The Paramount Theatre Bring Literacy to Life at Mathews Elementary

Here we are writing a group story that we are going to act out for the class.


In the fall of 2009, we piloted a program called Literacy to Life at Mathews Elementary, a Title I school (where half or more of the student population is below the poverty line) whose population includes the surrounding neighborhood, University of Texas graduate school housing, a children’s shelter, and a homeless shelter. The Literacy to Life program provides unique creative writing instruction to individual classrooms in low-income neighborhoods through an eight-week residency program. The mission of Literacy to Life is to empower underserved youth by helping them develop their own creative voices and to celebrate the power of their imaginations.

Unlike traditional classroom models, our teaching artists help children in the classroom to develop creative writing skills and self-esteem through interactive drama, storytelling, and writing exercises. When the residency is finished, The Paramount Theatre’s professional actors, improvisers and musicians transform the stories, poems, and essays into a fast-paced, forty-five minute show for the stage. The actors then return to the school and perform these works for the young authors and the entire school community.  The students see their writing brought to life. 

Jaclyn Sepp, the third grade teacher at Mathews, wrote this about her students’ experience: 

“My class was so fortunate to be the first class in Austin to take part in the “Literacy to Life” project.  My students can’t stop talking about the performance.  I can’t begin to express how exciting it was to have professional actors honor the writing of my 3rd grade students.  I work with a diverse group of students that often come to third grade not feeling confident as learners.  The program is set up in a way to make all students feel comfortable sharing their ideas.  My students now believe that they are writers.  Even my ESL students feel more confident towards writing and aren’t afraid to read their writing aloud.  My students actually CHOOSE to write during their free time.  The entire experience was uplifting and has turned our classroom into an environment where we all can be proud of each other.”

Here are some letters from the students:


Dominique, Mathews 3rd grade student

Working with Dominique was a very rewarding experience.  It was clear when we started the residency that he did not enjoy writing.  Whenever the students had independent writing time, he would do anything but write. On the day we were writing dialogue, I worked with him one-on-one. I asked him to make up a story for me. It was very clear how smart Dominique was, and how vivid his imagination. He was already a writer, he just didn’t enjoy putting words on paper.  However, once he really got into his story he was much more motivated. He took the pencil from my hand and finished his story titled “Mud Boy!” It ended up being the opening piece in our show. I saw him after we performed it, and he looked very proud.  His teacher says that she now sees him writing all the time.  
Hesam, Mathews 3rd grade student

Hesam, Mathews 3rd grade student

 Hesam was a great student with a vivid imagination. The piece he wrote that was selected for the show was called “Animal Wrestling Shop.” It’s a letter to his teacher explaining that the reason he was late was that he went to a pet store and ended up in wrestling matches with all the animals.  In the end, of course, Hesam was the champion.  The piece was presented as a song, and was the closing act of the show.


amelia-copyAmelia, Mathews 3rd grade student

 Amelia was always so excited to have us there.  We did end up using her pilgrim play, and she seemed to leave the show very happy.

A group is working with me, getting read to act out their group story.

Students get ready to act out their group story.

A shadow puppet play of a 3rd grader's story

A shadow puppet play of a 3rd grader's story


Mathews students watching their writing brought to life.

Mathews students watching their writing brought to life.


The 3rd grade students take a bow with the actors.

The 3rd grade students take a bow with the actors.

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