Eric Schaeffer
Theater director

Eric Schaeffer

Co-founder and artistic director for Signature Theatre in Arlington, which won the 2009 Regional Theatre Tony Award for sustained artistic excellence.

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Opening doors

Q: A recent series in The Post painted a bleak picture of the prospects for millions of U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants, who will play an outsized role in the future of the American workforce but are dropping out of high school in greater numbers than other any other U.S.-born racial or ethnic group. What needs to be done to help more of these young people succeed in school and get college degrees?

At Signature Theatre, one of the greatest achievements we have is our Signature in the Schools program. This program provides opportunities for students to come and work on a world premiere play written especially for them in accordance with the Virginia Standards of Learning. We adopted Wakefield High School because it is the most diverse school in Arlington County and we felt that the students weren't being provided the opportunities of their peers.

Over the course of the 15 years of this program, I have seen it actually change the lives of students. They become connected with each other, they see opportunity around them and they most importantly share a conversation of ideas and bigger thinking. It is amazing when you just have lunch with these kids on a weekend rehearsal day and hear the conversations that are exchanged across the table from politics to the Internet to traveling the world.

What we need to do is continue to provide unique learning opportunities such as this to students so they can get exposed to different experiences to grow from. What is wonderful is when they perform the play for their classmates for an entire week -- as well as the discussions that follow. They have such a sense of accomplishment that it opens doors for them to realize anything is possible.

The program has been so successful that other schools want us to expand it but we have chosen not to at this time. The whole idea is that we now give an experience that is going to change people's lives. Expanding it could make it less personal, less one-on-one -- and that's not going to give build confidence in the participants.

It takes one person at a time to change and grow, but this experience becomes infectious. We just need to continue to develop programs like this to encourage people to stay in school and have these experiences that will change their thinking and their lives.

By Eric Schaeffer  |  December 14, 2009; 9:57 AM ET  | Category:  education Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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