Ms. Donnan’s 7th grade drama class changed my life. I know that sounds dramatic, and it is. But it is also true. In drama class, I found my people. I found a creative outlet. I found a place where it was okay to be, well, dramatic. I also found a path to where I am now, the arts education director at the SC Arts Commission.
From Ms. Donnan’s drama class I went on to be involved in every aspect of theatre life at the South Carolina Children’s Theatre. As a teenager at SCCT I could be found on stage, back stage, and assisting classes – I had the unique opportunity to explore all areas of my chosen craft. This led to a BA in Theatre from Winthrop University, a career as a theatre artist and administrator at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, and several years as a drama teacher at Stone Academy of Communication Arts. After receiving my MFA in Theatre Management from Florida State University and spending two years working as the education manager for Opening Nights Performing Arts at Florida State, I journeyed back to South Carolina to join the team at the South Carolina Arts Commission. I can trace the path from Ms. Donnan’s 7th grade drama class directly to where I sit now, writing this blog post.
As we celebrate National Arts in Education Week, I can’t help but think of all the Ms. Donnans of the world. The teachers and mentors who provide opportunities for students to explore, create, and discover. Access to the arts can be a game-changer for young people. Students in schools with arts-rich learning outperform their peers in schools with low arts access (Arts Education Partnerships). According to the National Endowment for the Arts, teenagers of low socioeconomic status who have a history of in-depth arts involvement earn better grades and demonstrate higher rates of college enrollment and attainment than their peers. Time and again we see the impact the arts have on students and we celebrate the citizens they become.
These days I have the good fortune to occasionally cross paths with Ms. Donnan. I still think she’s a rock star and jump at any chance I get to work with and learn from her. When I first saw her after I was hired at the Arts Commission, I shared how her drama class inspired me to pursue theatre and that she was basically the reason I stood before her in this new job. She laughed and told me that when she taught me she was a fresh new visual art teacher, just a few years out of college. Her principal told her she was going to teach a drama class and she felt like she had no idea what she was doing. She just put one foot in front of the other and tried her best to give students a space to learn about and explore theatre. Explore, create, discover.
My life was changed by a teacher who was just trying her best - putting one foot in front of the other and doing the work. And isn’t that what it is all about? Day after day, teachers and mentors in the arts put one foot in front of the other and try their best. In honor of National Arts in Education Week, I say to the teachers and mentors of the arts education world… you have no idea the impact you make. You never know who you will inspire, what they will go on to do, or how you change the future. The arts challenge the status quo and encourage students to dig deep. They build character and help students become citizens of the world. So march forward, one foot in front of the other. Work to ensure all students have access to quality arts education experiences. Allow students to explore, create, and discover. Because I promise you, you don’t even know it yet, but you are someone’s Ms. Donnan.