What is STAGES?


The STAGES Project (Students in Theater arts Advancing psycholoGical, Educational, and Social functioning) is a not-for-profit program for at-risk youth designed to foster creativity, artistic exploration, teamwork, positive communication, and problem-solving skills in order to prevent negative adolescent/adult outcomes later in life.



The project is founded by Judy Ho, Ph. D., ABPP, Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University and licensed clinical psychologist, who is also the principal investigator for the research and evaluation portion of the project. There are a number of trained volunteers from the Los Angeles community who have been associated with the project since its inception in 2009. To date, we have conducted 4 iterations of the program (one per year).



Public schools are increasingly eliminating arts programs in an effort to mediate the dire financial situation of many state and local school systems. However, research has confirmed that the arts have overwhelmingly positive effects on youth development. In particular, at-risk and low-income youth involved in the arts evidence reduced delinquency, truancy, criminal behavior, and school dropout. Unfortunately, those youth at greatest developmental and social risk are least likely to participate in the arts due to low exposure and/or lack of financial resources,

The STAGES Project was designed to deliver essential artistic programming to children who need it the most and to help the community at large understand the importance and value of arts education for youth development. It consists of three components: 1) The Performance Arts Program, 2) An Accompanying Research Study, and 3) A Public Education and Outreach Program. Through collaboration with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD), the STAGES Project will have provided a performance arts experience to roughly 300 at-risk youth by completion of the fourth implementation in summer 2012.



The target youth in the program are 5th grade students identified as at-risk by school personnel due to failing the California Standards Test, failing subject grades, poor citizenship scores, and/or problems with emotional/behavioral functioning at school. These children largely come from Title I schools, which means that a majority of these students receive a free or reduced lunch based on documented financial strain. These  students are invited to enroll in a four-week intensive summer transition program termed “JUMP Start to Success” to prepare the youth for the developmental and academic hardships experienced in the shift from elementary to middle school. The STAGES Project implements its performance arts program as part of the regular JUMP curriculum which means that the STAGES component is exposed to all students during regular class time. The STAGES team of actors, teachers, psychologists, musicians, dancers, graduate students, and behavioral specialists lead the classrooms twice a week for four weeks. These efforts culminate in a final performance free to parents, school personnel, and the community. Past shows have included Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and performances of narratives written by the students themselves.



Summer 2012 will be the fourth implementation of the STAGES Project. The first and second implementations of the project (in Summer 2010 and Spring 2011 respectively) were pilot studies with limited research involvement. The third implementation in Summer 2011 was conducted concurrently with a longitudinal research study. The study objective was to examine the ways in which the program influenced psychological, academic, and social skills functioning for youth. To do so, academic data from pre- and post-program was obtained from the school, and interviews were conducted with the youth and their parents before the program began, as well as follow up interviews after the final performance, three months later, and six months later. Summer 2012 will be our second full data collection following the same pattern of pre and post data collection.

Study results from 2011-2012 have shown that the program facilitated significant positive development of youths’ social skills, self-esteem, self-efficacy, problem-solving skills, and overall psychological and behavioral functioning. In addition, average student grades pre-program was a D+, and average student grades 9 months post-program was a C+ (a remarkable shift from failing to passing grades).



In order to disseminate our findings to educational and psychological professionals on a national level, the lab has produced four manuscripts to date delineating the design, results, and benefits of implementing the STAGES Project. See below for a full list of the manuscripts. Additionally, we have presented our findings at various national professional conferences including the 2011 International Organization of Social Sciences and Behavior Research Conference (at which senior lab member Elizabeth Cale was awarded the best paper award).

To increase social awareness of the positive effects of arts involvement for at-risk youth and to educate the public regarding the consequences of eliminating arts programs from schools, we are in the process of developing a documentary which follows the narratives of youth involved in the STAGES program longitudinally, and to hear in these children’s own words how this program has helped them. We also host a number of free benefit functions and educational seminars during the year which helps to increase our presence to the Los Angeles community. We hope to expand our program to other public schools in the area in order to enhance youth functioning.


Since the inception of STAGES in 2009, over sixty skilled and dedicated volunteers have dedicated their time and talent for free. Program and performance costs include costumes, props, acting games, and educational tools. Additionally, to continue conducting research, the lab needs data analysis tools and funds to provide compensation to parents, youth, and teachers for their participation. Finally, we need funding to continue our documentary work to increase social awareness, and to continue our free public education events in the community. We appreciate financial assistance of any size. Please visit our project website at http://tinyurl.com/thestagesproject to make a contribution or to learn more about our program and its dedicated volunteers.


Ho, J., Cale, E., Palacio, N., & Janulaitis, D. (2012). The impact of a curriculum-integrated performance arts program on at-risk youths’ emotional, behavioral, and social skills functioning.

Cale, E., Palacio, N., Brown, T., Janulaitis, D., & Ho, J. (2012). Investigating Parent-Youth Agreement: Effects of Self-Esteem Report Discrepancy on Youth Problematic Behaviors.

Palacio, N., Cale, E., Brown, T., Janulaitis, D., & Ho, J. (2012). Exploring Learning Styles in the Classroom and their Effect on Problematic Behaviors.

Janulaitis, D., Cale, E., Palacio, N., & Ho, J. (2012). How are you interacting? Parental views on youth social skills.


International Org of Social Science/Behavioral Research Annual Conference, November 2011, Paper Presentations

Southeastern Psychological Association Annual Conference, February 2012, Interest Group

Western Psychological Association Annual Conference, May 2012, Symposium and Continuing Education

Association for Psychological Science, May 2012, Research Poster Presentation

American Psychological Association Annual Conference, August 2012, Symposium


Phone: (424) 244-0ART            *         Web: http://tinyurl.com/thestagesproject         *        Email: StagesProject@gmail.com

Subpages (1): Press Room
Dr. Judy Ho,
Jun 20, 2012, 12:56 AM