Using Theater to Encourage Life-Long Learning

Goshen High School’s Sue Neeb uses Stratford Festival in Ontario
to give her students a one of a kind learning experience

 

Sue Neeb • The Good of Goshen

 

 

 

 

Learning doesn’t always take place in a classroom.

For some Goshen High School students, the educational experience extends all the way to Ontario, Canada. From there, the students can travel with a love of learning for the rest of their lives.

Sue Neeb is co-chairperson of the English Department at GHS. She is also an organizer of The Stratford Experience, in which students travel from the Maple City to Ontario to listen, watch and learn at the Stratford Festival, one of the top repertory theater festivals in North America.

GHS English Department staffers have been traveling with students to the Stratford Festival since 1978. In 1985, the field trip was developed into a for-credit literature course offering in the school’s elective program.

Sue said the program now involves five English teachers who handle teaching, grading, and administrative tasks, and around 40 participating GHS juniors and seniors. The Goshen contingent sees four or five plays at the festival — typically two Shakespearean plays, a musical, and two other dramatic productions. The featured works change from season to season at Stratford, and that change is mirrored in the focus of the GHS students’ coursework.

More about Sue Neeb

Sue Neeb is a native of southeastern Michigan. She did her undergraduate studies at Jackson Community College in Michigan and finished at Taylor University. Her graduate work was done at the University of Louisville.

Sue started out as an art major before later switching to English.

“As soon as I got into a classroom, I knew that was where I felt comfortable and knew that was where I wanted to be,” she said. “…I love high-school-aged students, and I also love my subject matter.”

Up next

The next GHS trip to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, is set for Labor Day weekend. Stratford productions this year include “Oedipus Rex,” “Hamlet,” “Carousel,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and “The Sound of Music.”

Prior to the festival, students read and study the plays and talk about the works and their stage interpretation. They also learn about the historical framework and social environment of the playwrights and plays. Student work in the course includes research, papers, listening to lectures, a final exam and a final major project.

The high point though, is certainly the trip to the Stratford Festival.

“The kids we have here who are into acting and into the theater love to see fine acting, but besides that they see the literature,” Neeb said. “ … The students get to see the plays in action (at Stratford). They read the plays first so they understand them, and then they can see them fleshed out and they are just enthralled with it.”

In addition to viewing the plays at Stratford, students tour the costume warehouse or backstage areas, take part in a “chat” with actors either before or after a show, and participate in a seminar on stage combat.

“They love it,” Neeb said of student appreciation of learning how to “fight” theatrically.

Shakespearean productions are central to The Stratford Experience. In Neeb’s view, William Shakespeare’s works – though centuries old – focus on themes which still resonate with young people today.

“If you’re going to be reading good literature, it has to be about the human condition,” Neeb said. “And Shakespeare is a master at presenting the human condition.”

Neeb has been an educator for more than 35 years. All but one semester of her teaching career has been spent at Goshen High School. She’s proud to work there.

“Teachers here have always kind of been on the cutting edge, looking for ways we can help kids and then making sure we get it done for them,” Sue said. She sees The Stratford Experience as fitting in with other enriching GHS initiatives that include the marine biology trip and the International Baccalaureate program.

“The Stratford program is above and beyond what we have to do in the classroom,” Sue said. “It continues to live because the teachers are ready to work at it and do it.”

For some students taking the trip, The Stratford Experience might be an experience out of their reach, were it not for the GHS program.

“These programs are wonderful for kids who might not have opportunities otherwise,” Sue said. “We take kids who might not have a chance for international travel otherwise.”

“Then we see, down the road, that it pays off in their classroom work, in the choices they make when they’re out of high school – that they want to continue to learn,” she says. “I think it helps make them lifelong learners, because they’re engaged in what they’re learning.”

Sue also praised Goshen High School administrators for their support of programs such as The Stratford Experience.

“The fine administrations that we have had over the years has encouraged us and allowed us to pursue these programs that are so spectacular for our kids,” she said. “They could say, ‘No.’ They could say, ‘We don’t have the money.’ They could say, ‘It’s too much hassle.’ But they allow the staff to take their dreams and run with them. And those dreams, so to speak, are those special programs that we are interested in but also really enrich our kids.”

“Teachers here have always kind of been on the cutting edge, looking for ways we can help kids and then making sure we get it done for them.”

“These programs are wonderful for kids who might not have opportunities otherwise.”

Sue Neeb • The Good of Goshen

“I think it helps make them lifelong learners, because they’re engaged in what they’re learning.”

 

 

Good of Goshen Photography • Lynne Zehr
Good of Goshen Editor • Scott Weisser

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