Art / Education

Actress brings out the fun at MS 424

Courtesy of MS 424

MS 424 students Amy Ortega and Mercy Owusu with Leslie Carrara-Rudolph in May.

Sesame Street star preaches creativity to Hunts Point kids

Students at Hunts Point’s MS 424 were encouraged to get their “weird” on when they received a visit from a charismatic celebrity in May.

Emmy-nominated Leslie Carrara-Rudolph visited the school on Bryant Avenue to lead a character development workshop she calls “Wake Up Your Weird!” to inspire students through art and creativity.

Known for her role as “Abby Cadabby” on Sesame Street, Carrara-Rudolph conducts educational projects and workshops when she’s not on the set of the legendary children’s TV show. For her “Wake Up Your Weird!” workshop, she travels to schools around the country accompanied by a puppet she created, Lolly Lardpop.

Although the actress has been conducting the workshop for years, she says she remains attentive to how well students appear to receive it, in the event she feels the need to tweak her act.

“I felt nervous since I looked like a crazy lady with puppets, but I had fun,” she said.  “Joy is what I lead with, it’s my shield. The students see that.”

The inspiration for Carrara-Rudolph’s road show came from her father, a cartoonist who also taught art. She often followed him to his classes, seeing first hand the positive impact art had on his students as their self-confidence grew. However, after tragedy struck in the form of her brother’s death, art also became a coping method for Carrara-Rudolph. The combination of experiences has helped her shape the workshop.

“Middle school is often a hard time for students,” she said. “Kids who are struggling often do things that are unhealthy, like drugs or cutting. I’m offering a different outlet that is healthier, through imagination and a pencil.”

The workshop consists of two parts, the first of which involves a skit with the Lolly Lardpop puppet aimed to help students deal with difficult issues like bullying, through creativity and imagination.The second part involves hands-on interaction, as students create their own scenarios by combining singing, dancing and art.

Although some students were excited to show their artistic skills, others were worried about what their artwork would look like.

“I was nervous about drawing,” said 7th grader Alyssa Liburd. “Lots of people were saying the same thing so she showed us how we can draw anything we want to. I’m hoping to improve.”

Some of the students said the workshop helped unlock their inner artist.

“I want to be a manga artist when I grow up,” said Jazmine Luciano. “She helped me be more creative in creating characters. I felt inspired because she told us her story.”

Self-discovery for young women was the key behind booking Carrara-Rudolph, said guidance counselor Bernice Kariri-Apau. The workshop was held exclusively for the girls of MS 424, to help them learn to cope with and overcome personal difficulties, as well as motivating them to think about their future careers.

“There are not a lot of females in the artistic route,” said Kariri-Apau. “We wanted to give the girls exposure and inspire them to [explore] fields ruled by males.”

A number of other guests visited MS 424 over the school year, including Grammy-winning musician Hui Cox, as part of the administration’s aim to bring dynamic visitors to spark students’ creativity and confidence, said Assistant Principal Michael Lopez. There will be more such visits in the coming school year, he said.

“The goal is to create well-rounded individuals,” said Lopez. “We want to expose kids to as much as possible.”


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