Nurturing Creativity and Community: Co-Op After School Explores Broadway and Organizes LGBTQ+ Conference in Spring 2024

Co-Op students perform their spring 2024 production of The Wiz. Photo Credit: Chris Randall

From visiting the dazzling lights of Broadway’s Marquis Theatre to forming new relationships with the New Haven Pride Center, Co-Op After School (CAS) programming continues to brighten up the lives of 350 high schoolers in downtown New Haven. With the support of a grant from New Haven’s Office of Community Mental Health Initiatives, CAS is setting its sights on greater possibilities for the next academic school year.

Launched in 2009, CAS is a partnership between New Haven’s Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School (Co-Op) and Dwight Hall at Yale. The program offers free, accessible after school programs to all involved Co-Op students.

As a part of the Advance pillar of Dwight Hall’s Engage, Grow, and Advance program delivery model, CAS bolsters community well-being through youth-driven programming centered on personal, academic, and creative development.

In attending a performing arts high school, Co-Op students spend a large portion of their academic day pursuing their artistic interests. Noted Paul Bryant Hudson, Program Director at CAS, “While CAS offers a large amount of arts-based programming and opportunities for students to study arts outside of their designated [academic] focus, it expanded into other elements of after school programming.” 

Fostering socioemotional learning, cultural affinity spaces, and creative outlets, CAS administrators and students worked diligently in spring 2024 on a number of new projects. 

“Students now are in this age of information, interacting with and impacted by the social climate in a really particular way,” Paul said of CAS’s work to make its activities culturally relevant. “I’m really excited about and really admire the way students feel a sense of agency over their creative identities,” he added.

Paul described the organization’s Gay-Straight Alliance, which, with the aid of other local groups and its ongoing partnership with the New Haven Pride Center, sponsored this year’s LGBTQ+ Youth Conference held at Southern Connecticut State University. The conference brought in 60 Co-Op students to discuss intersectionality and identity appreciation in today’s sociopolitical environment.

Many Co-Op students devoted a significant portion of the spring semester to crafting a musical production of The Wiz. The project showcased their dedication to the performing arts. Recognizing their outstanding efforts, CAS administration decided to reward the students with a special surprise.

“They spend hours a day for four years perfecting these crafts. They’re just really beautiful performers and artists,” said Paul. “We saw the way [the musical] went off. It was an absolutely stunning performance, and at the end of the last performance, we announced that we’d be taking the full cast and crew and other Co-Op students to New York to see The Wiz on Broadway.”

The trip, which was inherently exciting for CAS performers, also held special significance due to a remarkable connection. One of the stars of the Broadway performance, Avery Wilson, who played the role of the Scarecrow, graduated from Co-Op in 2014. After a day spent exploring New York City, visiting museums, traipsing across the urban theater district, and finally seeing the show, CAS students were invited by Wilson to get a closer look of the stage. It was there that students got the chance to speak with Wilson and learn from his experiences.

CAS earned the support of the New Haven Office of Community Mental Health Initiatives this spring when it was awarded a $30,000 grant. Paul hopes to use the grant in several areas, with a particular focus on bolstering CAS’s peer-to-peer support services. The goal is to have more therapists and counselors available to create a network of resources for students who would like to tend to their socioemotional needs and mental health. This funding will help ensure that every student has access to the assets they need to thrive both academically and personally.

As a former Co-Op student and participant in the CAS program himself, Paul brings a unique perspective to his leadership role. Reflecting on his own experience, he shared, “I had a rich experience that shaped my creative identity in a significant way. The program is award-winning because students have access to brilliant artists who are also talented educators. It is really a blessing.”

Looking ahead, Paul expressed his aspirations for the program’s future. “In the coming years, I would love to create more seamless drop-in experiences with local artists and build stronger relationships with artist collectives in the city.”

You may visit CAS’s Instagram for future program updates!

About the Author