A partnership between the Florida Grand Opera and Miami-Dade County Public Schools helps teachers like Evelyn Roman bring theater to the classroom.
Roman, a 9th- and 10th-grade language arts teacher at Barbara Goleman Senior High School, attended a workshop that took place in Doral on Sept. 26 to learn more about the topic.
“I love the opera, and I was hoping to learn something here so that I can incorporate it in my language arts class with their readings, and I could teach them something about the culture,” she said.
It was her first time attending the event, and she said she was impressed by the amount of information discussed.
Three experts addressed several teachers from Miami-Dade schools on different topics about the opera so they can incorporate the topics into their curriculum.
“These professional developments that teachers experience so that they can then go out and share that with the students, that’s been the biggest mission of Florida Grand Opera,” said Cerise Sutton, FGO’s director of education. “It’s to become a cultural resource to the community, whether it’s the school community or Miami-Dade County and families.”
While Roman plans to take the lessons she learned at the workshop to her language arts classroom, other teachers plan to take their notes directly to a music setting.
John McMinn, a music teacher at Miami Central High School, hopes to apply his lessons accordingly.
“I want to take my experiences learning the opera; I need them to know about all the other things in music, all the other fascinating styles and concepts and kinds of music,” McMinn said. “I want them to learn the technique of singing without a microphone and using their voice as a complete instrument; that’s what my students need to do.”
With help from funding received through grants, corporations and donors, FGO is able to provide all of its resources to Miami-Dade County schools free of charge. According to Sutton, FGO collects $140,000 each year to help provide resources for public schools.
“With budget cuts going on in schools, especially within the arts, more and more teachers are looking to us to fill that gap,” said Sutton, who has been working at FGO for three years.
In addition to providing workshops for the schools, FGO compiles study guides for teachers to incorporate into their curriculum and provides students throughout the county with tickets to dress rehearsals for each season’s performance.
This season, the dress rehearsal for La Bohème will take place on Nov. 15, two days before the event’s opening on Nov. 17. Nearly 1,200 middle and high school students from public schools in the county will receive tickets to the event, which will take place at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.
Bryan Petorak, currently the district supervisor for performing arts for Miami-Dade schools, was recently promoted to the post after serving as a teacher for nine years at performing-arts magnet schools.
“At my new job, I have a chance to see what community partners we have and get more resources for the schools,” he said.
Petorak, who has a background in singing opera and often sings with FGO, hopes to raise awareness of the art form among students.
“I want to expose our schools and our teachers to all the different career options within opera,” he said. “The most enjoyable part for me is getting to see how we can take an art form and disseminate it to the students so they can learn as much as possible about it.”
With professional workshops, Petorak hopes teachers can learn more about the art form so they can pass the knowledge to their students.
“When teachers go to school to be a music teacher, they can be an instrumentalist, a band [leader] or guitarist … there are so many sub disciplines within the discipline of music,” Petorak said. “For those teachers who are going to infuse our education into their programs, they may not even have had an opera background themselves or experiences with teaching that art form.”
The professional development workshop held Wednesday was the first of its kind this year. According to Petorak, two professional development sessions take place each year. Miami-Dade County Public Schools notifies teachers of the opportunity to attend through “Weekly Briefings,” the announcements sent by email to teachers.
“We send out announcements geared toward specific musicals or schools or teachers,” Petorak said. “It’s a way to contact the teachers and let them know what’s available for them.”
Petorak, who is fond of the opera, hopes to spread awareness of the artistic expression to others.
“Opera is a great way of telling a story,” he said. “I think that nothing carries emotion like music.”
He believes that the opportunity students are given to experience the final dress rehearsal is important.
“It’s really remarkable for students to get that kind of experience. That’s really what the program is about – so that they can experience these free dress rehearsals with tickets,” Petorak said.
And, though many consider opera a thing of the past, Petorak believes this can be cured.
“It is considered an art form from the past, but that’s because there hasn’t been enough exposure to it,” he said. “That’s one of my goals this year, to increase the opera education going on in our schools so we can get younger people wanting to go back and see what happens. They are all interesting storylines you’d see in shows today or even on reality shows.”
At the teacher-training event, resident opera expert Justin Moss gave an overview of each opera scheduled to run during the 2012-13 season, which lasts from November through May.
Moss, who has been working with FGO for 19 seasons and has been in the opera business for nearly 30 years, expressed his hopes to extend his passion for the opera to others.
“If they can increase their relationship with the art form and I can make it easier for them to appreciate it, I think people will come to be as awarded and enriched as I’ve been all my life, and they’ll want to come back again and again,” Moss said.
Conductor Andrew Bisantz spoke to the teachers on Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. He also expressed the opportunities associated with students attending the dress rehearsal.
“Almost all the kids are encountering these pieces for the first time in their lives,” said Bisantz, who has had a professional career in the opera since 1997. “Their reactions are so heartfelt, so unprejudiced, so honest; to hear this explosion of excitement is really cool, and it makes it all worthwhile.”
Moss expressed similar sentiments and believes that their job educating students will pay off in the future.
“You’re not going to make an opera fan out of every single kid that you can bring to the final dress rehearsal, but you will for some,” Moss said. “And if you could do it long enough … [you’ll] get an audience that will sustain you to the future.”