When Janet Morrison brings her students to the AT&T Performing Arts Center, she’s not afraid of making them uncomfortable.
She is in charge of the Eagle Scholars program for Vickery Meadow, a dense Dallas neighborhood populated primarily by refugees and immigrants representing more than a dozen nations. For the students who live there, every day in America offers challenges and new experiences, from learning a new language to assimilating into a culture they’ve previously never known.
“I asked a former student who is now thriving in college what I should be doing with the teens, and he said, ‘You have to make them uncomfortable,’” Morrison explains. The former student recounted that when he went to college, few students looked or sounded like him, and he had to become “comfortable feeling uncomfortable” at all times in order to graduate and succeed.
The Center partners with Vickery Meadow to distribute free tickets to professional dance, music and theater performances. The Center has provided over 3,000 tickets to local nonprofits thanks to the generosity of its donors. Morrison capitalizes on the collaboration to familiarize students with American culture, new parts of Dallas, innovative ideas and demonstrations of the English language.
“The Community Partners program is the best thing ever,” Morrison says. “All these things they’re getting introduced to help them understand culture. I’ve just seen so many of them evolve because of it.” In the beginning, Morrison’s Eagle Scholars were hesitant to visit the Center. They didn’t know what to wear, how to act, or what to expect from the performances. “You wouldn’t think it, but most of my students have never even been downtown,” Morrison says.
One of her students from Myanmar, who had been in the states for a year and a half, visited the Center; and when he took in the campus’ majestic architecture and pristine lawns, exclaimed “Whoooooooooa!” Morrison asked if he’d ever been any place like this. He replied “Miss, I’ve never been outside my house!”
Morrison provides lessons on etiquette and helps students talk through the shows after they leave. The students, once reticent to sound uninformed or silly, wouldn’t talk about the performances on the way home. Now, she says, they’ll take on even the most complex genres and motifs, speaking like seasoned ticket-holders.
“The minute I post, they sign up,” Morrison says. What started out as two students making trips to the Center has grown into one of the most popular offerings of the Eagle Scholar program. In fact, Morrison says it’s her easiest program to fill.
Morrison is a big believer in the Community Partners program, because she’s seen its benefits firsthand. She has just one anxiety about it: “I just hope that this program never, ever goes away.”
To learn more about Community Partners or to make a donation, click here.