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Scotch Plains-Fanwood Students and Teachers Study Empathy Through Puppetry

Left to right:  Max Van Etten (Coles School), Everett Pasqua (McGinn School), and Jordan Dec (McGinn School) Credits: SPFK12 District

SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- A unique form of professional development -- a full day workshop presented for 25 teachers and administrators from McGinn, Coles and School One -- was held at Park Middle School last Thursday,. 

Educators worked side by side with 12 fourth graders learning in a student lab/professional development setting. The theme of the day was “Promoting Empathy and Compassion Through Puppetry and the Study of Body Language.” 

Students and teachers built puppets in the Japanese Bunraku tradition that uses three puppeteers to maneuver one puppet. This requires a team of three puppeteers to work together with one mind and heart to express their story.  Time was spent analyzing physical actions and practicing how to convincingly walk, run and move their puppets.  Following the study of movement was a discussion of how body motions or body language expresses an individual’s moods and feelings. These puppet experiences are designed to increase students’ awareness of and understanding of body language and social cues. 

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"As we become more sensitive to the unspoken languages, we will also gain in empathy and compassion," said workshop creators Alexandra Hanner, a writing teacher, and Barbara Prestridge, and art teacher, from Park Middle School and Marcello Velame, music teacher from Summerfield School, Neptune Township District. 

This team presents arts integration workshops with the belief that the unique languages, depth and spirits of the arts enrich every subject that the arts touch.

Following the inspiration of music, the groups of three students or three educators created short stories with the goal for their puppets to depict a variety of different emotions through their body language.  Energy and engagement were high as the teams collaborated to create stories and make their paper puppets come alive.  The day concluded with all participants joyfully performing their puppets’ stories and reflecting on how we all understood the stories through the silent but deliberate actions of their united puppeteers.

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