'Classy Clowns' Transforms
Lives of Problem Students
ETOBICOKE, Ontario (ANS) -- Sending problem students who have been suspended to clown school might seem like a bozo idea, but teacher Lynn Zammit says it has boosted the adolescents' self-esteem and turned their lives around.
Zammit, a teacher with the Etobicoke Board of Education near Toronto, read an article about a school in Orlando, Fla., that used clowning as a way to deal with some behavior problems.
She decided it was worth a try and launched Classy Clowns, an after-school program that meets for eight weeks teaching the classic skills of clowning. "People raised a lot of eyebrows when we first talked about training kids to be clowns," she said. "I stressed the idea of giving something back to the community."
Zammit includes Classy Clowns as part of the Board's Community Alternative Program for Suspended Learners (CAPSL) which she directs.
Students who have been suspended from school, usually for violent behavior or failure to comply with school rules for an extended period of time, can choose to participate in CAPSL.
"The deal is if they come to the program, we will help them stay up to date with their academics. We also work on anger management and life skills so that when they return to their school they have other strategies to use besides their fists," Zammit explained.
"There's a connection between low self-esteem and violence, so we try to build a lot of self-esteem activities while they're here so they realize they can be successful."
The local Rotary Club donated $300 (CAD) to start Classy Clowns. The Telephone Pioneers, a North America-wide volunteer group of telecommunications workers, supplied a volunteer instructor and $1,700 worth of supplies.
The clown school has been running for two years. Each spring, 10 students from the CAPSL program attend clown school, where they receive training from a professional clown in how to apply clown makeup, costumes, face painting, making balloon animals and clown etiquette.
Teaching troublemakers clown etiquette? "Yes," laughed Zammit. "They learn you're not allowed to eat and drink in public when you're in a clown outfit because it spoils the mystique of being a clown if little kids see a clown eating a hotdog."
When clown school finishes, graduates take the show on the road. They have already performed at the opening of new national headquarters for Northern Telecom near Toronto and at a luncheon for the United Way.
A special moment came the afternoon a group of Classy Clowns read books to first grade students and made balloon animals of creatures depicted in the stories.
"You're looking at a group of kids who have been suspended from school for violent behavior and a few weeks later they're in an elementary school reading books to a grade one class," she said. "The change was amazing."
One student the first year made up business cards and set up a business entertaining at family parties.
Despite the program's success, Zammit says serving a large community makes it harder for teens to participate. "Many of our kids come from families that can't afford bus tickets," she said.
She said Classy Clowns programs should serve one school rather than an entire community. That way more students can participate and teachers can more easily follow up on their clownish charges.
Posted November 4, 1997