How it Began — A Teacher's Passion
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Rafe Esquith uses his passion for Shakespeare to transform inner-city children at Hobart Elementary School in Central Los Angeles into brilliant scholars.
Rafe started the Hobart Shakespeareans to help economically disadvantaged children get into top universities and to improve their lot in life.
According to Rafe, "the biggest disadvantage that these children face is that none of them speak English as their first language. When a 10-year-old, who doesn't speak English as his first language, steps in front of you and does a scene from Shakespeare, there is nothing that they cannot accomplish."
The Solution — Give Students a Way Out
"I started Hobart Shakespeareans because I fear something for these children," Rafe says. "And it's not gangs, it's not drugs. What I fear is that they're ordinary. I don't want my students to be ordinary; I want them to be extraordinary because I know that they are."
The Hobart Shakespeareans are more than just actors — they are serious students. "My students come at 6:30 in the morning because they are hungry, they want out. They want to go to a top school." The classroom mission is "Be nice, Work hard." Rafe says, "It's the first thing the children learn from me. If I want my children to work hard, I better be the hardest working person they've ever met. If I want the children to be nice, I better be the kindest human being they've ever met."
The classroom has become more than a haven protecting students from inner-city violence — it has become a world where their dreams really do come true. The 6th and 7th graders Rafe helps prepare for college on Saturdays score in the top 5 to 10 percent on national test scores across the board. Rafe says, "I have students at Harvard, I have students at Yale. One of the best parts of my Saturday program is that my former students get to travel with me all over the U.S. We visit about 25 universities so that they can see the life that is there for them."
"My younger students were invited to give a performance at the U.S. Supreme Court and my older students were invited to give a performance at the Globe Theatre in London where William Shakespeare's plays were first performed. It was the greatest day of my teaching life."
A Special Gift from Gateway
For years, Rafe spent much of his own salary on books, school supplies, and field trips for his students. When Gateway heard the Hobart Shakespeareans needed computers, they donated 25 computers!
Making History Tangible
The Hobart Shakespeareans now have a full Shakespearean library, new musical instruments, sound equipment and computers. Last year's graduates performed several concerts over the summer using the new instruments. These older students also tutor the current participants in their music lessons, computer work and regular assignments.
Rafe is now able to take his students on interactive field trips so they can experience what they've read about in the classroom. Over the summer, 40 students attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. During the school year, students traveled to sites they'd read about in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, including Wounded Knee and Chief Red Cloud's grave. Rafe is now planning an American History tour to the East Coast for which will include visits to New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
To encourage program participants to attend college and expand their horizons, Rafe took a small group of students to the east coast to visit 16 colleges.
The current 5th grade Hobart Shakespeareans have already cast and begun rehearsing next year's production of The Merry Wives Of Windsor.
See how Rafe Esquith began the Hobart Shakespeareans program.
Printed from Oprah.com on Monday, December 9, 2013
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