once counted 57 different cultures.

‘Many of the kids had never seen a play and didn’t even know how to catch a train to Sydney,’ she said.

‘This year I had a Year 11 drama class—of the 9 students, one is a refugee, one lives out of home, and they all come from a very low socio-economic group.

‘We saw Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and they really engaged with the whole process. The experience is not only enriching in itself, but they can take it back into their learning in the classroom.’

Meg Day, from John Edmondson High School, agreed that before the school embarked on the Belvoir program, the students’ opportunity to see live theatre had been limited.

‘For the past four years, students have seen many different plays and participated in many different workshops.

‘My students are more sophisticated today because of the theatre enrichment program. We can’t thank Belvoir enough for the experience they have provided us over the years.’

It was a great testament to Belvoir and to the many teachers who supported the program.