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We have all heard this “Romeo and Juliet” soliloquy before.  “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks,” asks Romeo as he stands at Juliet’s balcony, basking awestruck in her beauty.

If we claim to have heard it all before, then what is new in the world of learning about Shakespearean works?  Just ask Erie Arts & Culture Teaching Artist Lora Zill.  “I believe art enhances education,” she said.  “Incorporating the arts in education gives [students] the freedom to express themselves in new ways.”

For Zill, her challenge was to incorporate the arts into traditional curricula at Hickory High School in Hermitage, Pa.  Her residency at HHS that took place from May 10-31 of this year inspired a total of 40 students to expand their creative capacities beyond the pages of their textbooks.  One instance was when she worked with a classroom full of ninth grade English students who were studying “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I had the students make a comic strip based on one soliloquy from the play,” said Zill.  “I asked them to choose a line to visualize effectively.  I thought it would help them to remember the play better.”

 

 A Romeo and Juliet Soliloquy Comic Strip by Kate Brown

           

Just as a Shakespearean soliloquy involves speaking ones thoughts aloud regardless of who might be listening, another group of Zill’s students were given an assignment to express themselves by creating a poem about one event from past year of their lives.  According to Zill, one of her most memorable experiences from her residency was set in an 11th grade AP English class.

Inspired by students enjoying sharing their poetry, the teacher of the class joined in the experience as well.  “She read a poem about a family member passing away,” said Zill.  “She had a noticeably hard time reflecting on her grief, but it was moving that she had the courage to do it.  The whole class was caught up in the expression of it.”

Zill said that the teachers she worked with during her residency noticed the impact her creative assignments had on the students.  “Most of the changes I knew about were anecdotal,” she said.  “The teachers told me that by expressing themselves creatively and emotionally, the students were able to learn in new ways.  Students would even come to the teachers during study hall to work on their projects.  They were very invested.”

Another tool that Zill used was the “Dixit” storytelling game, which she said some teachers became interested in purchasing themselves.  “I think I gave them some fresh ideas and new ways to teach what they are already teaching,” she said.

In order to complete her artist residency, Zill was granted a budget through Erie Arts & Culture, who administers state and local dollars to fund the residencies.  State funding comes from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and in a typical residency like Zill's, pays for half of the residency's cost.  Local dollars fund the other half and are generated through community support and corporate support, such as Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) dollars.  For businesses who participate in the EITC program and donate the dollars to Erie Arts & Culture, Zill's residency is a prime example of the impact of their taxes redirected to their local community.  EITC dollars allow more residencies to take place within K-12 classrooms, enhancing Arts Education across all learning disciplines.

For Zill, it was more about getting the students immersed with becoming better learners and creators.  The relationship between learning and creating, according to Zill, is symbiotic in nature.  “They feed into each other,” she said.  “When you get better at creating visual arts and poetry, you will become a better writer.”

An accomplished professional writer in her own right, Zill said that she gleans her inspiration through reading works of poetry and nonfiction, visiting art galleries and being an active participant in her church.  “My inspiration is a bit of a smorgasbord from my professional and personal life,” she said.

One aspect of arts education Zill said she is particularly passionate about is explaining why we need it.  “Teachers know that we should have arts education, but they need to be trained in the why,” she said. “It has to start at the teacher level.  If you want change, you have to change people’s paradigm.”

For more information on Lora Zill, visit her profile on our Artist Directory.

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The mission of Erie Arts & Culture is to strengthen the vibrancy and vitality of the Erie Region and enrich the lives of our people through the advancement of arts and culture.
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