FEL!X’s dramatic historical improv methodology has proven effective with children, adolescents, and adults in both school settings and therapeutic environments. The dramatizations have focused upon culture and identity, bullying, dating and friendship, acceptance of “the other,” responding to social cues, and social unrest. Most recently, FEL!X has been adapted to develop resilience to crises.
The name FEL!X alludes to the Latin word felix, meaning lucky or successful. By stepping into the shoes of a wide range of historical characters students better understand how others in the past successfully navigated similar challenges. The developers of FEL!X first tested the methodology in a behavioral health clinic. In this setting, historical role-playing clearly proved to be a significant healing modality, allowing participants to focus on mental health outcomes without the constraints of an academic curriculum. Following this successful application of FEL!X for young people with communication challenges, the developers recognized that the FEL!X methodology could be readily adaptable to other settings and suitable for a wide range of content.
How FEL!X Works
FEL!X incorporates trusted therapeutic and educational techniques based in social-emotional intelligence and social cognitive theories. Research has shown that acting, which requires the participant to step into the shoes of others, leads to growth in both empathy and theory of mind.
By using historical improv, FEL!X methodology creates a comforting distance from which participants can explore sensitive topics such as vulnerability, abuse of power, and trauma. Improvisation encourages students to engage completely and empathize with their character, taking into account their personal circumstance and historical context. FEL!X’s methodology, unlike historical re-enactment, does not use a prescribed script.
FEL!X provides a safe and engaging environment that encourages participation and collaboration. Behavioral rules – agreed upon by all participants – are well-balanced with game-like features. FEL!X participants “step into the shoes” of historical figures from diverse generations, cultures, demographic, and perspectives.
A carefully constructed sequence of prompts eases students into discussing uncomfortable issues from multiple points of view. FEL!X then provides an opportunity for each participant to talk about the topic from their own personal perspective, surfacing struggles they may have resisted acknowledging either to themselves or to others. While learning to view contemporary issues through an historical perspective, participants develop critical thinking skills, cultural awareness, a greater understanding of broad issues, and a sense of being part of history. In addition, participants’ social-emotional skills – self-expression, self-confidence, the ability to foster dialogue, personal reflection and growth, listening, and empathy – are richly enhanced.
They say children aren't born with prejudices. So, how can we help them unlearn them? Words are not enough. We have to help them understand and empathize with those that appear different from themselves.
That’s where FEL!X: Building Resilience steps in. FEL!X is an exciting new immersive program that invites children into the lives of historical characters spanning the ages. We use history because history repeats itself. Lessons can be learned and a safe environment can be created. We use historical dramatic improv so students can playfully stretch their imaginations while they interact with each to discuss uncomfortable topics.
We invite them to take a side they might not agree with but have to defend. That they might not believe in, but they have to adopt. This process helps children better understand different motivations and thereby become more empathetic to what on first blush seems diametrically opposed to themselves.
FEL!X guides students to interact with each other to discuss their own biases. This step by step process helps students feel more connected to each other, connected to history and feel more in control of their lives.
Developed by mental health and educational experience experts along with historians and educators. The process includes easy to incorporate lesson plans, games and assessment tools. Teachers have found FEL!X easy to adapt to their curriculum and their students needs.
Step Into Their Shoes. Stand Tall In Your Own!
Goals & Outcomes
Using historical improv, students role-play a diverse range of historical personas to understand how others have dealt with challenges - some heroically and others more negatively. They will see that humanity has survived and sometimes thrived following trying times, thanks to a mixture of hoping, coping, innovation and collaboration. FEL!X’s Building Resilience establishes a safe, structured environment for social and emotional learning with following outcomes:
- - Be more hopeful.
- - Understand that we're not powerless.
- - Learn how to articulate and make sense of ones current situation.
- - Improve listening and discussion skills.
- - Understand that we can work towards a greater good.
- - Build a greater sense of empathy to counter much of the self-aggrandizing (self-centered) focus of social media.
- - Experience the power of collaboration. This project involves teamwork!
July 22, 1849 -November 19, 1887
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
Born in New York City as the middle child of 7 siblings, Emma Lazarus’ writing was encouraged by her father. She made mentors out of famous poet colleagues like Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her poem “The New Colossus” became famous and is now inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Views on lihiyot/security
Despite her acclaim, Lazarus still faced anti-Semitism and witnessed growing tensions towards Jews in America and abroad, spurring her to call for a Jewish homeland decades before the word “Zionist” even existed. Through essays in American magazines, such as “Russian Christianity vs. Modern Judaism” (May 1882), Lazarus included a personal plea for informed understanding of Russian Jews and their situation. And another essay, “The Jewish Problem” (February 1883), she observed that Jews, who are always in the minority, “seem fated to excite the antagonism of their fellow countrymen.” To this problem she offered a solution: the founding of a state by Jews for Jews in Palestine.
Views on am/peoplehood
Emma Lazrarus was respected as a masterful poet at a time when few women writers were taken seriously. She had to contend with American and Jewish middle-class prescriptions for womanly behavior.
Emma Lazrarus conveyed her deepest loyalty to the best of both America and Judaism, and she made overt references to Jewish culture.
One of Emma Lazrarus’ poems is called “In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport” and it ends with announcing “the sacred shine is holy yet.” Though she explained in 1877, “my religious convictions ... and the circumstances of my life have led me somewhat apart from my people,” in the 1880s she changed her opinion and wrote Songs of a Semite as a collection of poems where Lazarus battled against both anti-Semitic non-Jews and complacent Jews. In “The Banner of the Jew,” she urged “Israel” to “Recall to-day / The glorious Maccabean rage,” and she reminded readers that “With Moses’s law and David’s lyre” Israel’s “ancient strength remains unbent.” And in The Dance to Death, Lazarus celebrated the courage and faith of the Jews who were condemned to die in Nordhausen, Germany, in 1349 for allegedly causing the plague.
Emma Lazrarus’ writing benefited from the complexities of her identity. She would not have been as effective on behalf of Jews if she had not believed deeply in America’s freedoms, and she could not have been as passionate a writer if she had not uncovered her own meaningful response to Judaism.
Views on Chofshi/freedom
When learning of the Russian pogroms in the early 1880s rekindled Emma Lazrarus’ commitment to Judaism. This change in attitude is evident in her writing, with works such as “Songs of a Semite: The Dance to Death and Other Poems.”
Emma Lazrarus volunteered for the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society—meeting Eastern European immigrants on Wards Island.
Emma Lazrarus’ best-known contribution to mainstream American literature may be “The New Colossus” written in 1883 for an auction to raise money for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.
Emma Lazrarus has contributed to the belief that America means opportunity and freedom for Jews, as well as for other “huddled masses.”
While she was widely published in her lifetime and mourned by colleagues and activists, Emma Lazrarus’ family’s decision after her death to censor her Jewish essays and poems left her work in relative obscurity for decades.
Views on B’artzenu/our land
Emma Lazrarus promoted Zionism throughout the 1880s. In “An Epistle to the Hebrews,” a series of fifteen open letters that appeared between November 1882 and February 1883, Lazarus suggested that assimilated American Jews should recognize their privileged status as well as their vulnerability in America, that all Jews should understand their history in order not to be misled by anti-Semitic generalizations, and that Eastern European Jews should emigrate to Palestine. Emma Lazrarus was also worldly, and posthumously, her sisters published her final works: “By the Waters in Babylon, Little Poems in Prose,” and “Hebrew poets of mediaeval Spain,” including translations of Solomon Ben Judah Gabirol, Abul Hassan Judah Ben Ha-Levi, and Moses Ben Ezra.
Bonus Fact: ________________________________________________________________________
FEL!X was developed by GraffitiWall LLC, an interactive media company, with the guidance of mental health professionals and educators. The core creative team of FEL!X includes Linda Gottfried, the founder and creative director at GraffitiWall, LLC whose background includes developing interactive experiences for entertainment, education, and healthcare, Joseph Gottfried, M.D., Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist and Professor at the University of Colorado, and Karen Snider, M.Ed Harvard, Former Project Director at the Boston Children’s Museum and Deputy Director for Exhibitions at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.
Thoughts from FEL!X Alum and Contributors
Advisor, Andy Mink, Vice President of Educational Programs from the National Humanities Center, describes how FEL!X develops “historical empathy”:
All too often, we teach and understand history while knowing the punch line to the joke. Events seem inevitable; steps taken seem obvious in their value or their mistake. One of the most important practices in history education is to engage students in historical empathy—that is, to consider that each day, figures in the past responded to the circumstances with the knowledge available to them, just as we do today. These historical figures interact with each other; they consider choices and pathways; they do the best they can to grapple through complex problems and issues. FEL!X is an ideal tool to practice and develop strong historical empathy by inviting students to assume the roles of experts and leaders in the moment—without nostalgia, without present-ism. I believe that this work is critically valuable to the way we educate our students today.”
Joseph Gottfried MD, Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatrist, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Colorado
“As a psychiatrist focused on the treatment of those afflicted with mental illness I find that FEL!X has been especially useful in my practice. Two patients, in particular, greatly benefited from the FEL!X program. One suffered paranoid schizophrenia, the other severe depression and autism. Neither of them had ever engaged in any type of relationship of significance. After sharing the FEL!X experience, they became friends, and are finally experiencing a very rewarding and supportive relationship. I can say with 100% certainty that these friendships would not have happened if it were not for the FEL!X program. FEL!X has led to so much excitement in the children and adults who participated, that at each appointment they eagerly request to do FEL!X again.”
“By examining the parallels between their own experiences in a pandemic and historical experiences, students realized they were not alone and the world had come back from things like this before. It created optimism. Academically, students found a way to connect to history. This allowed them to appreciate learning about history and appreciate that they are living through history.”
“The FEL!X program was a creative and challenging format to help middle and high school students think about their current circumstance without specifically speaking about themselves. They were pushed to think differently, collaborate with others, and learn a bit about other times.”
“Students dove deep into acting, which was impressive. Most impressive was how they collaborated, in addition to beginning to find more examples and skills of hoping, coping and innovating. The very personal takeaways they shared on the final day were inspiring. They gave me hope that for all we can't know about (the) long-term effects of pandemic times on children today, they are ready to lean into all the complicated feelings and find something positive in the moment as well as dream into the future.”
“One of the biggest takeaways for me was all of the ways that others in pandemics dealt with what they were going through. The Black Plague and Spanish Flu may have (been) different diseases in different time periods, but they are still very similar to the current pandemic. People have dealt with pandemics and epidemics in similar ways throughout history.”
“(One of the biggest takeaways was) that knowing about events from the past can be a good way to help us learn how to deal with events in the present.”
Mental Health Professional:
“FEL!X: Building Resiliency has perfect timing for today’s pandemic, social injustices, and mindset of fear and pessimism. It allowed students to understand the intersectionality of today’s complex societal issues. Through role-playing, students learned history, developed critical thinking skills, and fostered empathy, all of which contributed to their resiliency… As a psychotherapist, it was amazing to see students who were struggling with fear and uncertainty in today’s world and watch them transcend it with hope, coping, collaboration, and self-confidence.”
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