Roleplaying – A roll of the dice leads to new experiences!

Roleplaying has long been a staple class at the Bellcate School. Part of the reason for that is that roleplaying encompasses three distinct types of classes, all of which have been useful to a variety of students as they progress toward their goals.

A very common way that many students use roleplaying is in developing social and job readiness skills as they work through our progressive employment model. Before students go to a job interview or make a phone call for the first time, they practice what they are going to say in a safe space with a trusted teacher. They can try different approaches, get feedback, increase their confidence, and make mistakes without the stress of a real-world encounter. This form of roleplaying is used extensively in schools and in other organizations, including businesses, during trainings, orientations, and skill development courses.

In a theatrical sense, roleplaying means playing a role. Students in theatre based classes have written plays, learned to act, designed sets and costumes, and produced staged readings and short plays or puppet shows. In this version of roleplaying, students take time to learn about the character they portray. They learn about how the character walks, talks, thinks, behaves, and interacts with others. Often this can be very different from their own experience and this gives students new insight into how others think, feel and act. It also allows them to try on different voices and behaviors in a safe and structured format.

Similarly, the third form of roleplaying, table-top roleplaying takes this concept of trying on a character to a whole new level. Using genres such as Star Wars, old-school Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), Exalted (an anime-styled superhero fantasy realm), and others, students get the opportunity to design and play characters of their own making. They can explore, adventure, problem solve, socialize, and grow in a way that takes the pressure off their own personal growth and goals progressions. Being a character slows them to try things out with consequences that do not negatively impact their real lives. What happens to your in-game companion when you support them during their time of need? If that spell you cast doesn’t do the trick, what other ways can you save yourself from imminent danger? These questions could be too anxiety provoking or scary in the real world, but in the context of a game they can be exciting, funny, or even surprising. What’s it like to be a Giant? Can’t find out on Church Street, but you can in D&D. Ever wanted to fly an X-Wing or be a Jedi…now you can.

Table-top is probably the favored version of the three roleplaying options. Students on a broad continuum have been drawn to the fun, creativity, imagination, learning, problem solving and entertainment inherent in building a fictional character and helping it live in a made-up world of magic and monsters. There are also so many genres, or kinds, of fantasy that students with varying interests can find a place that suits their interest. And boy do imaginations get turned on! The creativity displayed by students over the years has been stunning at times. Roleplaying also helps students with academic challenges forget they have problems sometimes. I once had a student who refused to write in English class. But he loved roleplaying. Before long he had committed to writing a story about his character to get his English writing credit. He wrote, edited, and produced solid work product for his portfolio. Similarly, a student who had struggled with writing before he attended Bellcate came in one day with five pages (!) of backstory he’d created after he made his first roleplaying character. The examples are too numerous to share.

Lately something new has come of the Bellcate roleplaying offerings. Families are starting to get involved! For the first time in the 14-year history of Bellcate, a student and their family have been engaging in table-top roleplaying as part of a therapeutic process. We’ve had plenty of examples of developing skills using roleplaying in team meetings and Wolf Packs, but using it as a direct therapeutic tool had never occurred until this year. The family started meeting weekly this past summer as an experiment in identifying something they could do together. It turns out they loved it so much, it became a regular activity during the school year, facilitated by Bellcate staff. We meet once a month as a team for our regular ITP or IEP meetings, and the other weeks we met to battle evil and uphold the forces of good. Not only is this fun, but as their family’s case manager I have been able to see the family and their dynamics through a different lens. I can see how they interact, how they communicate, how they do or do not cope with stress, and this has been so helpful in supporting this family with things that need to change as well as bolstering areas of strength. I am already planning to engage my second family of the school year starting 3rd quarter. This is a new strategy for both having fun with students and families and supporting their progress through our therapeutic model.

If you have any questions about this optional support, please feel free to reach out to me or your student’s case manager. Perhaps we can start an adventure together 😊

Aaron Masi, Game Master