“Two households, both alike in dignity…”

If I could teach any one thing for the rest of my life, it would be Shakespeare. As you know from my previous posts, my bond with the Bard began almost 10 years ago in Shakespeare & Company’s education programs. But last week I was reminded of the power Shakespeare’s words can have on a young life.

Last Tuesday I observed and participated in an Imagination Quest workshop with a 7th grade English class at Takoma Education Campus in Northwest DC. This was the third and final week of the Shakespeare workshop in which IQ teaching artists helped students use their bodies, voices, minds and imaginations to discover the meaning of Shakespeare quotes from King Lear, Hamlet and Richard III. And in this final week, we tackled the prologue to Shakespeare’s most famous work, Romeo and Juliet. Some of the students were reluctant to invest with their full bodies and voices, but I could see the wheels turning in all of their minds. Whether they’ll admit it or not, they were speaking Shakespeare. And the most impressive part was that they knew what they were saying. We had one student in the workshop, who by the end of the hour had more than earned the nickname, “Mr. Shakespeare,” who was the first to volunteer for everything. He let Shakespeare’s words just fly out of him. He was actively engaging with the material and was eager to show what he had remembered from the previous week, including acting out the Richard III quote with a full physical commitment to Richard’s deformities. And possibly the only thing more exciting than the sight of these kids understanding and enjoying Shakespeare’s words was the participation and joy their teacher took in collaborating with her students. This is what arts integration does. If we can get every teacher at every school this engaged in every lesson they teach, we are well on our way to helping struggling schools and enhancing the educational experiences of all children.

Takoma Education Campus is one of the thirteen schools that Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee have designated as a catalyst school in the district. It is one of four arts integration catalyst schools that, through partnerships with organizations like Imagination Quest, will be using the arts to engage students in the classroom. The catalyst project as a whole includes arts integration, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and world cultures as themes for refocusing school plans for increasing student engagement, enhancing professional development for teachers, and building community. Click here for more information on the Catalyst Schools.

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