Cherubs programs give high schoolers a taste of college life

Ariel Rothfield

For five weeks Allie Parris wore nothing except black, white and grey. She ran to her classes and sang, all while carrying a yoga mat on her back.

Abnormal? The now rising Communication senior laughs.

“Looking back on the experience it was a little weird,” Parris said. “But I totally understand the need for it. It was one of the best theatrical exercises.”

Parris is one of hundreds of high school students who have participated in the National High School Institute’s summer programs.

For about a month every summer, Northwestern’s Evanston campus serves as home for “Cherubs” as they live in the dorms, eat at dining halls and participate in classes, workshops, field trips, projects and lectures.

According to its website, the program “introduces students to college-level study in specialized areas of interest and participants gain practical experience as they develop intellectually in their chosen areas.”

These fields include film and video, theater arts, debate, speech and journalism. Only rising high school seniors can apply for the programs in journalism, theater and film and video production. As for debate and speech, rising high school sophomores, junior and seniors can all apply.

“Cherubs taught me how to be an actor and prepare for a role both mentally and physically,” Parris said.

Throughout the summer, theater Cherubs take a variety of classes focusing on acting, performance theory, text analysis and production. Additionally, the students are required to do either Tai Chi or Yoga in the morning, run to each class and wear black, white or grey.

“Our uniform and running to each class brought us together,” she said. “In theatre, you have to be comfortable with the people you’re working with, and all those weird measures brought all 160 of us on a common level and created a bond.”

Four summers later, the theatre program still requires its Cherubs to run to classes. But one current Cherub said he feels the experience is worth it.

“It’s been one of the most transformative experiences,” said Nick Lehmann, a current Cherub from Chicago. “I could go on for hours about how it has been incredible for my technique and acting skills.”

On Monday, Lehmann showcased his talents in the Cherub play, “The Amish Project.”

“We have only been working on the show for four weeks,” he said, “so the best part was to see how much it affected the crowd.”

At the end of each NHSI program, students are required to complete a final project drawing upon the skills they acquired over the summer.

For theater students, it’s a play, and for film and video students, it means directing their own short film.

“We have been working eight hours a day to complete 30 movies in six days,” said Josh Aronson, a film and video Cherub from Florida. “It’s pretty exhausting.”

For his final project, Aronson used professional film cameras and actors. This was his first time making a short film, titled “Wash But Don’t Dry.”

“It was really awesome,” Aronson said. “When you are directing you get to control the image, and you can get the best performance out of the actors if you really talk to them.”

Aronson said the Cherubs program taught him how to do both.

“I have always been interested in film,” he said. “But Cherubs definitely peaked my interest, and now I am really serious about film.”

But the program also prepares participants for a more immediate future. In addition to giving him confidence about a future in journalism, rising Medill junior Alex Burness said Cherubs helped him prepare for school at Northwestern.

“I learned a lot about the technical side of journalism,” Burness said. “AP Style, ledes and nut graphs were very new to me, so it was a good head start before I got to Medill.”

By using Medill alum as instructors, the journalism Cherubs program models itself after the Medill curriculum. Students are required to learn the principles of print and multimedia journalism.

“I came here because I like to write, but they are teaching us that we do not have to be confined to just print,” said Adam Weiss, a current journalism Cherub. “Our opportunities are everywhere.”

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