Working with members of the MHC education and psychology department, Nancy Fletcher '68, whose nonprofit organization ACT NOW! helps to build self-esteem in adolescent females through improvisational moviemaking, now has concrete evidence that her work is paying off.
Through ACT NOW's two- and five-day workshops using the MOVIExperience format, girls ages 11 to 14 brainstorm an original story, create characters, improvise the scenes in sequence on camera, and screen a professional-looking 20- to 40-minute movie immediately after the last scene is shot.
Research by Maureen Babineau, visiting instructor of psychology and education; Becky Wai-Ling Packard, associate professor of psychology and education; and undergraduate research assistant Kelly Sottile '08 studied the effects of ACT NOW's work. It was supported by a grant from Nancy S. Nordhoff '54, the founder of Hedgebrook, an international women writers' retreat. Their research showed that 83 percent of the participants exposed to the method as early as 2000 reported lasting increases in self-esteem.
"ACT NOW! has found a recipe for empowering girls," Packard said. She noted that it is remarkable to consistently find such a significant and positive impact from a two-day program after five years. "Their approach is consistent with a youth development model in that they believe young people will thrive under the right conditions, and so they aim to support those conditions rather than trying to prevent or stop youth from engaging in delinquent behaviors. A positive youth development approach tends to be more effective with adolescents in the long run."
The research showed that when participants felt their ideas were taken seriously and when they experienced positive peer relationships, they were more likely to report increases in self-esteem. The researchers also found evidence of positive outcomes extending beyond the end of the program, including broadened academic and personal interests and enhanced group interaction. Of the two-day participants, 78 percent reported that their decision-making and social skills had increased. The parents, guardians, and agency staff highlighted the importance of allowing the girls to drive the storyline and the value of a single-gender environment.
"The findings represent a range of voices, from young people with a lot of family resources and prior experience with creative arts to those with much, much less," Babineau said. "It was impressive to see that regardless of their prior experience, participant after participant and guardian after guardian consistently would say the same thing--that the girls felt listened to, how important that validation was, and how the girls took that powerful experience forward in their lives."
Babineau's research involves looking at the educational trajectories of adult women returning to school. A former residential counselor and outreach director for adolescent girls in rehabilitation settings, she currently teaches on topics of adolescent development and research methods at the college level and consults for organizations.
Packard's research focuses on mentoring and career identity development in adolescence. She frequently speaks on the topics of motivation and mentoring.
"This research gives us objective confirmation that the MOVIExperience method works and will help us attract more funds to train others and reach more girls," Fletcher said.
The MOVIExperience format was created by David Shepherd, producer of COMPASS, the first professional improvisational theatre that became a model for Second City and inspired Saturday Night Live.
There will be two five-day trainings this summer for youth workers and two MOVIExperience Playshops for girls, both in the Amherst area, July 9-14 and August 20-24. Contact ACT NOW! at NanFletcher@gmail.com.