Molly Rice, the drama teacher at St. Stephens High School in Hickory, NC, is the most creative teacher I've ever met. I saw an example of her work this week, and am still stunned by what she does.
The Hickory Museum of Art had been working for three years to get an exhibition of Steve McCurry's work. A photojournalist of international renown, McCurry's most famous photograph is probably "Afghan Girl," which, like much of his work, appeared in National Geographic. Molly had asked some of her drama students to choose one of the photographs, to research the geography and culture of the country, and the time period during which the photograph was taken. Each student then wrote and performed a poem or monologue (in one case, a choric piece by three boys) inspired by that photograph.
When we walked into the exhibition area, we saw young people, clad in black, standing by some of the photographs. No chairs for the audience—we moved from student to student around the entire space, some of us climbing stairs or hanging from the balcony to get a better view. One girl began and ended her monologue with a sentence or two in Japanese, another said a few words in Hindi. All of the students had written praiseworthy work that they performed well.
The performance itself would have made a great afternoon, but then I talked to Molly about her work. I had assumed that the students, who were wearing black t-shirts with "Tractor Shed Team/Director, Molly Rice" across the front, were participants in an after-school drama club. No, indeed. Molly is a full-time drama teacher in the public high school. She doesn't teach English or creative writing, with one theatre class thrown in; she doesn't coach the volleyball team; she teaches drama.
Her students work on projects with the homeless, with people in retirement homes, throughout the community. She had chosen the Museum project because one of her students is a senior who wants to major in photography, and she thought his record of the project would be a good addition to his portfolio.
I asked if they did the usual high school play and/or musical each year.
"Yes," she said, "we give one full production in the spring. Last year we did Antigone."
"Antigone?" I'd never heard of a high school performing an ancient Greek play.
"We don't kid around. One year, we decided we didn't want to do the Alice in Wonderland play. We went back to the book and wrote another play ourselves. Alice Underground."
Molly's drama program would be extraordinary in a private school, in a city magnet school. But in a public school in a city of 40,000 people, with an average per capita income of $26,000?