Unlocking Youth Potential

By: Graham Maione, Hub Coordinator for Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex

Justin Cordero didn’t expect to get first place in the Statewide Improv Competition this past March.

He showed up to the competition as the sole representative of the Hub Improv Team at Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex after his four teammates unexpectedly had to cancel.  Upon arrival, he was matched with four students from North Providence High School.  Cheering him on in the audience were Roger Williams site coordinator Lauren Proctor, Rocketry program provider Doug Somers, JSEC Hub Coordinator Graham Maione, and JSEC Librarian Peter Quesnel.

Justin Cordero, Hub participant and Statewide Improv Competition Champion
Justin Cordero, Hub participant and Statewide Improv Competition Champion

Cordero, a freshman Hub participant at JSEC and former AfterZone participant at Roger Williams Middle School, has long had an interest in acting.  He’s fascinated by assuming character roles beyond his day-to-day identity.  “When a good actor watches himself on screen, he’s actually not seeing himself.  He’s seeing the villain or the hero or some other character that’s separate from the actor’s identity in his own life,” says Cordero.

Although Cordero has been interested in acting since he was a young child, he didn’t explore his interest beyond making skits at home until this year in the Hub.  Initially, he didn’t like the Improv Group.  The instructor, Neal Leaheey, led the youth in ice breaker activities that felt awkward to Cordero.  Ironically, these ice breaker activities are what prepared Cordero to shine at the Rhode Island Interscholastic Improv League.  When he was put on stage with four other strangers who were now his team, he was so used to stepping outside of his comfort zone that he no longer felt, well, uncomfortable.

Cordero’s newly formed team continued to advance through three rounds of improv games, pinning schools from Northern and Southern Rhode Island against one another.  In one round that Cordero referred to as the “Typewriter Game”, for example, Cordero had to perform an improvised dance as a teammate narrated his movements on an imaginary typewriter.

“During the first round, I thought I bombed it, but then the judges gave us all 5’s,” said Cordero.

As more and more teams were eliminated, Cordero and his teammates stayed in until the final round, ultimately becoming the Rhode Island Interscholastic Improv League Champions!

“In my eyes, I didn’t see myself as good as everyone else, but I guess I was.”

At PASA, that’s what we’re all about: Helping young people realize and unlock their own potential.