The SHU program aims to empower Bridgeport students through the arts

FAIRFIELD — Bridgeport students have a new opportunity to show off their artistic ability this summer.

Matt Oestreicher, executive director of community theater at SHU, said he wants every student to have really deep experiences in the arts and understand the variety of career paths in the field.

“Every child we work with has the chance to ignite a spark of enthusiasm for a new area or something that might catch their attention and passion,” he said.


Ashley Nechaev, executive director of Horizons at SHU, said the nonprofit’s goal is to advance equity in education by building partnerships between community, families and schools. . One way that has taken shape this summer is a program where students sing, write songs and perform – their work culminating in a show at 6 p.m. Friday. It is open to the public but places are limited.

Students receive instruction from SHU Community Theater staff, including Oestreicher and production manager Joe Gray.

Oestreicher is an accomplished musician who plays multiple instruments and has toured with Lady Gaga, Blink 182, Weezer and Fall Out Boy. Gray was a mainstay at New York’s iconic Apollo Theater for nearly 30 years and sang with Patti LaBelle and Lenny Kravitz and worked on shows from Metallica to James Brown.

Friday’s show will run similarly to productions Oestreicher and Gray ran at the Apollo and Broadway, Oestreicher said.

“We gathered a lot of material in a short time,” he said. “We do our best and we accept the imperfections of the process. We learn to collaborate and we learn to communicate. We learn to share the limelight and lift each other up.

All of the students worked together to write, and soon to perform, a song centered around Horizons’ community values, which focus on citizenship, safety and self-authenticity, Nechaev said.

They have also partnered with seven artists from Bridgeport who act as mentors and teachers. The whole partnership allowed the students to push themselves in a safe space while building their confidence and being supported, Nechaev said.

“It’s truly magical to see how our students feel so empowered by the partnership,” she said. “They have these really amazing opportunities to show how talented they are and really feel like it’s time to shine.”

Nechaev said the 168 students learned a variety of skills that will be demonstrated in the show, including ukulele, dancing, fencing, skipping, drumming, guitar and singing.

Oestreicher said the Apollo house band would come along with the kids on the band’s song.

“It will be a celebration of everything they learned this summer,” he said.

Oestreicher said SHU Community Theater grows its programs like this and has a lot to offer in terms of education and entertainment.

Nechaev said students typically enroll in the Horizons program in kindergarten and stay there for about nine years before entering the high school program. Those accepted are people who qualify for a free or reduced school lunch because the program aims to help underserved communities, she said.

“Fairfield County has one of the biggest, if not the biggest, opportunity gaps in the nation,” she said. “We use the term opportunity gap because we truly believe that the achievement gap is just a symptom of a larger problem – which is disparities in opportunities for children in traditionally underprivileged communities. supported and under-supported compared to their middle or upper-class classmates”.

The goal is to give everyone an equal playing field and break down systemic barriers, Nechaev said. The program provides different educational opportunities for these students to prevent learning loss during the summer, to continue learning and to enrich their lives.

“We provide them with lessons and activities and exposure to enrichment activities that could ignite their passion,” she said. “Then we add academics who are taught in a non-traditional way to remind kids how joyful learning can be.”

Nechaev said the Horizons program also focuses on children’s access to the arts.

“I think, above all, arts and entertainment have the power to revitalize communities,” she said.

Students discover famous locations that have been historically inclusive, such as the Bijou Theater, Apollo Theater, and The Grove.

“Bridgeport is a very wealthy town full of super amazing people, and I think it’s so important to shine a light on all the good,” Nechaev said. “I think the more we light up Bridgeport, the brighter it gets. This summer, Bridgeport got really, really bright here for Horizons students at Sacred Heart University.

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