Historically Ever After
July 1, 2014

Students of PS15M getting ready to bring Tenement History to life. Photo courtesy of Ms. Strong.

I often wonder how a visit to the Tenement Museum impacts the students who visit. What happens when they go back to school and home for night? Does the visit extend back to the classroom and to their family life?

More actors in "Scrubberella." Photo courtesy of Ms. Strong.

While I aim for each student who visits to leave with new understandings, curiosity, and questions that fuel further thinking, rarely do I get the opportunity to talk with the student months later and hear how the experience has impacted him/her.  As such, the invitation from Class 202 at PS15M, Roberto Clemente to attend their school play was particularly exciting.

Publicity shots ! The cast of "Scrubberella" smile for the camera. Photo courtesy of Ms. Strong.

The 2nd graders had visited the museum back in December for our Meet Victoria school program. During the program, the students met a costumed interpreter playing the role of Victoria Confino, a 14 year old immigrant living in 97 Orchard Street in 1916. The experience ended up having a huge impact on their learning – so much so that it inspired them to make Victoria a central character within their classroom, and the star of their school play.

Some of the cast of "Scrubberella." This photo courtesy of Ms. Strong.

The teacher, Sarah Strong, whose patience and talents were amazing to see, explained that the students spend the second semester studying fairy tales and exploring Cinderella stories from around the world.  Together with the enthusiastic support of Shawn Shafner, their drama teacher from Arts for All and their dance instructor from Mark DeGarmo, the class created their own Cinderella tale. The students chose to adapt the Cinderella story to Victoria Confino and included key details about her life and times in the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century.  Shawn describes how this evolved, “when I came in, students regaled me with the story of Victoria and their time at the Tenement Museum. As an educator, any time you see that learners are naturally excited about something, you jump on it. And thus Scrubberella, as Victoria would be cruelly called by her step-family, was born.”


The students getting into character with the help of Shawn Shafner, their drama teacher from Arts for All and their dance instructor from Mark DeGarmo. Photo courtesy of Ms. Strong.

The students transformed Victoria into a super hero with the power to save herself through ingenuity, creativity, and baking skills. It was amazing to sit in the school auditorium and see how their Tenement Museum visit motivated further research and fueled imaginations. It was also interesting to reflect on how the historic Victoria Confino became a prominent figure in the classroom in 2014 just a short walk from where she resided nearly 100 years ago. The experience was a powerful indication of the important role that the arts play within learning.

Not only did our visitors get to meet Victoria but by making her a main character of their play, they made her story their own. Photo courtesy of Ms. Strong.

As the students activated Victoria’s story with their sounds and movements, I couldn’t help but think about what the real Victoria Confino would have thought about this development. I am pretty sure she would have liked their adaptation and cheered along with the rest of the audience.

The cast of Scrubberella takes a well-earned bow. Photo courtesy of Ms. Strong.


Arts for All’s mission is to offer accessible artistic opportunities to children in the New York City area who face socio-economic, physical, or emotional barriers to exploring the arts. Through Arts For All, professional artists work with youth organizations to build self-confidence, self-expression, teamwork, resilience, and creativity in children.

Mark DeGarmo & Dancers/Dynamic Forms Inc is a not-for-profit organization committed to enlivening bodies, shifting perspectives & changing lives. MDDF works in yearlong, multiyear partnership programs with NYC schools, including public school students & communities under-served in the arts, dance & aesthetic education.

— Posted by Miriam Bader, Director of Education