February 27, 2017
The winner of this year’s Democracyworks essay competition is Lance Junck, a student at Branson (Missouri) High School, Troupe 3482. First runner-up is Hannah Goforth, Myers Park High School, Charlotte, North Carolina, Troupe 780, and second runner-up is Phanesia Pharel, South Dade Senior High School, Homestead, Florida, Troupe 3637. The winner earns $250 cash and a trip to Arts Advocacy Day, the annual Washington, D.C. gathering of arts advocates from throughout the country. The runners-up also receive cash awards and certificates of recognition. As the winner, Junck and a chaperone will participate in one day of advocacy training and spend another day visiting the offices of their Congressional representatives, asking for support on a wide range of arts and arts education initiatives and legislation. More than twenty EdTA members from around the country are expected to attend the Americans for the Arts-sponsored event March 20-21.
This year’s essay topic focused on STEAM education and why it should be part of every student’s well-rounded curriculum. The inclusion of the arts—including theatre—as an important way to advance student learning in the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math, has become an important part of the discussions about education reform in the last few years. As STEAM consultant Georgette Yakman explains, “STEAM programs integrate subjects in an inquiry-based, hands-on curriculum in a way that more closely aligns with what students will experience in college and the workforce.”
Junck, who was a runner-up in last year’s Democracyworks competition, began his essay by pointing out how the history lessons in the musical Hamilton made education relevant through “thrilling, real, human characters, who speak to students on both an intellectual and personal level.” He went on to explain how theatre incorporates the STEM subjects, such as in building and designing sets. Junck also related the tale of an athlete who became involved in theatre and eventually went on to major in aeronautical engineering, with the goal of becoming a pilot. He included his own STEAM story as well: Junck played a mathematician in the play Proof and wrote “I had several conversations with my school's calculus teacher….I learned more about the way my character thinks through the discussion of theoretical mathematics than I ever did through standard acting exercises.”
Hannah Goforth wrote, “It is more important now than ever to bridge the gap between the arts and science. The two are better together than alone. With STEAM, learning can be taken to new levels. Through passion, hands-on techniques, and preparation for the real world, STEAM forges the path for success of all students." She went on to say “As a theatre student, I know this passion. Before each show at my school, the cast all comes together backstage, forms a circle, and holds hands. We speak to each other in hushed whispers about how ecstatic we are to go out and share our art with the audience. This kind of passion is exactly what STEAM can bring to education.”
Phanesia Pharel, a winner of last year’s Playworks playwriting competition, wrote about the importance of persistence, risk, and failure in the sciences, adding that “Each skill in STEAM requires mass memorization and the ability to form connections through analysis. Offering young people the opportunity to form connections in multiple ways; from biology and engineering to theatre, music, and writing will make analysis and problem solving more fulfilling for more students.”
In a short interview, Junck expressed his excitement about participating in Arts Advocacy Day. “I want to become a better advocate to make sure that the arts continue to be available in my community. I’m fortunate—the arts are very well supported in Branson, but I want learn how to get more community members involved.”