Student Journalism at San Rafael High School

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Off the Leash

The Play Was (Never) the Thing

Without a drama class, students may lose a way to practice good communication skills.

Drama was a class at San Rafael High School for decades. Yet, beginning this 2023-2024 school year, you could not find Drama as a course option. Drama class was a place for students to learn how to express themselves. People could join even if they didn’t know how to act but simply wanted to step out of their comfort zone.

The former Drama teacher who also taught other courses, Bill Allan said, “I taught Drama to people who did not want to learn Drama, not to put a show on, but to give students more skills and confidence and communication.” The curriculum included topics such as current events, history and social media. 

These ideas helped students unpack anxieties that are common to our generation. Bill Allan said, “Drama helps all students become more confident at speaking and communicating. Most students that do drama find this extremely helpful when presenting in front of the class which in the long run will make them not have as many anxieties with things.”

The Drama class was removed for a couple of reasons. “The first reason is because there were not enough sign ups,” said Kevin Allen, a substitute teacher for the Drama class.

“Out of 28 students I had in the class, only 4 had signed up,” Bill Allan said. The rest of the students had just been assigned. Additionally, Allan thinks that a lot of classes were taken out because “They [the school district] would try and save money.” He explained that every year the school district has to find ways to cut money and they look for classes that can be removed from the selection of electives.

Many other public schools in Marin offer Drama as an elective: Redwood, Archie Williams, Tamalpais, Novato, and Terra Linda. One benefit of Drama, according to Allan, is that it can help emerging English speakers learn the language faster. “We probably have one of the highest levels of emerging English speaking students, more than any other school [in Marin County], and Drama could be used for those students,” said Allan.

It acted as an emotional outlet for students to blow off steam. The class was a safe space for students to pretend to be someone else for a short period in their school day. Now that the class is no longer being offered, it leaves students without a speaking creative outlet. Drama is a class that can help the diverse student body find ways to express themselves.  

Frank Faulkner, a student who participated in the class, said, “For me, Drama was a creative outlet, and as I am generally a more logical and mathy person, it was really fun to explore that part of me. Drama challenged and engaged me while still not being overly difficult, and encouraged self discovery based on the effort put in.” 

In response to the problem of sign ups, Allan says that San Rafael High School needs to look at other schools when deciding on which classes are expendable. “At Terra Linda, they put all the students that are just emerging English and ELD learners into a drama class, and it taught them English very fast. They don’t do any musicals or plays, but [it’s] a class to help you speak.”

A 2018 study from University of Michigan about how theater can improve teen anxiety showed that it reduces social anxiety related to social skills and increases ability to achieve goals, take action, and become more willing to make mistakes. 

Without a class, the drama club here at San Rafael is an after-school program. Students go to put on a production. It does not have the same emphasis on teaching communication and work as the drama class.

“I think that the drama club pulled focus away from the class, and it got to the stage where people who wanted to be in the club (or show) do the drama club and do not sign up for drama class,” said Bill Allan. 

Drama class has proven to be an important part of the high school experience for generations. 

Jared Gaulding, a San Rafael High School student who took Drama class for a year and took other drama-related things over the years, said, “From taking Drama class, it has taught me to treat life like you’re on the stage, to do everything with purpose and passion.” 

San Rafael High School offered Drama for decades. It has been taken away as a class that can help the student body come out of their comfort zone and feel more comfortable expressing themselves in social and public settings. 

Frank Faulkner said, “We learned how to create believable characters, which was awkward for almost everyone at first, but we eventually grew our comfort zone to encompass that key part of acting.”

“Every school needs Drama, it should be part of every curriculum,” said Bill Allan. “It shouldn’t be something added on or taken away.”

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    Rebecca MerrillOct 30, 2023 at 4:22 pm

    What a great article! It made me reflect on my own high school and college theater/drama involvement. While I loved being on the stage, being someone else, what has endured is my confidence in expressing myself. It’s really empowering, learning to communicate with many eyes on you. I hope drama returns to SR.