Students on Stage: Five Ways Ford’s Empowers Young Speakers

Merriam-Webster defines oratory as “the art of speaking in public eloquently or effectively.” Ford’s Theatre education was very busy this year, providing hundreds of local and national students and teachers a bevy of opportunities to learn, practice and perform oratory. We’re already well into the planning stages for our 2015-2016 oratory programming, but first, take a look at some of what we did this year.

Our National Oratory Fellows program catapulted into its fifth year of using oratory and performance strategies to help teachers bring history alive in classrooms across the country. In year three of our Higher Achievement weekly afterschool partnership, we connected teaching artists with sixth graders to practice drama and public speaking. At our seventh annual, two-day Target Oratory Festival, classes from D.C., Maryland and Virginia honored Abraham Lincoln’s birthday by delivering tandem versions of his famous speeches.

The inaugural National Lincoln Oratory Festival was a broader version of the local festival, where classrooms from all over the country recorded videos of themselves performing famous Lincoln speeches. Stand Up: Be Heard was our final oratory performance of the year where teachers and students from the Washington, D.C. area delivered a range of speeches from our historic stage.

As we continue our summer teacher workshops and begin planning for fall, let’s take a closer look at the range of our oratory programming over the past school year.

National Oratory Fellows

Eighteen educators from around the country converged on Washington, D.C., in the fall to work with our Ford’s Theatre teaching artists and prepare for an entire school year of integrating public speaking into their classroom teaching. Over several months, our teaching artists worked with these educators and their classes via videoconferencing. In the spring, the teachers returned to D.C., with student delegates in tow, to share the results of their work. More than 30 student delegates and several teachers performed original and historic speeches on the Ford’s Theatre stage. Topics included LGBTQ rights, education and homeless veterans. Other highlights included historical speeches by Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr. A student delegate from Kansas delivered Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 address to the United Nations, and the Malala Fund even noticed us!

We are so proud that Wally Hames, a middle school teacher and Oratory Fellow from Kuna, Idaho, received the Inaugural BP America Teacher Leader Scholarship, to be used toward additional resources for his classroom during the coming year. Click here to view the entire Oratory Fellows 2015 performance.

Higher Achievement

Ford’s Theatre completed our third year of partnership with the Higher Achievement program. Our teaching artists made weekly visits to the Ward 7 Center at Kelly Miller Middle School in Washington, D.C., throughout the school year to teach oratory and performance. The students performed original and historic speeches and affirmations at their school in the spring, and they also performed at Ford’s Theatre during our Stand Up: Be Heard presentation. Paige Telesford, a student we met in 2009 who has grown up to be one of our education interns, worked with the students to create affirmations about life’s lessons and discoveries. Students presented moving words about peer pressure, self-confidence and personal responsibility.

Through Lincoln’s Words: The Target Oratory Festival

In our seventh year of this festival, students from D.C., Maryland and Virginia received five monthly classroom visits from a Ford’s Theatre teaching artist to memorize and practice a speech by Abraham Lincoln. Between the teaching artists’ rehearsals with the students, they worked to stage student performances of President Lincoln’s profound words. The two-day Target Oratory Festival is held during the first weeks of February, to coincide with Lincoln’s birthday on February 12.

National Lincoln Oratory Festival

For the first time, Ford’s offered an opportunity for third to eighth grade classrooms across the country to submit videos of themselves performing Abraham Lincoln’s historic speeches. Classes created dynamic media projects with video and images that demonstrated their reverence for Lincoln’s legacy.

Stand Up: Be Heard

Selected students from our local oratory programs in D.C., Maryland and Virginia performed historical and original speeches on the stage of Ford’s Theatre. Students and teachers spoke eloquently and passionately about a range of topics that included deforestation, anorexia, women’s rights, animal abuse and racism. Joyce Erb-Appleman, a middle school teacher from Greenbelt, Maryland, received the BP America Teacher Leader Scholarship for her excellence in utilizing oratory teaching strategies in the classroom. She then delivered a speech entitled “My Unfinished Work,” describing her entrance into the “Third Act” of her dynamic journey as an educator.

We are thrilled to wrap up another year of dynamic oratory programming at Ford’s Theatre and look forward to sharing next year’s stories of success, challenge and growth with you.

Teachers and students can learn more about oratory programming by visiting our website. Then, check out our Oratory Tips and Tricks page, which is full of resources to download and print!

Thembi Duncan is former Lead Teaching Artist at Ford’s Theatre.