11 Sep

Finkl academy “Lil Comix” class


Pilsen students use the power of comedy to build self-confidence “Zip. Zap. Zop.” It’s Wednesday morning at William F. Finkl Elementary School in Pilsen and the students in Mrs. Russell’s class have their attention directed to the front of the room.
“Zip. Zap. Zop.”
Three students are playing a game. Taking turns, they point to the person in front or to the side of them, shouting out, in sequence, “zip,” “zap” or “zop.” As they continue, they gradually increase the speed of their delivery until one of them fumbles and is eliminated. Laughter soon fills the room.
The game is actually not a game at all. It’s an activity that’s part of a weekly comedy program for 7th and 8th graders at the school. Using improvisational exercises, the program helps kids become comfortable speaking in public while developing leadership skills through a creative platform.
Mona Aburmishan is the instructor of the program. She developed it along with Finkl’s 7th grade teacher Karla Russell in 2010.
“We wanted them to have a safe place to be imaginative, empowering them and making them critical thinkers of their peers and the world around them,” Aburmishan said.
Every week, the students participate in various exercises. They partake in “Translation,” an activity in which one student creates his or her own language while another pretends to be their translator. There’s also the “Dating Game,” in which each student takes up a pseudo personality as a contestant looking for a perfect love match. They also take five minutes to write a joke or a funny story about whatever topic Aburmishan throws out to them.
Through these various improvisational activities, the kids, the majority of which come from low-income homes, learn how to turn their negative feelings into positive ones using comedy. This inspires confidence and allows them to stray away from negative outlets like gangs and drugs, Aburmishan said.
She added that not all students learn through traditional educational practices and need creative ways to learn in order to excel.
A joint report by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education found that art and creative programs effectively reached marginalized youth by providing alternate routes to academic and personal achievement.
Finding other ways to teach youth enhances self-discipline and provides a gateway to other forms of learning, according to the report.
“Sometimes there are these kids who were just in detention, accused of running the streets [with] gangs, but when they are in the comedy class, they thrive,” Aburmishan said.
Twelve-year-old Estefania Echeverria is one of the many students who has become more self-confident as a result of the comedy class.
“We do presentations in front of the class and I’m not shy anymore,” she said.
She’s not kidding. During the exercises, she’s quick to come up with jokes and personalities, and doesn’t hesitate to drop to the floor, crouch below a chair, anything for the sake of comedy.
“When you’re doing comedy you get to express what is inside,” Echeverria said.
And that’s one of the reasons Aburmishan continues to come back every year. Her passion working with the students, she said, comes from noticing that the program creates opportunities for the students to become more assertive and confident.
An added bonus, she said, is that the program also helps students become more compassionate toward one another.
“In order to make a joke that relates me and you together, I have to find what relates you and me together. So you assess and realize that you have something in common with everyone and you become more compassionate,” Aburmishan said.
The program will conclude with a comedy show later on in the school year. The date is still to be determined.

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