Administrators want to add theater courses

Former Naugatuck High School students Alex Hernandez, left, and Kaylin Spaulding rehearse a scene from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ last February at the school. Naugatuck schools officials are considering adding five new theater courses to the curriculum at the high school. –LUKE MARSHALL

Former Naugatuck High School students Alex Hernandez, left, and Kaylin Spaulding rehearse a scene from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ last February at the school. Naugatuck schools officials are considering adding five new theater courses to the curriculum at the high school. –FILE PHOTO

NAUGATUCK — The next Golden Globe winner or Oscar nominee may be walking the halls of Naugatuck High School.

If the Board of Education moves forward with a plan to implement new theater courses, students interested in drama may have a better chance to succeed.

“I have multiple friends who are interested in theater and acting, and I think this would be great for them, and great for all students, not just those who want to go into this as a career,” said Steffanie Dube, an NHS student representative to the school board.

Students are excited about the proposal, she said, as the school system seems to be bucking a decades-long trend in public schools where budget constraints have caused administrators to cut back on arts programs.

The Naugatuck school board last week discussed a proposal by Naugatuck High School Principal Janice Saam and other administrators that would add five new courses associated with theater arts. They would be Acting 1 and II, Playwriting, Play Production, The Word on Drama: Plays Throughout the Centuries, and Theater Direction and Design I and II. Additionally, students would produce at least two plays a year.

Saam said the school wants to offer students as many opportunities as possible and said 40 to 50 students are currently involved in an extracurricular drama club. The proposed courses would be for credit and taught by educators who are certified to teach drama.

If the program ultimately makes it through the ongoing budget cycle, the school board may look for a certified drama teacher, the funding for the teacher may come out of money currently set aside for a current vacant English position. The board says it is behind the plan in theory and will discuss the funding mechanisms in detail at a later date.

Part of the hope is to retain quality local students. Since Waterbury Arts Magnet School opened in 2004, area public schools have seen some of their best and brightest leave their respective districts to attend WAMS. Currently, there are 83 Naugatuck students enrolled at WAMS.

NHS students will also have an opportunity to take advantage of a state-of-the-art auditorium that was recently built as part of an $81 million school renovation project.

“We just spent $81 million and got the most beautiful theater that I’ve seen,” Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said. “I think it would be prudent to set up a program where we can teach children about theater through our English Department, which is where theater programs generally live.”

Board of Education member David Heller said that not having a new theater program to coordinate with the new auditorium is “not a very intelligent decision.”

He said the program could work in conjunction with Naugatuck Teen Theater and that students who participate in productions in the K-8 schools will have an opportunity to take their education even further in high school.

Additionally, he believes learning drama helps students build confidence and communication skills, such as the ability to speak in public.

“It also allows a number of students who may not be traditional math or science students to have an opportunity to flourish here at our high school,” he said.

Board member Jay Celozzi said he’s in favor of the proposal but wants to be sure it will not add significantly to the budget. The board agreed to look hard at costs at a later date.

And board member James Scully said he has some concerns based upon discussions he had with other school districts that have made theater part of their curricula. He said students tend to get bored with theater as a class and that grading it takes away some of the fun.

In response, Locke said the course request process will tell administrators how much interest students have the program.

“If only five students sign up, we don’t run them,” she said. “In fairness to students at the high school, I think we build the program and make it successful. If it turns out that it’s not successful, then we don’t have to run it.”