Write an essay, go to Washington

December 14, 2013

The Educational Theatre Association’s fifth annual student essay competition is now accepting entries. The winner of the Thespian Democracyworks Essay Competition will receive $1,500 toward expenses to attend Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., April 8-9, 2013, plus $250 cash.

The 2013 competition addresses the academic value of theatre education. The current federal administration is focusing their education policy on the Common Core, an initiative that centers on improving student learning and achievement through reading and math proficiency. In the 2012 EdTA-UTU Survey of Theatre in United States High Schools, 95 percent of administrators and 96 percent of teachers said that theatre improves the overall academic skills of students.

Based on the above policy and data, students are asked to respond to the question, “How have your theatre experiences made a difference in your overall academic performance?”

Arts Advocacy Day, sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts, brings together arts advocates from throughout the country to meet with legislators on behalf of a wide range of arts issues, including arts education. The essay competition winner and a chaperone must be available to attend the two-day event. The winning essayist will take part in all scheduled Arts Advocacy Day events, including legislative training on current arts issues circulating on Capitol Hill; the Congressional Arts Breakfast; visits to Congress members’ and senators’ offices; and the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The winning essay and a photo of the winner will be published in Dramatics. The first runner-up essayist will be awarded $150, and second runner-up, $100.

The K-12 Common Core State Standards in English and Math have had a profound impact on schools throughout the country. Forty-five states have fully adopted both and begun the process of training administrators and teachers in how to use and assess these new, more rigorous benchmarks for learning. Implementation of the Common Core is set to begin in 2014.

“The Common Core Standards were created to bring the states into alignment in terms of what students should know and do in English and math,” said EdTA Director of Education Policy, James Palmarini. “The three key elements of these new standards are consistency, equity, and opportunity. In other words, the idea is have all students reaching for the same high goals in reading and math learning, and therefore, equal opportunity to succeed academically. We think that theatre has as much to offer academically as other core subject areas and, in some ways, more. That’s why we’re asking our Thespians to address this question for Arts Advocacy Day.” 

EdTA Executive Director Julie Woffington echoed Palmarini’s comments. “The Educational Theatre Association is helping to lead the way on the new arts standards that are in the works and we wanted to let students talk about how theatre experiences have made a difference in their academic achievement. Democracyworks is all about empowering students to advocate on their own behalf and I think this year’s question is a good way to get them thinking really deeply about how and why theatre matters to them.”

Woffington also urged EdTA members to consider attending Arts Advocacy Day. “With so much discussion these days about education reform and tightening budgets, it’s really important that we have as many states represented as possible. Arts Advocacy Day is a great opportunity for our members to meet directly with their state and district Congressional representatives. These are the decision makers who are shaping the policies that impact our profession and our students. It’s also an ideal training ground for anyone who wants to do grassroots advocacy. If you want to learn how to make a persuasive argument on behalf of theatre education, this is the place to start.” 

The submission deadline for essays is March 1, 2013. For the complete essay guidelines go to http://schooltheatre.org/essayguidelines

To find out more about Arts Advocacy Day and to register, go to the Americans for the Arts website: http://www.artsusa.org/events/2013/aad/default.asp.