When Kyle Anderson was a teenager, two key adults made a big impact on his future as a musician, performer and mentor. He grew up in a musical family, but it took the support of people outside his inner circle to help him believe in himself.
First, his high school choir director in Milan, Michigan, gave him a lot of encouragement and chances to further his talent.
“That was a huge part of my growing up,” Kyle says. “It developed a lot of self-confidence and self-esteem, and gave me a lot of friends and opportunities that helped me make it through high-school successfully.”
Then an anonymous donor paid for his piano lessons after hearing him perform at at school.
“That was a huge blessing, and that was what inspired me to go into music,” he says.
Because of the difference music and drama made in his early life, Kyle is passionate about helping Shelterwood’s students connect with the performing arts.
As Shelterwood’s Performing Arts Coordinator, Kyle teaches individual music lessons, leads the student-musician worship team, directs a drama production each summer, and develops new ways for students to share their talents.
Kyle started as a Big Brother at Shelterwood after getting his music education degree at Spring Arbor University. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go into teaching, and Shelterwood gave him a chance to develop his mentoring skills. He enjoyed his Big Brother experience and was encouraged to stay on and continue some music ventures a departing staff member had begun.
“I really felt like that was where the Lord was leading,” Kyle remembers. “I felt like the Lord was saying, ‘Stay here. There’s some good stuff that can happen.’ I’ve been here ever since!”
Three years later, Kyle has seen that intuition play out in big ways, though his first efforts ran on trial and error. He didn’t know if there would be enough interest to have a full summer drama production, but he floated the idea out to a couple students and found a script, Body Body, about a girl who struggles with body image.
A small team of students committed to the project and within four weeks, they put together a true theater production. They memorized lines, designed a set, developed props and costumes, and put on a performance for the staff and their peers.
“It brought that group of students together in a way that I haven’t seen a lot of other things do,” Kyle says. “At the end of the time, they were able to laugh with each other, encourage each other and challenge each other. It was a really amazing thing to watch these students become their own community.”
The success of that first drama experiment has led to two more summer productions: The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon and The 10 Best/Worst Things About High School.
“It’s an intense process for them,” Kyle reports. “We rehearse Monday through Friday, anywhere from an hour and a half to two and a half hours a day. It’s a lot…in four weeks, they are performing this play in front of their peers. They really have to commit.”
Kyle has found that drama productions can be a bonding tool for students. The time commitment gives them dedicated hours together, where inside jokes bloom and trust grows. The shared vulnerability of performing also creates an atmosphere where students learn to be a safety net for each other. They have to rely on one another to create a successful piece of theater.
“It’s risky! Every time someone gets up in front of their peers, it’s a risk.” Kyle says. “They are able to encourage each other because they are all facing the same challenge. That common bond…really brings everyone together.”
During the academic year, Kyle works to give Shelterwood students chances to discover their talents, practice them, and put them to work to serve others. One of the key ways that plays out is through the student worship team. Kyle teaches and leads the team of musicians who play at Shelterwood’s Friday chapel service.
“I’ve seen a lot of them really grow in their faith as they’ve discovered what it means to not only lead worship, but live a life of worship,” Kyle says, “and what it means to dedicate your gifts and abilities to glorify the Lord.”
Through all of these efforts, Kyle wants to enhance the progress students are making in therapy and in class. Primarily, performing arts give students a unique opportunity to build their self-image and self-confidence.
“A lot of our kids come into Shelterwood feeling like a failure or feeling like they are not important,” Kyle says. “[Performing arts] gives them a very public opportunity to succeed, so when they do succeed, they get a lot of affirmation from their staff and peers. That reaffirms the fact that they are valuable, and they can be successful.”
Beyond confidence, the performing arts also teach students to commit to a process. Kyle says that dedication is good practice for the commitment it takes to achieve academic success, live a life of sobriety and develop healthy relationships.
“Teaching them…the skills necessary to commit to a process and see it all the way through to the end—that’s something that is very transferrable to other areas of life,” Kyle explains. He says kids who learn those skills will be set up for success outside of Shelterwood.
Students who further their performing arts skills at Shelterwood will also have a tool for easier transitions back home. Kids who play on the worship team at Shelterwood can join a youth group or church team. Shelterwood piano students can find a new teacher in their hometown.
“Giving them areas to immediately plug back into makes that transition better,” Kyle shares. “It gives them an arena to make friends or rekindle friendships once they go back home.”
Kyle continues to see the benefits of performing in his own life, too. He recently became a worship pastor for Vineyard Church North Kansas City and has been auditioning for local musical theater productions.
“I have to practice what I preach, right?” he says.
He has big goals for Shelterwood’s performing arts future, too. Currently, Kyle is working on continuing private lessons, creating more ways for students to share their performance gifts, and developing leadership on the student worship team. In the future, Kyle would love to make drama classes more consistent, explore student-written material, and even tackle a musical someday.
“There’s always lots of dreams!” Kyle laughs.
Interested in how Shelterwood’s performing arts opportunities can build self-confidence and grit in your teen? Learn more about Shelterwood’s unique and innovative residential treatment program.