I have been a member of the C.A.N.D.L.E. puppeteers for three years. C.A.N.D.L.E. stands for Clarkstown Awareness Network for a Drug Free Life and Environment. As a CANDLE puppeteer, I use full cloth body puppets to perform skits, written by local high school students, in third grade-classrooms. The puppets are the same kind seen on Sesame Street, so the kids relate well to them. They are made of cloth and come in a strange variety of colors, including orange, green and a stunning yellow.
As a member as well as a trainer of the C.A.N.D.L.E. puppeteers, I have been honored to experience its magic. Our program has the power to affect third graders in a way that just talking does not. Through skits and interactive activities, the children learn how to handle different conflicts. They understand how puppets in our plays are feeling and can easily relate to the situations. Several of the skits are especially powerful.
"Jimmy and His Guardian Angel" deals with the pressures of a young boy with a stressed-out mom. She screams and yells at her son, Jimmy, telling him he is worthless (when he accidentally spills a cup of coffee on her paperwork). Jimmy feels that his mother doesn't want him around and decides to run away. Just when he is feeling his lowest, an angel appears - the voice of reason - and through a side skit of three runaways, she shows him that life on the streets is not the right choice. The kids watching this skit understand how Jimmy is feeling because no matter how good any of our parents are, all of us have been yelled at for some silly reason, and all of us, I'm sure, have felt like running away.
The "No Poem" skit is a short poem that deals with saying no to drugs or anything else that someone might be pressuring kids to do. We make it fun by using expression and movements, but the kids get the message that is alright to say no and that they should not be embarrassed to do so. For example, two of the stanzas say:
No, you could sock me.
Feed me some broccoli.
Tickle me till I turn blue.
But in between sniggles and giggles and wriggles
I'd still say NO to you!
No you could love me.
No you could shove me.
You could make me really mad.
You could scratch me with claws,
but I'd say NO because:
DRUGS ARE VERY BAD!
"Fear of Flying" is a skit about divorced parents with two kids. The mother sends them off to California to stay with their father for a week. The children are worried that their father won't love them because of the divorce, a very real situation. We show that the parents still love them and that they should speak to them about what they are feeling. This is a good solution for the children and it's something that they can use as a technique to get their feelings heard.
There have been several times when a child watching our show has gotten involved with the puppets to the extent where he really believes they are real. At the end of some performances, when we are packing up, kids might even be concerned that the puppets will suffocate.
During one of our interactive activities called "ARespect," we hold up letters that, if unscrambled, would spell the word RESPECT. Well, we thought we had heard it all when one of the third-graders watching gave us his own take on the Aretha Franklin version. It's been an ongoing joke with us ever since.
C.A.N.D.L.E. has affected me in many ways. It has shown me that there is so much to teach children about life and its struggles. Through the skits we learn and remember just how frustrating it was to be picked last to play baseball or not to do well on a math test. C.A.N.D.L.E. teaches kids (as well as the performers) that everyone has good qualities, that some of us are peacemakers, some jocks, and some are even brilliant kids everyone is jealous of.
I love to see the faces of the kids when they first see the angel or hear some of the questions that they ask at the end of the performance, like, "Why are you all wearing black?" (We do this so the puppets stand out and the kids don't concentrate on us rather than the skits.) Third-graders are so innocent. CANDLE makes me feel that I am helping my community by making its children more aware of healthy ways to deal with problems and that is alright to talk to adults. Just like the teacher, Miss Rennie, says during "Fear of Flying":
You didn't CAUSE the problem.
You can't CONTROL the problem.
You can't CURE the problem.
But you can COPE with the problem. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.