Since 1985, MicheLee Puppets has empowered Florida's pre-K to 12th-grade students to make positive life choices in dealing with topics ranging from obesity to sexual assault. Its key to success: Innovative curriculums enveloped in the magic of puppetry.
Acclaimed theatre company, MicheLee Puppets, helps Florida students tackle the most challenging issues facing their young lives.
For Tracey Conner, what began as a college internship – using puppetry to help children cope with their disabilities – has evolved into a lifelong mission.
That's because what she witnessed was so profound: Engaged by the enchanting puppets, the boys and girls spoke to them with unabashed honesty. They asked questions and expressed feelings previously shared with no one. They connected with the puppets as if… they were real.
"That's when I realized puppetry can do more than just entertain," says Conner, founder and executive director of MicheLee Puppets, an acclaimed Orlando-based educational theatre company. "It can be used to educate, inspire and change lives."
Since 1985, the nonprofit organization has used puppets to help Florida's pre-K to 12th-grade students understand and respond to the most challenging issues facing their young lives. From childhood obesity to sexual assault prevention, there is hardly a topic MicheLee hasn't addressed with innovative curriculums enveloped in the magic of puppetry.
MicheLee Puppets has performed before nearly 2 million students in more than 40 Florida counties, delivering plays focused on early childhood education, health and wellness, and the promotion of science, technology, engineering and math.
Indeed, the company has created more than 30 original plays with educational themes focusing on early childhood education, health and wellness, and the promotion of science, technology, engineering and math. Underwritten mostly by grants or commissioned by various agencies, MicheLee has performed before nearly 2 million students in more than 40 Florida counties.
Colorful puppet characters such as bespectacled "Zak Nosepicky" are made from nothing but foam, fleece and a feathered boa (for a shock of red hair). But in the hands of skilled puppeteers they become one-of-a-kind educators who talk, dance and laugh with children – all while imparting resonating messages.
Take, for example, one of the group's most successful programs, EXTREME Health Challenge. Created in response to the epidemic rise in childhood obesity, the game show-style performance teaches the importance of nutrition and exercise. More than 1,500 fifth graders and their teachers who attended a performance participated in a Florida International University survey designed to gauge its effectiveness. Among the results: 90 percent of students agreed they should eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and 91 percent of teachers reported students made healthier choices as a result of the show.
But Conner doesn't need statistics to validate MicheLee's work. Daily miracles fuel her passion: An autistic child speaks his first words in four years. An overweight boy stands tall for making healthy choices. A young girl, once cowered by abuse, finds courage to reclaim her life.
"Our goal is to give children the tools and strategies to help them make the right choices," Conner says. "Respect, responsibility and positive life choices – that's what we're all about."