Students use puppets to promote diversity

April 17, 2012

Beyond completing coursework, fulfilling practicum hours and engaging the community, a group of recreation and sport management majors at Indiana State University took on an unusual assignment.

"We've learned to be awesome puppeteers. Never thought I would have done that in a recreation sport class," said Megan Kaczmarski, a sophomore from Valparaiso. "It takes a lot of arm strength, that's for sure."

Kaczmarski and her classmates perform puppet shows for children to enhance diversity and disability awareness in conjunction with a class project. During the remaining presentations of this semester, either Kaczmarski or fellow student Eric Hughes' arms will don Brenda, one of the oversized puppets, with hopes of constructing positive representations of those with learning disabilities for the children.

"We are the character that kind of learns with the audience," said Hughes, a junior from North Vernon.

The international program called Kids on the Block features characters with and without disabilities; the short skits demonstrate how to respond in difficult situations, such as bullying or disrespect.

The students collaborated with the help of Don Rogers, a professor in the department of kinesiology, recreation and sport. Rogers serves as a board member of the WILL Center, an organization that received a grant to launch the Kids on the Block program.

"For the WILL Center, it is providing them with more exposure and meeting part of their mission to promote and advocate for the needs and rights of people with disabilities," Rogers said.

Practices involve memorizing lines to perform the skits to groups of about 15 children and their parents. By the end of the semester, they will have performed at a variety of locations including community centers, daycares and schools. "The kids in attendance at these shows have been asking great questions and get very excited to come up after the show and interact with the puppets," Rogers said. "It has surpassed my expectations."

Though the lessons taught through the puppets seemed elementary, ISU students also gained knowledge about how to handle diversity issues.

"Being able to explain it better, now I would know, if that's happening to somebody or if it's in my work environment, what to do, where as before I wouldn't have known what to do," Kazmarski said.

For recreation and sport management majors, learning through community involvement is not a new concept.

"We are always out in the community," said Kaczmarski, "I think it makes you grow as a person and experience other things within the community. ISU is part of Terre Haute...I think it really expands your learning, and you get to know other people not even on campus and make connections and network with people."

"The purpose of this project from the perspective of the class...is to get students out into the community interacting with people in the context of an experience that promoted greater awareness and understanding of diversity," Rogers said. "The KOB program is exactly that kind of program."

Hughes thinks the puppet shows represent the emphasis that Indiana State places on service and civic engagement.

"It spreads the word about the positive things that the students at ISU are doing. Not just for this class, but for other classes we've had to go out and do community service hours, get practicum hours and get experience in the field," said Hughes, "so its nice for the community to see that students at ISU are giving back to the community."

The students agreed that the puppet shows provided lessons that people of any age could learn from.

"The theme would just be recognizing people and accepting them for their differences," Hughes said.

Kaczmarski concluded, "Everybody is unique in their own way."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Kids-on-the-Block/i-BKRZPNF/0/L/March292012KidsontheBlockpuppe-L.jpg - Recreation and sport management students at Indiana State University put on a "Kids on the Block" puppet show at the Vigo County Public Library March 29, 2012 to educate youngsters about disability awareness. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Contact: Don Rogers, associate professor, department of kinesiology, recreation and sport, Indiana State University, 812-237-3210 or don.rogers@indstate.edu

Writer: Mallory Metheny, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773