Social Justice Professional Development Event Inspires 100 Teachers in Charleston, South Carolina

                                             Actress Cheryl Howard performing ZoraPhoto courtesy Young Audiences New York.

On September 19th, 2015, Young Audiences New York’s Literature to Life program presented a performance and professional development workshop for 100 Charleston County Public School Teachers, in Charleston, South Carolina. Young Audiences New York has designed this professional development workshop to support teachers to integrate the arts and social justice into their classrooms, as they learn to facilitate student discussions on issues of social justice and civic action- in the past, present and future.

Since the tragic shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church this past June, it is especially critical for teachers in the region to have support guiding student discussions on social justice issues, including civil rights and racial identity. "We are proud to be of service to the teachers--and ultimately students of Charleston through our Literature to Life program," stated Jennifer DiFiglia, Chief Program Officer for Young Audiences New York.

The day began with a standing ovation for the performance of Zora, performed by Cheryl Howard, which documents the journey through the life of writer Zora Neale Hurston. "This performance brought history alive! So often students do not understand the meaning because we (teachers) concentrate on facts- here it is easy to see that history is about people!" said one teacher in response to the performance.  Another responded, " Kids need to know more about their black history now, not to wait until they are 21 or 22 and in college to learn that their ancestors built pyramids!"

During the professional development session, Young Audiences New York Teaching Artist, Lisa Strum, and Chief Program Officer, Jennifer DiFiglia, modeled a discussion and various activities for teachers to facilitate in their classrooms.  When discussing the themes from the play, teachers became very excited, shouting out "Believe in Yourself!" "Don't let society define your role!" "Be Resilient" "Have pride in your culture!".  Like Zora, even today we face challenges and injustices. The teachers were then "called to action".  In small groups, teachers choose a current injustice that they want to change- and created arts-based interventions to help achieve that change!

This workshop was the kick off for the Kennedy Center Partnership in Education’s commitment to the Charleston County School District to improve arts integrated activities and arts access throughout the district. The partnership includes the Gaillard Center, Charleston Symphony, the Charleston County School District, and Engaging Creative Minds. 


Contributed by Jennifer DiFiglia, Chief Program Officer, Young Audiences New York



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