Sunday, March 10, 2013

Back to School!

This past week, I was very fortunate to visit two outstanding schools and meet some amazing kids. The Lewis School of Princeton and the Block Institute of Brooklyn are true pioneers of education. They use different creative methods of teaching in order to accommodate those with learning and developmental disabilities.

Ashley or "Ms. Aliano" and myself :)
Ashley, one of my friends from high school, received her Masters in speech pathology and now works at the Lewis School of Princeton. The Lewis School is a small private school that works with elementary age children on up to post graduate youth. These kids have language-based learning disabilities like dyslexia and auditory processing. When Ashley heard about my win and arts advocacy platform, she asked me to come in and speak to her students. The School's music department had just been cut, and we want to make sure no more cuts happen to other avenues of performance.

I talked about Daniel Day Lewis a lot, ha.
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect upon my arrival to the Lewis School. I knew I'd be speaking to the drama club, but had no clue how interested they would be or what they would ask. Turns out, the group of about 16 teens were very excited to see me. Their enthusiasm made me feel like I was being interviewed on "Inside the Actors' Studio" rather than a small classroom. We discussed favorite plays I've seen, roles I've performed, methods of acting, and audition/interview skills. They seemed genuinely interested in my advice and opinions. I really hope that my visit inspired these kids. The aspect I love most about acting is the opportunity to affect an audience, and even if one student left reenergized, driven, and more committed to drama club, then I have done my job.

The drama club!

Later in the week, in honor of Read Across America, I visited the Block Institute of Brooklyn with a handful of my Miss New York pageant girlies. The Block Institute is "dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families"( We visited different classrooms all day, reading to children ages 4-8 who have special needs. These kids were so excited to meet "real princesses." Many of them have difficulty holding their attention, so when they kept their focus on me for the entirety of a picture book, I felt it was a little victory.

With my teen queen reading to the kiddies!
Now I must end this by saying I was in awe of the educators I met this week. Both of my parents were school teachers, and I had even entertained the idea while growing up, but there is no way I could do what these teachers do. The patience, enthusiasm, and energy I witnessed last week was remarkable. I give credit to all teachers, but especially those that work with special needs kids. I'm convinced that their hearts are of twice the normal size, and they deserve twice their actual paycheck.

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