CR theater teacher’s remote learning to be highlighted in national broadcast

CAMDEN — When classes first went fully remote for the rest of the school year, Caesar Rodney High School’s director of theater John Muller wanted his class to adapt, even though they were meeting through Zoom rather than together in the auditorium.

“I was like, ‘I have to do something,’ because my kids, I could tell from the very first Zoom session that they were scared. I think everybody is. Me too,” he said. “So I was like, ‘I have to do something to lift their spirits.’”

Mr. Muller’s efforts in remote learning will be highlighted, along with other stories in the state, during a graduation broadcast Saturday.

The broadcast, in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the XQ Institute, is “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” a one-hour, commercial-free prime time graduation special.

The broadcast will feature specific content for each state. Delaware’s will have a message from Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, and stories from schools throughout the state.

The national telecast will air on Saturday, May 16 at 8 p.m. on more than 30 broadcast and cable networks and streaming services, as well as various social media platforms, according to a news release.

Delaware will highlight Mr. Muller’s adaption to remote learning, as well as Christiana High School senior William Loat-Emory, from the Christina School District.

When schools were closed for an original two-week period in mid-March, Mr. Muller said, with two performances on the calendar, he was nervous about how they’d pull the shows together.

“We’ll just have to scramble a little bit, but even if we have to postpone the show and perform it a week or two later, no big deal,” he recounted.

Then, schools closed until May 15 — and then it was announced remote learning would continue through the rest of the year.

“I used to be an English teacher. I could teach English like this. But, teaching the arts — music and theater and things like that, [with] something that relies so heavily on being able to listen to the person right next to you very closely — how do you do that, and still make it meaningful?” he said.

When his wife shared a video going around social media of the cast of “The Nanny” back together for a table reading of the first episode, he thought maybe his students could do that, too.

So he contacted the publishers and ended up in touch with the playwrights for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” — an adapted play based on a short story by Mark Twain, and “Oz,” a story on how L. Frank Baum came up with the idea behind “The Wizard of Oz.”

Not long after, he had the greenlight from both playwrights. The performances will be shared online and can be streamed for a week.

“Even though we’re all in our own homes, and we’re on a computer and we’re Zooming, the smiles and the laughter and all of the fun that the kids have in my theater program was back,” he said. “So even though we weren’t in our physical space, our safe space, a lot of the feelings were back, because we were back doing what we do best and that’s make art, make theater.”

Beyond bolstering the mood of the class, Mr. Muller hopes it will also bring some joy and entertainment to the community.

“The kids and I want to share it with the community when it’s finished because we want to show them, OK, yes, this is scary. Yes, this is a time [when] everybody’s worried about what’s going to happen — for lots of things, not just health reasons, but people are worried about, ‘When am I going to get to go back to work, how am I going to put food on the table?’” he said. “And if we can bring some entertainment and some smiles and some laughter in all of that fear and scariness right now, that’s what theater is supposed to do.”

At the end of the day, though, adapting his classroom to a remote setting was important, so he could provide the students with a feeling of safety and normalcy.

“I could have pulled out a textbook and said, ‘OK we’re gonna read chapter nine on lighting design and you’re going to answer the questions,’” he said. “I could have done that but I don’t really see any value in that. I don’t think the kids get anything out of that. Art is about sticking your hands in it, and creating something. It’s not about reading theory in a book.”

Meanwhile, the special Saturday night is being produced in partnership with education, philanthropic and corporate organizations. Corporate and philanthropic giving associated with #GraduateTogether will benefit DonorsChoose and America’s Food Fund to help meet student needs, according to a release.

“The Class of 2020 will be remembered not for what it couldn’t have but for what it overcame. Your leadership, creativity and resilience will be remembered,” Dr. Bunting said in a prepared statement. “You have adapted to new ways to learn remotely. As school buildings closed, you continued to learn from your kitchen tables or home desks. This has forced you to think differently, often work more independently and manage your time in new ways. All of these are skills that will serve you well in college, the military or your chosen career.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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