HIBBING — Educators at Hibbing High School are gearing up to host teachers from across the state next month to showcase their technical theater education program. “When [other teachers] saw what we were doing, people from around the state went, ‘Oh my gosh, this is groundbreaking,’” HHS science and theater teacher Susan Nelson told the local district board earlier this week.

Last year, Nelson got the green light from the Perpich Center for Arts Education to become a Regional Teacher Leader. She received some training from the Minnesota Department of Education and the bulk of training from Perpich in Golden Valley. She traveled the state to educate teachers on the changing standards for arts education. She also told them about the new type of theater course she implemented here three years ago; rather than teaching a class with the typical emphasis on acting, she decided to set her sights on the backbone of drama performances: the backstage production. Though often overlooked, the skills required for set building, lighting, costume design, advertising have the power to make or break even the best of productions. Fostering these skills in a classroom is something few school districts have tried before.

“We’re a demonstration site,” Nelson told the board. The state’s Career Technical Education licensure committee has been looking into starting a technical theater pathway based on the local curriculum. “So, we’re doing groundbreaking work right here that hasn’t been done anywhere else,” Nelson said.

Teachers from across the state are scheduled to gain first-hand experiences at HHS on Dec. 2.

The Minnesota Department of Education considers CTE programs as “high quality programs” that meet the needs of both students and employers. Federal grant funds are available to school districts that have approved such programs taught by properly licensed teachers. Being able to access grants means a portion of that teacher’s salary and supplies would be covered.

What does that mean for HHS? If the CTE committee creates a licensure around Nelson’s technical theater classes, that could translate into more money for the district.

Nelson also told the board that she would show teachers her new class, Theater Business Management.

The course involves hands-on community collaboration. For example, the district’s business manager, Alex Kaczor, has helped the class set up an account to manage the money from a class fundraiser. Ron Wirkkula from Hibbing Public Access Television allowed the students to tour the studio and get a behind the scenes glimpse at the digital production. District Superintendent Rick Aldrich also spent time with the students as they made a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis proposal, and, acting on his suggestions, students coordinated with other departments throughout the school to complete a project.

Nelson also spoke of her Stagecraft Class, in which students built and transported sections of the set for the Hibbing-Chisholm Drama production of the musical Grease earlier this month. The students also worked with HHS’s Building and Grounds Director Tyler Glad to reorganize the auditorium’s scenic loft and learn about other areas of the stage. “This is a one of a kind program,” Nelson said. “If we want people to come to Hibbing, let’s make one of a kind programs and let’s advertise.”

Nelson told the board that she has a motto she shares with her students: “We don’t imitate, we innovate.” In that vein, she plans to incorporate acting into her Theater History class. Additionally, a partnership with Hibbing Community College is in the works to possibly get several theater courses qualified under the local College in the School program, which allows high school students to earn college credits for taking certain classes. “It’s taken very little resources, just a lot of creativity,” she said.

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