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Reaching for the Stars: Teacher Helps Students Find Success On StageJill Campbell, SCASD Learning Enrichment teacher and director of the State High Thespians, is currently in her 38th year of teaching. Born and raised in Berks County, Jill graduated from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., with a double major in speech and drama and elementary education before studying child drama at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Jill joined SCASD in 1983 at Easterly Parkway before joining the Learning Enrichment Program in 1987 as an elementary program specialist.

Becoming an educator wasn’t necessarily something Jill always knew she was going to do. In fact, when she began college, her major was undecided. “I loved and practiced all of the fine arts while in high school... By the time I was a senior, I realized that I didn’t want to stop studying all of the creative and fine arts. As a freshman in college, I found that majoring in speech and theater allowed me to continue studying and doing everything I loved,” she shares. But it was her creative writing professor that encouraged her to add elementary education to the list. “He called me into his office one day and told me he would love having me teach his children,” she recalls.

Jill became further motivated to move directly to the classroom during her graduate studies in child drama, where, as a teaching assistant for the creative dramatics course, she taught a demonstration lesson. “Following the lesson, the classroom teacher pulled me aside and asked about my background, noticing that I actually had teaching experience, compared to the [other] TAs,” she states. “That is when I really came to recognize the need for well-trained arts educators in theater and dance, as well as in visual arts and music, and I became committed to arts education in our schools.”

In the classroom, Jill wears many hats. As a Learning Enrichment/Gifted Support teacher, her focus area has always been arts education, helping to write arts-based strategies for K-12 curriculum, along with enrichment activities and mini-courses. She also developed ARTsmART, a program extension of LE, that provides students with a space to not only study with like-minded students, but also practice and improve their art form. “As the high school began researching smaller learning communities, we realized we already had one in the making,” Jill states. “Being able to mentor and help students involved in the arts with their unique educational program plans that not only address their academic needs, but also allow them to pursue their art forms in school, is something I enjoy doing every day.”

Through her involvement in the Thespians and the Artist Residency Club, Jill helps students understand what it means to be part of an ensemble. “As a trained theater educator, I make sure we have an active, healthy place where students can produce quality theater, as well as provide a well-rounded theater education by building a team of highly trained teachers and advisors,” she says. “I do my best to teach not only acting, but involve students in all aspects of theater production, from play selection, to acting, directing, management and design.”

Part of the educational experience for students falls under the Artist Residency Club, which was specifically established to bring professional artists to the school to work with the students, as well as provide opportunities to see professional artists in their work settings. “I have been lucky enough to travel with my Thespians to perform at the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, three times now and it has been a real highlight of my career,” Jill proudly states. “It validates the work we do here at State High on an international stage.”

The students themselves often impress Jill. “I am impressed by how much goodness they are capable of and what I can learn from them every day. The sheer enormity of their accomplishments never ceases to amaze me,” she shares. “When we bring the best of who we are and give generously, the product of our efforts will always be something we can be proud of.”

As an arts educator, Jill is aware of the far-reaching impact the arts have on her students. “Skills such as creativity, communication and collaboration, problem-solving, and leadership skills, including decision-making, strategy building, planning and reflection, are all practiced in the fine and performing arts,” she explains. “Students of the arts have the opportunity to learn so much more than just the art form; they learn the skills that support their future success.”

Jill hopes that, in some way, she is part of that success through her leadership. “The greatest impact I can have is that of inspiring confidence. I hope that by giving my students a place to be part of a community that studies, works, problem solves and plays together; that by my being in that space for them, to pick them up and dust them off, reflecting on the positives of every experience, I can give them the confidence to reach higher, go farther and do more in life than they ever imagined they might.”