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01 April, 2014

Opening hearts and minds through performing arts

Working in the wider community
Working in the wider community

An innovative training and education initiative, entitled 'A Mind Apart', based in Sheffield, England, is helping many young people who are challenged and troubled by formal education.

Using a mixture of performing arts, A Mind Apart works with around 200 young people every week, helping them deal with behavioural problems and improving learning skills.

A Mind Apart is the brainchild of Jodie Marshall, a graduate in Drama, who is passionately committed to integrating challenged children into formal and alternative education.

Jodie experienced poverty on a large scale while working among street children in Brazil. Speaking fluent Portuguese, she began to develop new ways of helping disadvantaged children and enabling them to realise their full potential.

Her experiences in Brazil had a strong influence on her life and they laid the foundation for the creation of A Mind Apart. The enterprise was born out of the understanding that poverty begins at home and all who feel troubled and challenged by formal education, are still capable of change, and just need a new way to express their ability.

Creating a Family

When the business was first launched in 2008, A Mind Apart rented community spaces for its activities and events. But, today, it rents a space at the Burton Street Foundation, just outside of Sheffield City Centre, where there is adequate space for classroom and office facilities. The centre is near all the main catchment areas for schools and easily accessible.

Inside the social enterprise, the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. When I arrived to interview Jodie and her staff for this article, I walked in on ‘family’ lunchtime, where the students and the staff were enjoying lunch together and talking about life in general.

The annual company performance
The annual company performance
The core staff members are qualified teachers, who are specialised in Performing Arts. Says Jodie: 'All of our staff work long hours and the students benefit greatly from this. They do their jobs for the love and reward of seeing the progress of students, who are regularly re-integrated back into formal education and employment.

'To support the more difficult young people, we get help from undergraduate students, who provide them with one-to-one support throughout the day time classes.  We hold workshops for new staff members on how to deal with demanding or problematic pupils.

'It is important to help staff to understand why young people behave inappropriately, allowing them to tailor the curriculum to the needs of individuals in a class. This also helps in breaking down the teacher-student barrier, allowing the staff to appear more understanding and less of a threat to the students who feel they are more challenged.'

Rhianna’s story

Through previous experience Jodie and her team employ a unique form of drama, based on Theatre of the Oppressed, a theatrical form, which originated in Brazil and uses theatre as a means to promote social and political change. These techniques use a range of rehearsal methods and exercises to work with participants and help them to see what is preventing them from moving forward and the effect their own actions may have on others around them, such as family members and the local community.

At the centre, I met Rhianna, who came to A Mind Apart seeking refuge from a life filled with drug dealing, gangs and street crime. After being kicked out of school, Rhianna felt her only option was to hang around on the streets.

However, in September 2013, at the age of 17, Rhianna was taken in by Jodie and her team and put straight onto their eight week Moving Forward training programme.

Rhianna said that the course helped to get her back on her feet. Training in CV writing and emotional management boosted her confidence. 'The course was all practical, which was good for me, as I learn better when I do things, rather than listening and reading. I also got my Arts Award level 1 qualification', she added.

The teenage performance group having singing tuition
The teenage performance group having singing tuition
Rhianna said that the staff were helpful and encouraging: 'I feel like I have changed, because I have grown up. I know how to deal with things in my own way, positively, as my attitude has changed and I am now kinder to myself. They have helped me become the person I am today. I have a good friendship with Jodie. I can go to her at anytime and she will be there.'

Rhianna still attends A Mind Apart, working towards a Social Enterprise Qualification, as well as Maths and English functional skills. Her future is looking extremely bright as she works with the team to apply for apprenticeships in mechanics.

Jodie and the A Mind Apart team are very conscious that transformation takes more than an eight week course, but Rhianna’s improvement has proven that change is possible within a short period of time.

According to statistics available at A Mind Apart, between 86 to 90 per cent of young people who have been through their training courses have positive outcomes. Their courses are attracting more and more troubled teenagers, offering them the opportunity of a better future, alongside the qualifications and emotional stability to help them reach their new found aspirations.

Harnessing Change

The enterprise supports young people, who are no longer in the education system and are not working, nor being trained for work. The support includes life skills to help them to move forward and accept positive changes.

They hold events in the local and regional community, such as yearly performances for their class attending students, enabling families to come together and celebrate their children’s success.

Jodie and her team also run local performing arts classes open to all backgrounds for ages five upwards, which helps to support the educational work carried out during the day. More recently, they have also started to run international projects, allowing students from overseas to experience and contribute to the work.

At the beginning of 2014, A Mind Apart won an award for ‘Student Development’ from The Real Ideas Organisation (RIO), which manages the national Social Enterprise Qualification, designed to encourage and accredit people who are making a positive change, for themselves, society and the environment.

Jodie is also part of the Sustainable Communities programme of Initiatives of Change UK, and is active in social enterprise and cooperative community in Sheffield.

The future for A Mind Apart looks extremely exciting, with plans to expand to new cities and potentially overseas. I hope that their efforts will inspire more and more children and young people, who are at risk, and those working with them.

Student names have been changed for safeguarding purposes

Report by Jessica Aleisha Dodds, a PR and marketing student, based in Sheffield

Photos by A Mind Apart

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