Category Archives: Arts

So Why is Shakespeare So Important?

Inevitably, when it comes to reading Shakespeare, the question is always this: Ms. Burgess, why are we reading Shakespeare, and why are you making us read it in his language?

sandiMy answer varies, but the prevailing theme in my answer is that it is okay for something to be hard. It is okay that students struggle sometimes. Learning to work through something that is unfamiliar and difficult teaches important skills and reinforces valuable lessons in commitment and perseverance. While the language is unfamiliar and awkward for students, it reinforces the purpose of the play — to perform for an audience without access to the written word. Reading Shakespeare’s words as he intended highlights the craft of the language itself–the new words and phrases that come directly from him into our speech today–and how his words were heard by an actual Elizabethan audience in 1595.

Teaching students to not only read, but to appreciate Shakespeare’s work is not only a challenge for them, but represents a teaching challenge for me as well. If I can get students to remember the plots, characters, and important moments from the plays, but also to be able to analyze and work through the many difficult literary devices and formulas employed by Shakespeare, I know, when faced with other difficult readings or assignments, students will be able to make connections to problem-solving strategies in reading Shakespeare and maybe even to the content itself.

Our goal here at MPA is to make sure students are encountering Shakespeare in the Middle School and Upper School in a variety of ways: from acting out A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 6th grade, to reading Romeo and Juliet and Merchant of Venice in 7th and 8th grades, to writing love sonnets and reading Hamlet and Macbeth in the Upper School. These works are simply examples of the numerous possibilities! With Shakespeare, the connections we can make within our curriculum are endless.

To me, Shakespeare is too important to dilute or to ignore. His work, though written in a hard to imagine world, is as relevant today as it was 400 years ago. The qualities of his characters, their triumphs and sufferings, speak to us even now. We, too, struggle with pride, the pitfalls of love, social expectations, and our own self-awareness just as Hamlet, Portia, Shylock, and Macbeth did. And just as our society today struggles with discrimination and prejudice toward others, so, too, did Venice, Verona, Scotland, and Denmark. Hearing Hamlet struggle to make sense of his place in the world, or Shylock asking why he was treated so differently than everyone else, lets the students experience that same language, the same sounds as an audience in 1598. These experiences help students make connections, to see a reflection of themselves, emphasizing the timelessness of Shakespeare and their own place in our world.

We’ll continue to make Shakespeare important here at MPA, introducing students to new plays and poems which continue to challenge them in new and exciting ways. Studying Shakespeare reminds them that it is okay to take a bit of time to work through something so difficult–even for me, their teacher.

The Hidden Benefits of Singing in the Chorus

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Each school year, when a new crop of chorus students shows up for their first rehearsal, I ask them to answer three questions:

  1. What do you like to sing?
  2. Where do you like to sing?
  3. Why are you here?

The third question usually gets some interesting replies — including “my parents made me” or “I needed an Arts credit” — but without fail, every person in the room, whether new to group singing or not, is easily able to answer the first two questions.

Everyone sings. Some people, sadly, only sing in the privacy of their home or the relative privacy of their vehicle, but everyone sings.

I have been involved with choral singing since I was quite little. It wasn’t until I started teaching chorus, however, that I began to really consider its benefits, whether my students go on to be lifelong singers or not.

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Meet Our Teachers: Peggy Bergin

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Peggy Bergin teaches Middle School and Upper School drama classes and fifth-grade English, directs our fall play and spring musical, and moderates our student Arts Council. She is our Director of the Arts and Curriculum Leader for the Fine Arts department.

She holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Q&A

What is the most important life lesson you want students to learn in your class?

Last summer, my fifth-graders read a novel called Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. In it there is a precept (or a “rule about a really important thing”) that states: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” This idea, attributed to Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, is a lesson I hope students take away from all of my classes.

What are your favorite moments with a student?

Without a doubt, my favorite moments are watching student theatrical performances after weeks of rehearsals. I find myself very moved by the commitment, creativity, and talents of the students here at Morgan Park Academy, such that by the end of our final performance, I’m wishing that I could watch it again.

How do you keep current with the subject areas you cover?

I try to see as much theatre and art as possible — and I will truly see anything. We are fortunate that we live in a world-class theatrical city, and I enjoy venturing downtown to the major theaters to see what they’re doing. But I also enjoy watching other schools’ productions and community theatre as well. For me, there is inspiration everywhere.

What traits do you look for in your “ideal” student?

My ideal student possesses a fierce sense of integrity, a willingness to try new things, and willingness to succeed and to fail at those things. My ideal student is supportive of the ideas, successes, and failures of his or her peers and — perhaps most importantly — has a sense of humor.

Meet Our Teachers: Meg Simmerling Faeh

faeh-headshotPlease help us welcome Meg Simmerling Faeh back to Morgan Park Academy!

Mrs. Simmerling Faeh returns as our art teacher for Middle School and Upper School. A working artist for many years, she also has extensive experience teaching art in school, museum, and private settings, including her previous tenure as an MPA art teacher from 2005-2009.

She holds a B.A. degree with a fine art emphasis from Columbia College.

Q&A

What is the most important life lesson you want students to learn in your class?

I encourage students to be brave. Don’t be afraid to ask, try, make mistakes, be proud, be honest, and be kind. Sometimes doing these things requires going outside of your comfort zone. We cannot expect perfection, and should be proud of tackling something new, no matter the outcome. Often it is the process and not the product that brings us the most joy. I encourage students to ask questions, try new things, and be kind to others. Encouragement and kindness are so very important not only in art class but in life.

What are your favorite moments with a student?

My favorite moments with a student are those moments when the student is proud of their achievement. There is something so incredible about that moment, especially in art, when a student looks at something they created and feels accomplished. I especially appreciate these moments when the student initially doubted their ability and resisted beginning a project. Many times, students who don’t believe they have any talent or ability doubt they can create something beautiful or pleasing, but often they are misguided in an attempt to please someone else. Art is a very personal thing, and the message we send through artistic works must begin from within. It is our own particular style or flair in creating that message that makes it unique. And that in itself is something to be proud of.

What experiences or people had the most influence on you?

Hands down, the most influential person in my life was my dad, Jack Simmerling. My dad was not only an amazing parent, but an artist, historian, and collector. My dad taught me so many things every day, even when I was grown. My dad wasn’t the kind of dad to throw a ball around in the yard with me, but what he taught me about painting and art was more than I learned in any class. He taught me technique through demonstration, and shared his passion for art through his palette. His use of color, light and shadows, line, and delicate brush strokes are something I strive to emulate in my own art.

My dad also showed me how to love life. Every day my dad found beauty in the world, whether it was in a pink and orange sunrise or the simplicity of sharing a doughnut with his grandkids. He taught me that there is beauty to be appreciated every day. Not all of it can be painted, but all of it can be seen if we open our eyes and let view our surroundings with joy.