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Stories from the Field

California Casualty Awardees Argine Safari: Drawing Connections

Great educators have great stories. This series gives a glimpse of the ideas, practices, and experiences of the recipients of the NEA Foundation’s California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence. Today, we’re sharing the words of Argine Safari, a music educator at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, NJ. 

I teamed up with my colleagues in the English, world languages, and theater departments, and we started crafting a special project on Romeo and Juliet. The quintessential questions was: if the Montagues and the Capulets had crossed their social boundaries, might the tragic end of Romeo and Juliet have been different?

We drew connections between Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Arthur Laurents’s West Side Story so that the students could relate to the story and understand social justice in conjunction with the issues present in West Side Story: fight for urban space, infused with cultural symbols and political significations according to the “American way of life.”

The AP French students researched the history of the French composer Gounod’s opera Roméo et Juliette and its French translation as it related to the original text. Theater students performed scene 4 from Act II of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, while music students presented West Side Story’s fight scene and Roméo et Juliette’s balcony scene. A guest tenor presented an inspiring workshop on Roméo et Juliette.

The project culminated with a trip to the Metropolitan Opera to see the premiere of this masterpiece – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many! This sensational project came to life and left a lasting impression on all participants.

Meet more of the 2018 NEA Foundation awardees here. We’ll celebrate them at the 2018 Salute to Excellence in Education gala in February. Hope to see you there!

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