Art, business skills combine at Meriden high schools

Art, business skills combine at Meriden high schools


MERIDEN — Elizzeha Ortiz learned to DJ. Elijah Castillo learned to dance. Then they took their skills and learned to market them into successful entertainment ventures.

It’s all part of Change The Play, a program founded in 2013 that connects at-risk youth with music, entertainment, sports and fashion professionals who teach the kids arts and entrepreneurial skills in schools in Meriden, New Haven, and Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Jason Teal, president, CEO and executive director, presented the program’s accomplishments on Monday at Maloney High School to Meriden school administrators, city council and school board members.

Teal said Change The Play helps students find and explore options beyond “high glamourous careers” in sports and entertainment.

“Our program highlights lesser-known career and entrepreneurial paths as practical alternatives to being on the field, ball court or stage,” he said.

The presentation included an impromptu urban dance performance by 21-year-old Elijah Castillo, a 2014 Platt High School graduate, and DJ music by 18-year-old Ortiz, a Maloney senior.

Ortiz was attracted to the music programs, taking an interest in making beats and eventually DJing.

“Every time the program started, I just jumped on it,” Ortiz said. He started as a sophomore when the program began. As his reputation as a DJ grew, other students asked him to DJ their parties.

“I just felt amazing,” he said. “My hands on the controller, and all that. I just love it. I’m going to keep doing it every day.”

After high school, he said, he hopes to continue DJing on the side and join the military — he hasn’t decided which branch — and then move into law enforcement.

He’s DJed events at the Meriden YMCA Mountain Mist Outdoor Center, My City Kitchen and EbLens, a partner that sells clothing designed by Change The Play students.

Teal said he calls the program “STEAM-powered,” an acronym meaning science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

“Many times, what I’ve seen is school systems will talk about STEM,” he said. “What about the arts? The arts are the humanities; the arts are the soul of the people. If you take the arts away, what are we left with?”

The program incorporates real-world applications of business and entrepreneurship into student art projects, whether they are designing, marketing and selling clothing at EbLens, or planning and executing off-season training regiments and nutritional strategies with athletes.

School Superintendent Mark Benigni said Change The Play is doing exciting work.

“Taking a design concept and carrying it out through the whole process and selling it at EbLens is exactly the real-world experience our students need,” Benigni said. “(Change The Play staff) quickly build trusting relationships with our students and that’s what leads to success.” 203-317-2212 Twitter: @LCTakores

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