Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better: the power of arts in education, episode 18

Kinsley Alexandre

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of teaching multiple children from one family. Today, I am chatting with the third member in the Alexandre legacy at Spring Valley High School. Even more exciting, he is another graduate from the famous class of 2015.

I remember this young man being the real challenge to his guidance counselor father, not because he was a bad kid, but because he was smarter than the average bear, and stubbornly confident in who he was and how he looked at the world. There was certainly friction between those two, but I enjoyed having the son in our Thespian family, where those big brains and confidence were a major asset. 

Kinsley’s Thespian journey began in the pit orchestra for Footloose and The Wiz, then he moved to backstage crew for In The Heights, and finally stepped onstage as Big Deal in West Side Story. This tall and lanky kid with no performance experience learned how to “fake it till you make it” with Jerome Robbins choreography. I’d say he was following in the footsteps of his older siblings Tendrina (Episode TEN) and Kenney (Episode 16), but I think it’s more appropriate to say that he forged his own path, looking to create his own identity and make his own lasting impact on the school community.

He certainly did just that. After graduation from Spring Valley, he received his Associates Degree in English Rockland Community College, and then moved on to University of Albany for Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, & Cybersecurity. Today he is a Senior Branch Manager at TrustCo Bank and is now setting his sights on law school. Whatever concerns his dad once may have had are now a thing of the past.

Young Kinsley through his adult eyes

I asked Kinsley to use his adult brain to describe his adolescent self.

Smart, in the youthful way that’s brash and a little bit rushed, and looking to experience everything all at once while thinking that you’ve experienced all that there is. I was energetic, and sometimes I didn’t lead with that intelligence. Sometimes I led with other things that were happening, maybe emotionally or circumstantially that would inform my decision a lot more than my thinking would. But I think I was good-natured, well-intentioned most of the time. I was insatiable with life and friends and learning and trying [new things].

I saw all of those things in his younger self. I admired his energy, his dogged-determination in his approach to the things in his life. As adolescents do, he had an excited impulsivity about him, which really played well into his role as a Jet in West Side Story, tempered by his intelligence and ability to stop and think when he needed to. He admits that he still feels that insatiability, but now he’s a bit calmer and wiser as to where directs his energy. He graciously attributes his time with Thespians as a bit part of that maturing process.

Speaking of maturing, he relayed a story that we talked about back in Episode 8 with Brianna Knight. This was the scene where Anita visits Doc’s store and encounters the crowd of Jets after Riff and Bernardo’s demise. The Jets proceed to abuse Anita, pushing her and tossing her around. It’s a very difficult scene for an adult to take, but for a teenager, particularly one who dealt with traumatic events in the past, the first rehearsal became overwhelming. Kinsley remembered that rehearsal moment:

After we calmed her down, got her some water, we all just sat and we were able to have a conversation about it. From my perspective, it was staging and logistics and I’m just in my head trying to be in the right spots. But we had this conversation about tenderness, about others, about consideration that really impacted me. I’m always ten things ahead in my mind because I’m worried about trying to get from this spot to that spot.

Being grounded by that empathetic experience that we shared with her and you definitely impacted how I moved forward in life. I was able to force presence by way of interacting and grounding myself with others. I don’t know what life would have looked like if I just continued to plunder through on my own.

Truthfully, I think he doesn’t give himself enough credit. He was open to the conversations and willing to make that empathetic connection. All those guys did. I remember that rehearsal and how I was so grateful that they were the incredible humans that they were. It warms my heart that Kinsley had an epiphany that day that gave him a more complex awareness and perception of the people around him and what they present to the world. He appreciates now how everyone’s experience is not only varied, but that they are impacted very differently by the things they experience.

Lessons Kinsley remembers learning

Never get caught up in the doing. This is kind of funny. Kinsley recalled his experience in the pit orchestra with my colleague Andres Perez, a fantastic musical director (and person) whom I have had the pleasure of working with for many years. He was playing for The Wiz and he remembered catching Mr. Perez watching the action onstage, perhaps getting a little too absorbed in the action stage, and having to scramble out of his reverie to find his place in the score and find the downbeat. (What’s funny is that this happens on the regular during our dress rehearsals; it’s quite endearing, really.) In that observation of his teacher truly appreciating the achievements of the students’ work, Kinsley learned to enjoy the journey as much as the goal. Being present in the moment came to the forefront of his thoughts. He also appreciated being treated like a professional which he translated into:

Treat everyone that you meet with respect and that level of intelligence, capability and responsibility.

How important is the energy you feed off of, receive and give to those in your life. The guys that were a part of West Side Story were all so familiar with each other, which Kinsley believes is why the experience was so impactful for him.

It was so easy to go through it and feed off of the energy of the guys and enjoy. I had been on the fence about doing the show – I was actually against it and was talked into trying out by Dwayne and Deon, and I enjoyed it so much because it was really a opportunity for all of us to express together and coalesce around this thing of having fun and putting on a show for others.

There are some moments in a young person’s life that stick with them forever. For Kinsley, it was the preview performance for the Chestnut Ridge middle school students the day before we opened. He remembers the energy amongst the company members, how tightly connected they were to each other, and how because of those relationships there was an expectation that they would be connected forever.

One of those moments that solidified that for me was that Chestnut Ridge show and how that energy and chemistry was able to create something really spectacular.

Become yourself.

Tendrina is just a rock star of her own right, Kenney is one of the sweetest people I have had the pleasure of knowing. And then there was me: I came into high school with the inclination that ‘I have to be different than these two.’ I came in and I look like Kenney, I’m Tendrina’s little brother, and I’m Denet’s son. There were so many facets of familiarity people have with me through them and I appreciate that because I get the benefit of the doubt of their reputations; it speaks to my dad’s parenting. But I had to learn what my imprint was going to be, doing my own thing, trying a million different things, but I found my own imprint. That’s the biggest thing I walked away with; walking into spaces that may be intimidating or have a pre-conceived expectation of who I might be or how I might act and not feeding into that, letting my own personality and experiences blossom through being in those places.

How refreshing it is to see such a tightly-knit sibling unit. I can’t adequately express how fortunate I feel to have connected with this family; feelings of warmth, love, and appreciation flow freely whenever I think of them or speak to them.

How has Kinsley changed?

I rush less. There were a few years of dragging in between, but now I feel like I’m at my pace. Instead of rushing to be places or things that I’m not ready to be yet, or dragging my feet on, I think I’m standing in a pretty good spot right now.

The way that I think about myself and the future has tempered a little bit. That stubbornness is starting to diminish; it’s not gone all the way. (I’d never expect it to disappear completely.)

I think the biggest change is the awareness of others, the desire to connect in ways that are meaningful and impactful for them as much as it is for me; it was there, but I found the ‘adult way’ of doing it, the mature way to step in and step out, attach and disconnect; balancing that has become better.

I am always amazed by the impact of the process of brain maturity. In adolescence, the brain is like a big ball of clay, messily molding and shaping as it learns at an alarming rate. In case you were wondering about the brain in all of it’s glory, here’s a link to a great resource to Brain Facts: a Primer on the Brain and Nervous System (2018).

Adolescence can be thought of as a second “critical period” as the more complex functions of the brain develop and can be influenced by environment and experience.

The growth of the corpus callosum may explain enhanced learning capacity in adolescence, due to the increasing connections. Enhanced connections, changes in the brain’s reward systems, and changes in the balance between frontal and limbic brain regions can all contribute to teenage behaviors such as increased risk taking and sensation seeking — also aspects of an enhanced learning ability.

Brain Facts, 2018

That’s why teenagers need multiple layers of support systems as their brain goes through all of those messy changes. In fact, research shows that that development continues until we are about 30, so the post-college experience can be just as daunting as high school, only with a set of greater expectations, more urgency and more at stake. Fortunately for Kinsley, not only did he have his friends, but he also made strong, lasting connections with teachers and mentors who he was able to lean on for advice and support once he left high school. He has learned to ride the wave by appreciating where he is in the moment, while he makes plans for his future; moving forward, carving his niche, finding his path.

I’ve definitely become the best parts of everyone that was around me and have significantly shaved the worst parts of me. That’s leading me to a deep satisfaction and contentment with where I’m at right now.

Kinsley also had some good advice for his younger self.

I would tell him ‘your father is not your enemy!’ Every so often I’ll wake up and I’ll be like ‘yeah he was right about that. I’ll give him that one.’ We definitely had different ideas on how I should live and I don’t regret any of it, but I think viewing his guidance and leadership as someone who wants the best for you, instead of someone who is trying to stop you would have made our struggles a little bit easier; they’ve gotten so much better over the years. I still see things through youthful eyes, he sees them through more sage ones, but we can talk a lot easier now. We can discuss these things and I can hear his point of view without feeling this kinetic charge of ‘I’ve got to do the absolute opposite of what he said.’

He’d tell young Kinsley to slow down, but having worked with the adolescent version, I’m not sure that wisdom would have gotten through those stubborn ears at the time. Turns out, he’s more like his dad than he ever cared to admit whilst in high school. But now, when someone tells him how much he’s like his dad, It’s become one of my favorite compliments. You are who you are, and he’s a great person. Like father, like son.

What is Kinsley grappling with now?

Same things, just different atmosphere – new levels, new devils. How do I have my personal satisfaction but a positive worldly impact at the same time? There are a lot of conversations that have us questioning what it means to focus on and develop the self, maybe at the expense of the society that we share it with. Or the decisions that we make and how they influence others. I think we all want the highest level of success for ourselves (whatever personally that might mean), but how does me taking ownership of that kind of dream influence what I’m able to give to others and what they’re able to take from themselves? I think that is always going to be the bigger question for me, because I don’t want to be unaware of what’s happening around me or who is needing or suffering, but at the same time, I do have that very ambitious, competitive aggressive drive to do what it is that I want for me.

Today, that means just taking it 24 hours at a time. Someone asked me recently ‘can you guarantee that you’re able to do this job for the next 10 years? I said, ‘I don’t know, but I can guarantee that I can do it for the next 24 hours, and then try again 24 hours later.’ I set out to make the next 24 hours as impactful for me and everyone else as the last 24 and take it day by day.

Mindful Adulting 101. I asked Kinsley what he misses about his high school self:

My battery. Somehow, we were in honor societies, AP classes, tennis, Thespians, Key Club, and all of it was equally exciting. But I didn’t ever end the day feeling tired. A lot of these things gave me more energy. It was all genuine interest and 14-year-old battery. Whereas today, I’m positively ancient at 24. I don’t have the energy level, but the interests are all the same.

Ancient? (Eye roll…)

At 14, Kinsley had the unlimited energy to do all of his activities and then go home and look more into aspects of these activities, doing research and seeing how he could further enrich his own experience in school. Now, he embraces those fundamental personality pieces of himself and continues to explore those things, while regulating his energy so he has some in reserve for what he wants to do. That is something that has gotten better in his adulthood: time management skills. He likened his own adult transition to Kobe Bryant’s basketball career, particularly in the switch of his jersey numbers from 8 to 24.

8 is the younger one that jumps and flies above the rim and can defend everybody on the court, but you don’t stay that way. You watch his game become more refined as his career transitions to the latter part that’s number 24. You see it in his age and wisdom; he was always very inquisitive and intelligent but you see the development of an obsession for detail and a real intention in the things he’s able to put forward. Hopefully, I’m approximating that in the things that I try to do today.

The adage “work smarter, not harder” comes to mind.

Kinsley’s self-care

  • The biggest one is reading. My favorite genre is self-help kind of stuff. I think it gives me tools every day. Taking in knowledge from others; now I have millions and millions of teacher from millions and millions of pages.
  • Something physical and cathartic. Some days it’s the gym, boxing, basketball, but something that allows the mind to shut off and be in the physical body and be present.
  • Talking to my siblings. My siblings are my favorite part of doing my life the way that I get to do it and listening to them achieve and think aloud is very meditative for me; it’s a great opportunity to group build and laugh.

Sage advice

Treat everyone in your life like they have the same internal conflicts as you. Everybody is just trying to figure it out on the same level that you are. When you give people that grace it makes it a lot easier to be forgiving, less vengeful and more patient. It lets you open yourself up to the possibility of what people’s other intentions can be besides the storyline you tell yourself. Most importantly, it allows you to be forgiving of yourself. You learn to separate that conflicting side of your brain (doubts, fears) from the actual part of yourself that is your identity.

Enjoy the full interview – Kinsley has a lot to share.

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