Danville Express

Newsfront - February 2, 2007

Rising above guns, gangs and a life of poverty

Inspirational teacher with L.A. students to perform in Danville

by Jordan M. Doronila

The power of Shakespeare gives youths in Los Angeles the strength to rise above guns, gangs and poverty, believes Rafe Esquith.

Esquith and eight of his students will share their insights by performing Shakespeare, sign language and rock 'n' roll for the community at the Athenian School theater in Danville at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 6.

"I think his work is extremely exciting," said Michael Barnard, owner of Rakestraw Books, which is sponsoring the event. "It should be a great evening."

Esquith is an internationally renowned teacher who conducts a public school class called the Hobart Shakespeareans for economically disadvantaged children in Los Angeles. He has worked together with school staff, parents and communities to establish a level playing field, which gives equal opportunity for every child. He is the winner of the Walt Disney American Teacher Award for National Teacher of the Year.

"(His work) opens up opportunities for kids who might otherwise not have them," Barnard said.

His students will perform a series of speeches and sketches mixed with music. His class also will do bits from "Henry V," "The Taming of the Shrew," "Hamlet" and "The Tempest," which will demonstrate a chapter in a book called "Will Power."

Tickets are $10 in advance; student tickets with a valid student ID are $5. Proceeds will be given back to teachers in the audience in the form of grants. Teachers attending the event are invited to submit a grant application, and recipients of the money will be announced at the event.

"I just know that you are going to find Rafe Esquith and the Hobart Shakespeareans both moving and inspirational," Barnard wrote in a letter to Rakestraw customers.

Esquith's fifth-grade students have been wildly successful, said Barnard. They come from an L.A. neighborhood plagued by guns, gangs and drugs, and arrive voluntarily at school at 6:30 a.m. They study with Esquith until 5 p.m.

His classroom is known as Room 56, where students gather to play Vivaldi, score in the top 1 percent on standardized tests, and go on to attend Ivy League universities, in addition to learning Shakespeare, Barnard said.

Esquith has written a book called "Be Nice, Work Hard," which expounds on his personal experiences teaching.

"It's great stuff," said Barnard. He's also the author of "Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56."

Esquith has received the U.S. President's National Medal of the Arts and he was named by Queen Elizabeth II as a member of the British Empire. Additionally, he has received the Oprah's Use Your Life Award. And he has received praise from actor Sir Ian McKellan.

"Rafe Esquith is my only hero," McKellan said, according to Barnard's letter.

For information about the event, contact Rakestraw Bookstore, 409 Railroad Ave. in Danville; telephone 837-7337.

Contact Jordan M. Doronila at jdoronila@DanvilleWeekly.com


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