Teachers and Students Reflect on their Experience at the National Oratory Fellows Performance

The first weekend in May is a special time for me and my Ford’s education colleagues, because it’s our National Oratory Fellows Retreat. During this special weekend, many of our National Oratory Fellows and their students join us in D.C. to reflect on the year, continue their learning and celebrate all the work we’ve done together. At this year’s retreat, May 4 through 7, we were joined by 23 teachers and 23 students who are part of this incredible program.

The 2017-2018 National Oratory Fellows. The National Oratory Fellows are a group of 30 teachers, grades five through eight, who are learning to use public speaking as a teaching and learning strategy in their classrooms. They work with us over multiple years, developing their skills and deepening their understanding of the power of oratory to strengthen student learning.

We started off the school year by bringing the fellows together for a two-day professional development retreat with Ford’s Theatre education staff and teaching artists at Ford’s Theatre. These sessions focused on how strategies to teach public speaking skills, analyze historical speeches and teach original persuasive speech writing. Throughout the year, the fellows partnered with a Ford’s teaching artist to plan and implement oratory integrated lessons and met via video-conference as a professional learning community to share successes, challenges and new approaches to our work. 

When they returned to Ford’s Theatre at the end of the school year, Fellows also brought student delegates with them to perform speeches on our historic stage.

After an amazing weekend full of sight-seeing, group-games, and public speaking, we asked our Fellows and their student orators to reflect on their time in DC.

We asked our fellows: What will you take away from your weekend in DC?
Amber Obert, History Teacher from kuna, Idaho

“The change in my skills as a speaker have been noticed by many people on my staff. Prior [to my experience at Ford's Theatre], I hid from cameras and any stage speaking was horrifying. Now I am able to talk to large groups of people and think on the spot rather than be paralyzed in my shoes.”

Lindsey Charron, History and Government Teacher from newport beach, California

“The oratory program has helped me learn the skills necessary to teach students how to be more comfortable with presenting in the front of their peers. My students have all become more confident orators that are proud to share their points of view.”

Jason Rude, Social Studies Teacher at New Hampton, iowa

“[With National Oratory Fellows] I have a network of people that come from every section of the country. We all have different backgrounds, challenges and experiences that allow us all to better understand methodologies and concepts to make us better teachers. … There are many institutions that claim that once you join you are ‘family,’ but when you join the Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellowship you truly are family.”

The student delegates jump right into to the retreat activities, rooming with students from across the country, participating in challenging workshops and rehearsing their speeches in front of each other. It can be nerve-wracking, but also incredibly rewarding. Every year, the fellows, Ford’s education staff and teaching artists are amazed at how the students take to each other with such grace and ease, and how supportive they are of each other. We’ve witnessed some deep bonds form between the students during the retreat.

We asked our student orators: What was the best part or the most difficult part of your weekend in DC?
Belinda Miguel, Seventh-Grader from Newport beach, california

“I think that the best part about coming to Washington, D.C., and Ford's was how I was able to share my story on how I feel about an education and how people should start to realize the value of an education because many of us are not fortunate to have an education.” 

Jarom Seeley, Eighth-Grader from Kuna, Idaho

“The best part for me was being able to meet people from around the country and realize that we are all very much the same… The advice I would give [to other students] is that your opinions and thoughts matter, so give that speech no matter what.”

Mya Zontok, Sixth-Grader from Morris, Connecticut

“The most difficult part of the Retreat was probably presenting my two-minute, original speech in front of a live audience! It might not seem so bad, but once you are up there, it feels like a whole lot more than two minutes! When you finally finish, you will be relieved that it is over and proud of what you have accomplished. And trust me, you should be!”

Anna Walburger, Eighth-Grader from newport beach, California

“The most difficult part of the whole experience was probably initially meeting everyone and understanding who they were, where they were from, etc. It was sort of confusing and weird at first to be with a bunch of strangers for a whole weekend, but it was so, so fun after you got to know people and hung out with them.”

Cynthia Gertsen is Associate Director for Arts Education at Ford’s Theatre.