National Study Shows Positive Impact of Circus Programming on
March 26, 2018 -
Youth in social circus programs across the US are making big leaps in the skills they need to lead productive lives, according to a recently completed study commissioned by the American Youth Circus Organization (AYCO) and conducted by the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Effectiveness (CYPE).
Two young adults that have been studying with My Nose Turns Red for many years are pursuing circus careers. Elijah Kirk has recently auditioned for École Nationale de Cirque de Montreal and École de Cirque de Québec. Elijah hopes to become a professional circus performer. Natalie Roenker travelled to the SANCA Circus School in Seattle last month to finish her training as a social circus coach with Cirque Du Monde, a global citizenship program of Cirque du Soleil. Both young adults credit their years of circus training with My Nose Turns Red for helping them focus on their chosen careers.
Social Circus is the application of the art and culture of the circus to help address social issues such as social isolation, impact of trauma, violence in communities and lack of access to arts and cultural activity. Each Social Circus program in the study is a member of the AYCO Social Circus Network. Some, like Prescott Circus Theatre in Oakland, CA focus on elementary school aged children, while others, such as Trenton Circus Squad in Trenton, NJ work primarily with teens. My Nose Turns Red teaches ages four though young adults with an emphasis on their teen leadership program "Circus Youth in Action". Each program is carefully designed to meet the needs of participants, and seeks to improve the social and emotional skills that youth need to thrive as adults: knowledge and awareness of emotions; the ability to manage emotions in behavior; the ability to seek help and to help others; and the ability to set and work towards goals.
CYPE conducted the study over nine months and eleven sites, with eight participating organizations. The study showed that youth in these social circus programs made progress in the development of social and emotional skills at the level of other exemplary youth development programs and well ahead of a nonselective group of after-school youth programs.
Charles Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer at the David P Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality stated the following about the results, "It's so refreshing to get unambiguous findings in relation to the group of programs in this study. That almost never happens! Our Center has been working for several years on establishing a benchmark for exemplary programs in building social and emotional skills and it's particularly gratifying to have uncovered a set of programs that are generally performing at this high standard."
The study showed that youth in these social circus programs made positive and substantial progress in the development of social and emotional skills. For example, the percentage of social circus youth struggling to demonstrate self-regulatory skills improved from 53% to only 19% by the end of the program. These impacts were at the level of a comparison group of eight exemplary youth development programs and well ahead of impacts found in a non-selective comparison group of over 350 other after-school youth programs previously studied by CYPE.
The lead funders of the study were the James E and Diane W Burke Foundation, and Cirque du Soleil. Locally, the Daniel and Susan Pfau Foundation, a private family foundation, funded My Nose Turns Red's involvement in the study.
"The study bears out what practitioners have known for a long time" says Amy Cohen, Executive Director of AYCO, "When it comes to building social and emotional skills in youth, circus works!"
While Elijah is pursuing a professional performing career and Natalie is pursuing a coaching career, it is not the primary outcome of My Nose Turns Red's programs. Social circus programs build a sense of empowerment, tenacity and confidence that helps youth find a positive path and overcome barriers in their lives. One recent graduate of My Nose Turns Red wrote in her college essay - "Without Circus" - "I know I am not going to be a professional juggler or clown or silks acrobat. But I believe my years as a youth circus performer have given me confidence to achieve success in college and beyond. The encouragement and support from my circus peers has helped me achieve surprising things - I can walk across a wire 5 feet above the ground and not fall, I can jump rope on a unicycle, and I can even climb silks to the ceiling and perform twists and twirls".