the dewitt creativity group: asking all the right questions

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The Dewit Creative Group
THE DEWIT CREATIVE GROUP PHOTO TAKEN BY ASHLEY SONEFELD PHOTOGRAPHY

The DeWitt Creative Group Ashley Sonefeld Photography

KATIE DONOVAN
THURSDAY MAY 26th, 2011

The DeWitt Creativity Group (DCG) encompasses the following groups at DeWitt High School: The Radio Club, Theatre Department, Art Department, Audio/Visual Club, the Music Club (including choir and band), Alternative Energy Program, the School Newspaper, Yearbook, Creative Writing Club and Business Professionals of America.

The group has no budget, no board of directors. There are no members – just supporters – and no appointed leaders. How is it that a group of high school students, under the guidance and encouragement of two teachers, has created such a stir? This fledgling group, in its third year, is creating some serious traction on their goals to promote student creativity in connection with public service and entrepreneurship, and to prepare students for the new creative economy. How can that be?

“We believe that creativity isn’t just about the artistic stuff, it is in the sciences and entrepreneurial activities too,” said DCG student member Katie Coon. “We have to be prepared for a new economy that will require our creative thinking and passion for learning. When I was a freshman and sophomore I used to quiz the teachers all the time. I wanted to know what information would be on the test, and if it wasn’t going to be on the test then I didn’t want to learn it. Now, after being part of DCG, I genuinely want to learn about all sorts of things; my priorities have changed.”

“These students are mature beyond their age, they listen, and they are attentive to their world both inside and outside this school. They ask questions – important questions. They have some big life skills going on here,” said co-founder and teacher Jeff Croley. “We continue to gain support and awareness for the group. Something crazy and magical is happening here.”

The students are very aware of an education system and an economy in Michigan that is not working. “It’s hard not to have a bad attitude about the situation we find ourselves in – what is happening now in Michigan is not working. So, I believe we have to be part of the solution,” said Averie Conn, DeWitt senior. “We are trying to point to the future, even if people are defensive or fearful we have to be part of a solution,” said co-founder and teacher Jason LaFay.

The group’s vision includes a belief that they can change the culture of their school, but also reach into their community and beyond to make a difference; to be part of the solution. There is an exhaustive list of DCG accomplishments and activities to-date in pursuit of creative, passionate learning.

In its second year the DeWitt Creativity Group hosted the first ever Creative Teachers Summit in downtown Lansing. Educators, business owners, developers, entrepreneurs, community leaders and students gathered to discuss innovative and creative practices that would lead to revitalizing regional schools and communities. The second Creative Teachers Summit occurred on March 19th with the help of LEAP, the Lansing Economic Area Partnership.

The DeWitt Creative Group, photo taken by sophomore Ashley SonefeldOne of the most creative endeavors of the group is an original play “Questions?” performed by students in the DeWitt High School Theatre Department. It debuted in February of this year at DeWitt High School, was presented at the Creative Teachers Summit in March, and most recently for Grand Ledge High School.

The play, a series of artistic short scenes and monologues, was written and directed by teacher, Jeff Croley. The play is based on student interviews, personal observations and collaborations on the creative process. In a minimalist stage setting, the actors, all dressed in shades of grey, fearlessly and creatively tackle many social issues confronting high school students. Their “Questions” cover topics like standardized testing, hyper-texting and its effect on teenagers, parental pressure to make the grade, out-of-touch teachers, helicopter moms that hover too much, and the economic pressures on our schools.

The play is not complete until the audience talk-back session occurs. The actors answer questions from the audience and promote dialogue among their peers on the important topics presented in the play, all the while sharing DCG’s philosophies about creativity and education as an answer to many of the issues. In the recent presentation of “Questions?” at Grand Ledge High School, a long-time member of a school board was in the audience, and she posed this question: “Why not present this play to Governor Snyder and the legislative leaders? They need to see this.”

Why not, indeed!

To learn more about DeWitt Creativity Group, visit the website www.dewittcreativitygroup.org or for a copy of the DCG Playbook, a how-to guide for teachers to build a creative and innovative culture in secondary education, contact Jeff Croley croleyj@dewittschools.net or Jason LaFay lafayj@dewittschools.net . Lafay and Croley are also available to attend functions, meeting or events for other school groups, districts and businesses interested in participating in similar groups.

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