“I’m 57 years old, and I’m in my twelfth year of teaching -- I’m late to this,” chuckled Perry Shields, drama teacher at Oscar De La Hoya Ánimo Charter High School (ODLH). Shields doesn't mind that his teaching career began later on, as he’s been able to bring his life experiences and passions into his role as an educator. In the 21 years he worked in the private sector, Shields found that he loved the roles where he wrote curriculum and led trainings for employees and management. Because of this, Shields knew any future career would have to be one that allowed him to support the development of others. “I saw teaching as a way to combine the skills I've developed and honed in the private sector and my love for theatre, and bring them to a classroom environment,” recalled Shields. He eventually went on to study English and earn his teaching degree.
The Power of Drama
Theatre has always been a part of Shields’ life: from taking part in his elementary school plays and joining the drama club in high school, to eventually participating in 100 plus productions as an actor, director, and musician. Shields began in Compton as an English and drama teacher before transitioning to serve the Boyle Heights community at ODLH, where he now teaches drama and film appreciation classes.
At Green Dot, we value a performing arts education provides an outlet for young voices, and challenges students’ perceptions about themselves and the world they live in. In a study by Americans for the Arts, researchers found that involvement in the arts is linked to higher academic performance and lower dropout rates. The arts allow students to develop interpersonal and social skills, public speaking skills, and increases their self-awareness, while providing an outlet for students to express their feelings without fear of having a wrong answer. Though it is often maligned as less significant than traditional core classes, drama shares many of the same goals: it seeks to develop writing and critical thinking skills, strengthen text analysis, and increase confidence. “The arts can be a savior. I know this first-hand because it kept me excited about high school and education,” recalled Shields.
Shields’ drama classes are often the first time many students encounter theatre. “Many of my students have never encountered live theatre before, so as an educator, it’s important that I expose them to elements they may never experience on their own,” said Shields. He has worked diligently to ensure his students have opportunities to attend live theatre shows and have regular opportunities to engage with published artists and professionals. Last fall, in collaboration with Gilder Lehrman Institute’s Hamilton Education Program, Shields was able to take ODLH students to the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood to attend a special performance of the smash-hit musical Hamilton. Shields’ has also established a strong relationship with the Center Theatre Group. Through this collaboration, students participate in a series of theatre workshops. “In these workshops students often discuss social issues that impact them and their communities,” said Shields. The workshops provide students with an additional space to develop their craft as they write their own scenes and create characters to address social issues important to them.
A Second Act
Shields’ second career has been immensely rewarding. His work at ODLH has provided Shields an opportunity to help foster student creativity and prepare them for the future. “Regardless of the subject we teach, the most important thing we can do as educators is to prepare students to go out and conduct themselves as adults in the world,” reflected Shields.
Yesenia Vargas, a mechanical engineering major at UC Merced and a recent ODLH graduate, attributes her recent success to Shields’ theatre class. This fall, Vargas participated in the 30th annual Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation (HENAAC) College Bowl, a two-day, high energy competition in which teams of college students showcase their talents, teamwork skills, and their leadership. “This past weekend I performed in front of big companies like NASA and there was not an ounce of anxiety in me. I really believe it’s [due] to Mr. Shields’ class,” said Vargas. Her team went on to win first place and each member received an academic scholarship!
Throughout the school year, Shields works with students to create a safe environment where students can actively participate, learn new skills, problem solve, and develop the confidence to perform in front of others. Each year, ODLH students produce and perform a series of shows for peers, families, and the Boyle Heights community. “Witnessing my students experience performing for an audience and seeing their faces as they take in applause is truly my favorite thing,” exclaimed Shields. “Those moments make me feel the most successful as an educator.