Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better: the power of arts in education, episode TEN

Tendrina Alexandre

We made it to episode TEN (cue the balloons and confetti)!!
I feel like there should be bells, whistles and heralding trumpets!

Tendrina Alexandre (get it? TEN??) is another superstar from the past, who comes from a superstar family. Does it feel like everyone I interview here are my faves? Yes, yes it does, and I’m okay with that.

To be honest, save for the fact that she has matured into a gorgeous woman, Tendrina has not really changed – she is still the brilliant, connected, gregarious person she always was. When her image popped up on my Zoom screen, that familiar joy washed over me and I knew this episode was befitting of being in the top TEN. (I’ll stop now. You’re welcome. Moving on.)

It was a fortunate circumstance that Tendrina Alexandre immersed herself in all things dance and Thespians in high school. She probably spent more time in my dance studio than anywhere else in that school, and that takes into account the fact that her father was a guidance counselor in the building. Tendrina was one of those kids you wish would stick around for a few extra years so that you could continue to see them grow and shine in your midst. Alas, four years is all I got.

From day one of her freshman year, she hit the ground running, taking roles in all of our fall shows and honing her vocal and dance abilities in the musicals Fame and Pippin (ensemble), then took on the lead roles of Ariel in Footloose and Janet in Drowsy Chaperone. Her radiance in the latter role is shown just to the right –>

This was one of my favorite pics from a Thespian dinner from many moons ago. There are some fantastic people here, all of whom I’d love to interview someday. Ten is right in front of me. No matter what we wore, they always made me feel fabulous.

After graduating from Spring Valley in 2012, she enrolled at SUNY Albany, where she double majored in Communications/Rhetoric and Journalism. Of course, she had to add one more focus: a minor in theater because, what Thespian doesn’t want to do theater in college? That performing arts bug bite is so hard to heal.

After college, she tested the political waters for about six years, working for NY state senator David Carlucci and most recently as District Representative for Congressman Mondaire Jones (also a Spring Valley HS alum!) who now represents NY’s 17th district. When she tired of politics, she sought a change of pace, landing a position in the private sector as a marketing administrator at Grand Seiko USA, a Japanese-based, luxury watch company. I feel like I found my thing.

Exploring how her talents and skills can be applied to the world, she serves as a leader in her church community and dabbles in local activism. Last fall, she took a turn as a flawless, glammed up semi-finalist in the Miss New York USA pageant, which played directly into her aspirations as a budding fashionista and influencer. You can follow her on Instagram @tenontrend_.

Ten looks back

Tendrina reflected thoughtfully about the kids in Gen Z, who are in school now and are highly aware of the mental health/self-care movement. In that light, she looked back at her high school self and described that girl as eager to please in good and bad ways.

I was an extreme people pleaser, I wanted to make those around me happy, and I think that brought me joy when I saw when other people happy – that made me happy as well. My eagerness also drove me to discover new things about myself, but sometimes that eagerness could lead me to doing things that didn’t bring me joy and really didn’t satisfy me that much and I put a little bit too much on my plate.

This has become a running theme on this podcast. So many of my students, and maybe adolescents in general, are people pleasers. When they see they have made those around them “happy,” there is a sense of validation from the adulation they get. That can easily go south when they start to feel the weight of responsibility from always needing to please others. Giving so much of yourself, without adequate time to refill your bucket, can be quite draining.

A second safe place

Tendrina reflected on how the dance studio offered an avenue to provide self-assurance:

My favorite space; still my happy place, in my brain. I found my sense of confidence. I can come off very confident because I’ve been trained as a Haitian-American to be super-sure of what you’re saying; just to try to be excellent in every way that you can. But I was definitely very insecure (and still struggle with a lot of insecurities) but especially coming out of a private school where I was the only Black woman in my class, and coming into a public school where things were very different, I didn’t know how I was going to be accepted or perceived. The studio made me feel like I belonged and like I had a place in high school, in the world. It made me so much more sure of myself.

This self-assuredness has carried through everything she has done, especially today. Whether it be during a performance, through advocacy, or simply encouraging others, she has come to feel most like herself because she had the chance to explore who she was through the performing arts. My goal for all of my students is to make the studio, as fast as possible, feel like their safe space.

She commented on the power of physical expression, which is the basis for all the work we do in the studio. It releases in us, something emotionally, it just drives something deeper within us that I can never put my finger on. When Ten came to Spring Valley, she was an ice skater; it was a major part of her identity. Early on, she had injured herself, which stopped her skating trajectory. It was quite a blow to her psyche, since so much of her self-perception was wrapped up in that activity. In the studio, it was an outlet of expression for me; I probably would not have done as well in school if I did not have that. Ice skating’s loss was Thespians’ gain.

She also recalled her first week at school, when she was in the guidance office with her dad (my colleague, the guidance counselor). I was walking in the hallway and he stopped me to introduce his daughter. Literally, I remember the handoff, and from that moment on, you were my second safe place in that school.

That’s the kind of feedback that feels the best. When you make a kid feel safe, there’s no better teaching outcome.

Lessons Learned

Another issue with my generation (and younger) is that we often think that you just show up and you’re excellent at something, and that’s it. You don’t have to work really hard for anything, and if it’s not easy or come to you naturally on the first try, then it’s just not for you. The studio taught me so much different than that. Everything comes with practice. [The necessity of] coming into the space with a desire to be better than you were the day before, to learn, to grow, to receive feedback and constructive criticism.

She also learned to practice the little things at home; the things that would help to make her better when she returned to the studio. She still uses that lesson today. Even if she struggles with something, you still have to keep showing up, put in the effort, do the little things that add up to that bigger picture that you striving for. It’s all about the process (another running theme on this podcast). There’s no real “goal” that has to be achieved by a certain time. Doing the work will get us there – eventually. At 28, Tendrina is still ingraining in her brain the idea that life is a process.

About the process of learning dance routines:

You can be really scared. You’re looking at Mrs. Tirro, who is doing it with no issues, and then you’re looking at yourself and you’re a little bit awkward at first and you have to face this routine with no fear. You have to not be afraid to mess up, to receive a little bit of constructive criticism, to look a little silly at first, and trust that it will all work out the way that it’s supposed to. The final result will be worth it.

This is my teaching thesis. It could probably be a dissertation if it weren’t so short and simple. Thanks for reflecting that, Ten.

How has Tendrina changed?

Back then, she wasn’t afraid to be a big dreamer. She misses that unstoppable nature of her younger counterpart and laments that now, she’s “too much” of a realist and wishes she had a little more of the “dream big” sensibility. Like Denishah and Brianna, she knew how to “take up space” and enjoy living in that. She did. I remember.

She acknowledges the boost in confidence and self-assuredness as an adult. The eagerness to grow and learn was always there, but it has also changed in a bit. Then, it was a means to an end. Now I want to evolve as a person each and every day. She is also proud not to be as reliant on other people’s perceptions of her. That is something I have worked really hard on. She’s more comfortable saying no, checking in with herself, and asking herself if what is before her makes sense for what she wants.

Now that she’s older, she has some things to say to that wide-eyed dreamer:

First of all, high school is just the beginning! It’s not the end, you are not defined by what you do in high school. You are so much more than your grades or your achievements.

I would tell her to follow her heart, not so much the advice of other people, not try to play life too safe; just go for the things that bring her joy.

Learn to foster deeper connections with the people that matter to you. Who you are matters more than anything else and you become who you are through the people who you are connected with.

Your whole life doesn’t have to be decided at this moment. You can decide something now, and if you decide later that you hate it, you have permission to change your mind.

Another gem from Ten was this:

Whatever you’re doing, everything that you do, you should use it as an opportunity to develop the skills that you already have. It’s always going to set you apart from other people in the market. There’s going to be something better that you can offer because of the skills that you honed in on in all of your experience.

What does adult Ten grapple with now?

When I ask this question, I always get an “ooooooo” from my guest. This is a tough question to reckon with. Hers was followed by coming for my soul?!?

“Life is a process” always seems to butt heads with a person who is following a timeline of expectations. Every day, she tries to teach herself that life is a journey, time works out the way it’s supposed to, sometimes better than you would have planned it. The expectations of others don’t always work out for you – even those of her younger self. She understands that your path is ultimately based on your choices and you can’t allow people to narrate your life for you. I’m learning to be confident and satisfied with where I am now. I’m where I’m supposed to be.

After all, in the end, whatever decisions you make, you have to be able to live with yourself. Better your decisions result in something that satisfies you, rather than someone else.

Sage advice

High school does not define you. Your life gets so much bigger after high school. You will get to write your own story the way that you want to write it. But, you can do so much in getting yourself ahead as a person by the way you handle high school. Use it as an opportunity to develop yourself and prepare for the world that’s coming.

Ten’s self-care plan

Tendrina admitted that she has had a hard time being an emotional person. There’s perhaps something in the proud Haitian culture that focuses more on personal excellence than digging in to the mental health impacts that can have on an individual’s psyche. One way that she connects with her emotions is through journaling, writing down (word-dumping) things that are on her mind. It helps her process the overwhelming quagmire that resides in her heart and gets to the root of the things that bother her. It makes a little more space in her brain, providing fewer distractions in her day.

She schedules time with loved ones, being intentional about finding joy through her connections with the people she wants to spend time with. Dinners, museum visits, or simple quiet time side by side helps her to get out of the everyday grind.

Then, with the demurest smile, she glanced at the camera and said shopping. The fashionista emerged. She especially loves “window shopping” on the social media creators that she follows and getting ideas for her own “inspo-looks.” Someday, people will be seeking her influence for inspiration.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already completed ten episodes of this podcast. What a joy it is to sit and reminisce about such happy, productive shared experiences.

Part of my mission for this project is to provide young people examples of others who have stood in their shoes, felt the same feelings, had the same thoughts. Now, the elder “kids” have some very useful perspective to share, which I want to offer to the next generation so that maybe, their younger counterparts don’t feel so crazy and alone. These alumni now have the resources that they didn’t have when they were younger, and are encouraging students today to reach out and use every available resource to help ease the way.

There’s so much more that must be shared. Tune in next week for episode 11.

Watch the full interview here!

Check out my Changed for the Better YouTube channel.
Please consider subscribing and spreading the word to
anyone you think might enjoy these conversations.

Follow Tendrina on Instagram @tenontrend_

6 thoughts on “Changed for the Better: the power of arts in education, episode TEN

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