Imagine earning a degree in Psychology to then go to work two months after graduation as a puppeteer, eventually making it a career. Well, that is exactly what happened to Melanie Scott and she loves every minute of it.
Non profit organization Students Taking a Right Stand (STARS) program Kids on the Block, Inc. educates children and the community on numerous fundamental topics associated with health and social concerns. Its main objective is to teach children the importance of valuing and understanding themselves and others… all through puppetry.
“Kids on the Block, Inc. is actually an international program that begins with kindergarteners and runs up to the sixth grade,” said Scott, Program Director for Kids on the Block.
Nashville's Kids on the Block, Inc. was founded in 1981 by Alva Duke. The troupe reaches nearly 40,000 children and adults in schools and community agencies throughout seven counties in Middle Tennessee including Rutherford and is now trying to establish a presence in Cannon County.
“The schools invite us in. At the beginning of the school year, we send out our program guide to each guidance counselor. A lot of what we do is character education and that fits in beautifully with their curriculum,” said Scott.
Some of the material covered in the presentations for the younger grades includes teasing, problem solving, divorce, difference awareness, child abuse prevention and growing up healthy. The older grades are educated in bullying prevention, coping with death, prejudice prevention and making right decisions.
“We use Bunraku puppetry which is an ancient form of Japanese puppetry. We always wear all black and we explain to the kids that we’re going to become the shadows behind the characters. We present the topic in story format so there’ll always be two to three characters at a time and at the end of each of our scripts we have an interaction piece with the kids,” Scott explained.
Kids on the Block Inc. consists of a troupe of five, full time puppeteers. The program hires people with backgrounds in social work, education, child and family studies and people who are just passionate about educating kids. From there, the puppetry is learned.
“I rarely hire somebody with a theatre background. If they have a little theatre experience then that’s great… but that’s not really what I’m looking for,” said Scott.
Scott became involved with the program two months after graduating college. She always knew she wanted to work with kids, but not necessarily as a teacher. So a friend of hers working for the program at the time invited her in for a look around.
“I had never touched a puppet before in my life,” joked Scott. “So I was a little taken aback, but I went and watched how the kids completely tune into what the characters are telling them. I just fell in love with it; going out watching the kids and seeing how it’s impactful.”
Scott has now been with Kids on the Block, Inc. for nine years and it’s all she has ever done. She says she couldn’t imagine not working for a non-profit, possibly because she has found her calling.
To learn more about STARS Nashville or Kids on the Block, Inc. visit www.starsnashville.org