Cross-site Community Based Learning with Vermont Young Playwrights

Eve Berinati is no stranger to youth engagement, community based learning and flexible teaching and learning environments. She frequently empowers her students with opportunities to share their voices in flexible physical and digital spaces outside the tradition classroom walls of Burlington High School.  Some of these include NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), The Young Writers Project, Theatre of the Absurd and Vermont Young Playwrights.

Berinati teaches senior English courses at BHS, including Creative Writing, Advanced Composition, Women in Literature and World Literature. She also runs Pride Alliance, which is a student-centered club at BHS that focuses on supporting our LBGTQQ population and their allies at BHS, as well as educating our community on LBGTQQ issues. Equity and supporting all learners is at the heart of Berinati’s teaching pedagogy.

Berinati brought the Vermont Young Playwrights (VYP) to BHS for the first time last year with the generous support of a grant through the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Guest playwrights work with students to teach them how to write ten-minute plays. One young playwright from each participating school gets to have his or her play staged and performed by professional actors, directors, musicians and lighting engineers. The playwright also gets to provide input during rehearsal prior to the performance at the Flynn in May.

Berinati’s creative writing students participated in the program last year. Senior Zeinab Bulle’s play was selected and performed at the Flynn.

This year Berinati was able to bring VYP to BHS once again through a mini grant through the Partnership for Change. Berinati decided to extend the opportunity to all students and invited Winooski High School students to participate in the program for the first time.

I had the opportunity to spend the first day of the program with BHS and WHS students, Berinati and local playwright, Seth Jarvis. The students participated in many improv and writing exercises to prepare them for writing a ten-minute play. Participants spent an entire day learning about the role of a playwright, what makes a good story, how to structure and format a play and how to generate ideas for writing. There was great energy among this cross-site and cross-grade level group of students.

The group doesn’t meet in person again until March when they’ll critique first drafts of their plays with Jarvis. In the meantime, Berinati set up a digital classroom for students through the Young Writers Project so that students can continue to interact and give feedback on one another’s writing online. It’s a great example of a teacher breaking traditional walls to be more equitable and offer a program to all students by providing flexible modes of communication and spaces for learning.

I plan to join the group again in March and continue to blog about their progress. Until then, please enjoy this performance from last year’s playwright, Zeinab Bulle, who wrote about saying goodbye to her best friend in the refugee camps prior to coming to Vermont.

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