Dig Baton Rouge

Learning Together

When University Lab high school student Madeleine Richard began work on her International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, she said she wanted the opportunity to show her community the power of high school art programs collaborating.

Choosing to present a variety show highlighting facts about autism, Richard’s project – “The Art of Autism” – in conjunction with the Manship Theatre Student Advisory Board, will be presented on March 24 at the Manship Theatre.

The 17-year-old Richard said that her first step in planning was to find an outlet to reach many high schools’ visual and performing arts programs. Her project mentor Melissa Clough pointed her in the direction of Manship Theatre Executive Director Renee Chatelain, who introduced her to the Student Advisory Board. It was upon the first meeting that Richard said she knew she had found the right army to proceed with her project.

“The group was truly a melting pot of schools, cultures, interests and talents,” Richard said. “Developing an event as massive as this is would not have been possible without help from the Manship Student Advisory Board. As young artists, we depend on the opportunities that our schools and community gives us. I realized that we high school artists should not have to wait on someone else to bring an opportunity to us, but rather we bring opportunities to others – through our art.”

The Manship Theatre Student Advisory Board was formed in 2010. It is made up of two 10th – 12th grade students from each participating area high school; all area high schools are invited to participate. This year’s board is comprised of students from The Dunham School, St. Joseph’s Academy, Capitol, Belaire, Runnels, Catholic, Episcopal, Glen Oaks, Scotlandville Magnet, University Lab, Zachary, Lee, Tara and Southern Lab.

Since 2011, the Board has put on a show to benefit a local charity of their choosing. Chatelain said each year the Board has worked very hard to produce its shows – from planning to logo design to marketing and production. This year they received lots of help from two City Year Baton Rouge volunteers who are also immersed in the arts – Michael Dixon, who is a comedian, and Noel Thompson, who is an actor.

Past beneficiaries of these shows include the David Paul Learning Center and the Baton Rouge Food Bank. This year Families Helping Families of Greater Baton Rouge will receive the proceeds. Richard said by choosing this organization, teachers will have the opportunity to collect a stipend for attending the show. She said that getting teachers there is the first step to influencing change in the way students with autism experience school and class.

Richard first became interested in highlighting autism as she watched her project mentor, who is also her show choir teacher, struggle with caring for her autistic son.

“For someone who spent her day teaching and mentoring kids, like me, who love to express themselves in any and every way possible, guiding a child who struggles to express himself is a challenge,” she said. “I saw my senior project as a way to bridge this gap that was also so apparent in the life of someone I am so close to.”

Richard said as someone without learning disabilities or disorders, she knows that many students rarely think about the difficulties that other students face while learning. The ability to absorb knowledge is something she confirms she has taken for granted before.

“One in 50 people are diagnosed with autism disorder – that one in 50 is not the only person affected by that though,” Richard said. “As I have seen with my [mentor], autism affects so many people in our lives. Autistic students struggle in school, just like other students do, but they struggle in a different way. As fellow classmates, it is our duty to do what we can to ease this hardship because our lives are enriched and better with autistic students in it.”

“The Art of Autism” will be an evening of performances by local high schools It will also include an interactive art piece outside of the theater. With paint close by, the audience will have the opportunity to participate in the art by illustrating what autism means to them on a canvas. Some of the students are contributing their musical talents for the variety show, while others contributed artwork for the logo and other design aspects. Belaire’s dance team and Glen Oaks’ dance and concert band will perform and a scene from “Singing in the Rain” by Saint Joseph’s Academy and Catholic High will be showcased. Richard will perform with the University Lab show choir and facts about autism will be highlighted throughout the night.



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