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Democracyworks essay competition honors Daron Hawkins

December 2, 2013

The Educational Theatre Association’s annual Democracyworks student essay competition is now accepting entries. The winning essayist and a chaperone will be awarded a trip to Arts Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. March 23-25, 2014. This year’s contest marks the beginning of a new EdTA funding program, the Daron Hawkins Advocacy Fund, named for the Florida State Chapter Director who passed away earlier this year. Hawkins demonstrated his commitment to student advocacy at the 2013 Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. by bringing eight of his students to participate in two days of training and visits to Congressional offices. The Daron Hawkins Advocacy Fund will support both student and adult advocacy activities on behalf of theatre education. EdTA will seed the grant with $7,000 this year and hopes it will grow through contributions.

Democracyworks has traditionally asked students to respond to a prompt or question about how theatre education has impacted their lives. This year the program is taking a somewhat different approach and linking directly to the advocacy work that Thespians are doing. For 2014, students will write about what they have done to make a difference in theatre education in their school, district, or state. The approach showcases EdTA’s increased emphasis on its Student Advocacy Works (SAW) program, which promotes grassroots student awareness and engagement in advocacy on behalf of theatre and other arts education.

This year’s prompt: “Tell us your SAW Story: What advocacy have you done or do you plan to do on behalf of arts education in your school, district, or state and how did it or will it make a difference?

“Advocacy is really about doing, just like theatre itself, and we certainly think our Thespians understand that,” said James Palmarini, EdTA director of educational policy. “We still want to hear about how theatre has made a difference in their social and academic skills, but even more important, we want to know what our students are doing to ensure that others will have the same opportunities that they’ve had. Theatre education needs its champions, and I think there are none better than students themselves—that’s why we’re so enthusiastic about our SAW program and linking it the Democracyworks competition.”

EdTA Executive Director Julie Woffington expressed her support for creating a fund to sponsor the Democracyworks program and other advocacy activities. “The Hawkins Fund is a meaningful way to honor an EdTA leader who so embodied the selfless generosity and commitment of our teachers. The fact that Daron felt it was worth bringing so many students to a national event like Arts Advocacy Day speaks for itself. He was very special and we thought that remembering him through advocacy and our student essay award would be something that he would appreciate.”

Lindsay Painter, the new Florida State Chapter director, said that Arts Advocacy Day was a “life changer” for her and Hawkins. “He was always so passionate about the arts, and particularly theatre in education. Daron was very involved in helping write curriculum and assessments within our school district. Once he became State Chapter Director, he found even more opportunities to advocate for the arts. He knew that if students had a voice they could effect change, and he was so talented at helping them use those voices. The award program means a lot to his family, students, and all his friends and colleagues here in Florida.”

Arts Advocacy Day, sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts, brings together arts advocates from throughout the country to meet with legislators on behalf of a wide range of arts issues, including arts education. The Hawkins Award winner and a chaperone must be available to attend the two-day event. The winning essayist will take part in all scheduled Arts Advocacy Day events, including legislative training on current arts issues circulating on Capitol Hill; the Congressional Arts Breakfast; visits to Congress members’ and senators’ offices, and the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The winning essay and a photo of the winner will be published in Dramatics. The first runner-up essayist will be awarded $150, and second runner-up, $100.

Woffington urged EdTA adult members to consider attending the event, and to bring at least one student with them. “Arts Advocacy Day is a great opportunity for our members to meet directly with their senate and district Congressional representatives and learn how to negotiate with decision makers. They’re the ones shaping the policies that impact our profession and our students. It’s also an ideal training ground for anyone—adults and students alike—who want to do grassroots advocacy. If you want to learn how to make a persuasive argument on behalf of theatre education, this is the place to start.”

Submission deadline for essays is February 14, 2014. Read the complete essay guidelines.

Find out more about Arts Advocacy Day and to register.