PFLUGERVILLE, Texas — English, science and math are just a few of the core subjects you are taught in school. But learning empathy and how to tackle tough times in life is just as important. That's where a youth theater called "Changing Lives" comes in.
Middle school years can be awkward. There's puberty, changing friendships and all kinds of pressure. But at Dessau Middle School in Pflugerville, young students are opening up to a group of older teens.
These teens Changing Lives, which is a collaboration between Creative Action, a youth arts organization and Expect Respect, a school program with Safe Alliance.
"I saw a play of Changing Lives when I was in the eighth grade," said senior Clara Gibbs.
Gibbs is now a cast member of the Four Years play. The ensemble is made up of high schoolers from various districts. Together they learn about themselves, each other and the real problems young adults face.
"We want everyone to be as happy and as healthy as they can be," added senior Laurence Thigpin.
Meg Greene is the educational theater coordinator at Changing Lives.
"We have really brilliant young people who are so smart and passionate and driven by everything they are doing. It's really exciting to hear their perspectives," Greene said. She hears them out and works with the cast to tackle all kinds of social issues.
"I didn't really know about any of these issues like privilege, bias and domestic violence until I came here," said Gibbs. "Those thoughts and feelings are put to paper, turned into a play and performed in Austin area schools.
"They might never have seen a young person going through depression and being supported by their friends, or they might never have seen young people who are seeing violence at home actually reach out and get resources," added Greene.
"Today's play focuses on family relationships, which I think a lot of people can relate to," said Gibbs. "It makes sense. If these teens have heard about it or experienced it, chances are the young faces in the audience will too."
"I am comfortable in my own skin thanks to Changing Lives," said Thigpin.
Greene said it's nice to see her students mature, build healthy relationships and implement positive change in their communities.
"We see them saying I'm gonna go to this rally and make signs and stand up at the capitol," said Greene. "We get to see them rise up into these leadership roles and recognize that their voice has power in their communities and can make a change."
In order to join Changing Lives, you must audition. Once you are part of the group, students work with each other two times a week from August until June. Every spring, the ensemble tours their show across greater Austin, reaching more than 4,000 students, faculty and community members.