DDP Talks To… Jennifer Sommers about Houston Ballet’s Commitment to Student Safety

This DDP Talks To… walks through Houston Ballet’s initiatives to support and protect its students.  With attention paid to both summer intensive safety and policies for year-round students, this interview serves to wrap up the summer and give students, parents, and companies a framework to follow for the new school year.

  • How do you prioritize student safety during the summer program?
    • During the summer (and the school year!) our responsibility is to the dancers as whole people
    • The reason they are coming here is to develop their physicality and artistry, but that is not going to happen if we don’t attend to their health and wellness
  • Protecting students all year
    • Students either have to have a high school diploma or be enrolled in school to be a part of the professional year-round division.  Houston Ballet also provides ESL classes for international students
    • Any adult that is coming into Houston Ballet undergoes a background check
    • Company dancers and other adult staff are not allowed to engage in one-on-one conversations over social media with students
      • Even scheduled, in-person meetings must have two adults present, so a student is never by themselves with an adult from Houston Ballet
    • Diversity and harassment training are required as an organization
    • Partnership with Houston Methodist, including a staff therapist
      • The staff therapist runs mental health sessions once a month for the dancers, also offering one-on-one counselling
    • A safety protocol has been developed for the online environment (Zoom) as well
    • All student handbooks include policies/published code of conduct that students must abide by
    • Houston Ballet feels that the people working in residential life are the true “safety net” — they are the ones who can catch an issue early on, so Houston Ballet requires rigorous training to ensure they have a strong residential life team on staff
  • Signals of summer intensive success
    • Every single student makes some sort of artistic or technical breakthrough 
    • Performance training is an important pillar of Houston Ballet Academy, so even in the virtual setting, a satisfying performance is a must
    • They had a really great time and made some of their best friends!