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20 Years of Impact: How Broadway Bound Kids Has Empowered Young Artists to Take the Stage

Inspired had the chance to sit down with the team at Broadway Bound Kids, a nonprofit that provides transformation through performing arts education, and have a conversation about the importance of student access. 

Photo courtesy of Broadway Bound Kids

Lizzie McGuire (Executive Director) and Samantha Parrish-Khan (Director of Education) share stories of students finding their voices, alumni turned mentors, and an initiative set to revolutionize arts access for underserved communities in their 20th year of programming. 

Inspired: Broadway Bound Kids focuses on breaking down barriers through performing arts education. How do you ensure that every student, regardless of their background or circumstances, feels like they have a seat at the table? 

Lizzie McGuire: This is a great question! And one that we ask ourselves often. The truth is, each of our students’ identities are unique—less categorical, more Venn diagram—so we have to constantly ask ourselves how we can meet each student where they are. 

To make sure each student feels heard, we work on prioritizing student “voice and choice” in our classrooms. This could be asking the students to select themes that they will use to write their original scripts or to vote on the music that they’ll learn their dance to. For our high school students in our free community theater programs, teachers and students collaboratively develop scripts and songs using content that is mindful of our country’s current climate and is generated from student ideas. There are lots of ways to give students the freedom of choice, and we constantly challenge ourselves to generate pathways to do so in a connective way. 

Photo courtesy of Broadway Bound Kids

Inspiring a student to feel heard can be more nuanced. Many of our students are shy to participate in the arts at first, particularly if we’re hosting a residency during the school day. Most of these kids didn’t opt into our programming! So, we dig in deeper with each student. Are they scared to sing solo, but are great student stage managers? Do they love to write and would prefer to lead the playwriting group instead of taking center stage? Most importantly, we aim to empower our students through representation and respect by working to always honor their cultural identities and backgrounds, which requires us to acknowledge our own identities as well. 

Inspired: What do you think gives Broadway Bound Kids that special touch? How do you create a warm and enriching experience that feels uniquely personal for your students? 

Lizzie McGuire: We have some of the most AMAZING Teaching Artists (TAs) in this city. We strive for our TAs to represent our students in terms of their culture and identity so that our students can see themselves in the TAs they work with. At the forefront of their interactions, they lead by balancing expertise and empathy. Our TAs are professional Broadway actors and touring dancers, and yet they choose to prioritize arts education. 

They bring a holistic, mindful approach to lesson planning and truly have a passion for equitable arts access. It's one of the things that inspires me the most! BBK Teaching Artists dig in with their students, taking the time to truly get to know them, building mutual trust and respect, while also delivering exceptional training and helping students build acting, music, and dance skills at their own pace.

Inspired: Mindfulness and social-emotional learning are vital components of the BKK programs. How do you find they add an extra layer of depth to a student's learning journey and personal growth? 

Lizzie McGuire: Not only are social-emotional learning and trauma-informed practice important components, but they are at the heart of everything we do. We believe in process, not product. Our classes are not designed to rigorously train a student to become a child star on Broadway. We serve many talented kids, and if they end up there, great! But that’s not the point. The point is to use the arts as a tool for students to unlock confidence and self-acceptance, build meaningful relationships, and develop trust by offering a safe and brave space. 

We serve a lot of students who have experienced trauma; as of now, every kid in NYC and beyond has experienced some form of trauma due to the pandemic. Data shows that helping students develop socially and emotionally leads to positive outcomes in their lives, not only in their mental health but in their physical health and longevity as well. That’s why we keep it at the heart of our work, and let it inform the way we approach engaging our students in the arts. 

Inspired: How do you collaborate with schools and communities to strengthen the impact of performing arts education on these young lives? 

Lizzie McGuire: Before we send our inspiring TAs into the classroom, our administrative staff meets with school leaders and teachers to build each residency uniquely to each school’s needs. Like our TAs, all of our admin staff are also artists, and the majority of us were Teaching Artists first, so we know firsthand how it feels to be in the classroom and reach these young folks. With that perspective, we collaborate with partner school staff to hear who their students are, what their overall learning goals and needs are, and what makes them special. Armed with that knowledge, we can then build a curriculum that drives to the core of each group of students, aiming for greater impact. 

Photo courtesy of Broadway Bound Kids

Inspired: Can you tell us about a time when you saw a student succeed in new or unexpected ways thanks to their involvement in the performing arts? What was that like for you? 

Lizzie McGuire: I was fight-choreographing Romeo and Juliet at a high school in Brooklyn, and this school served tons of kids from all different backgrounds. There was one student—this fiery, amazing kid—who had behavioral challenges. She was often getting suspended for fighting and carried herself with a defensive attitude that didn’t seem rooted in positive self-worth.

The school’s theater teacher, my partner in this project, had the brilliant idea to cast this student as Tybalt, and the first day I worked with the cast, I discovered she had quite a natural gift for movement. So, I put a sword in her hand and we got to work on choreography. At each rehearsal, she showed more and more prowess at moving with grace and safety. She remembered each movement perfectly, and even picked up the choreography that the other students had learned as well! I saw an opportunity and asked her if she’d like to be fight captain, which in theater means she was responsible for learning all of the fight choreography for each character, not just her own, and maintaining safety at all times. She eagerly accepted the role, and I gave her the floor, letting her run through each fight I had choreographed with each group of characters. 

From that day on, she was a different kid. She showed up early to rehearsal, helped me organize the prop swords, and said to me that one day she wanted to be a dancer. And I believe she will. What a humbling gift it was to work with her. I think about her all the time. 

Inspired: In your view, what is the most rewarding aspect of being an advocate for arts education, both at Broadway Bound Kids and beyond? 

Lizzie McGuire: We all know how powerful being a part of a cast or ensemble can be. Those times backstage, waiting to go on, standing all together as a unified group, working as a team to do something BIG and BRAVE. That’s the magic. That's why I stand by arts education—it’s a gift I want every student to at least have the choice to participate in. 

Inspired: It's remarkable to hear about the full-circle journey of students becoming teachers–in fact, three of your teaching artists this fall are BBK alum! Can you share a specific anecdote or moment of how it’s been to see these alum grow from participant to mentor? 

Samantha Parrish-Khan: First of all, watching these young folks continue to grow and truly understand the impact of arts education and having a trusted adult in their life is completely astounding. It’s a very real way of seeing the seeds you plant bloom! The free Saturday programs created at BBK have become a refuge for students in this city.

Photo courtesy of Broadway Bound Kids

I’ve seen students create and maintain relationships from elementary school to college and beyond. These young folks started to understand that what they found in BBK’s Community programs was unique and even life-changing. Now, some of these students want to provide that place for the young artists of NYC and are giving back to the community that gave them so much. 

There was a moment last year when two alums-turned-TAs called me to work through a challenging moment with a guardian. I was able to ask the right questions and watch them come up with solutions on their own. The wisdom and empathy with which they rose to the challenge is exactly what they practiced in BBK classes growing up. Also, to have folks who are invested in our mission on a very personal level means that these TAs will always go above and beyond for their students. I’m honored to be able to work with them in this new way. 

Inspired: BBK is celebrating its 20th anniversary–congratulations on building such an incredible legacy! Looking ahead, are there any upcoming projects or initiatives that you're particularly excited about, and that you'd like to share? 

Lizzie McGuire: YES! I can’t believe we are turning 20 this year! It’s incredible to think how far we’ve come—from one class in one school in 2004 to now serving over 1600 kids in the city. Bananas. 

We are super excited to be launching a new initiative this year to help fund lasting programming for our partners. BBK is poised in a position to offer critical arts programming that reaches several underserved communities in NYC, and we’re honored to say that we’ve built lasting relationships with schools all around the city that we serve each year. However, funding for the arts can waiver year to year. We want to create a fund that would untether our communities from depending on city or school funding, and offer it ourselves!

That's why we’re starting the BBK Community Partnership Fund, which would allow us to continue our great work with each of our amazing school partners without depending solely on our year-to-year fundraising efforts or school budgets.

To kick off that initiative, we will be holding various fundraising events throughout the year, including a 20th anniversary benefit concert, featuring Broadway stars alongside our very own Teaching Artists and students. This event is open to the public and we welcome ALL to join! We’re also holding a month-long Giving Tuesday campaign to benefit that same fund!

Inspired: Finally, is there a message or piece of advice you'd like to share with young aspiring performers and artists, especially those who may face barriers in pursuing their passion? 

Lizzie McGuire: There may be times when it feels like a pipe dream to pursue the arts. Finding opportunities can be challenging. But I empower all young performers and artists to advocate for themselves—your voice MATTERS. You have something special to say and to add to this community! Work hard, and know that if you keep after it, it will come. 

Interested in the work that Broadway Bound Kids does and/or want to get involved? You can visit their website or reach out to Lizze McGuire directly at to learn more.