By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – A drama class taught by Jennifer Micarelli-Webb continues to be offered in the seventh-grade curriculum at Oak Middle School. Previously, there was a skip year before students could resume studying drama when they entered ninth grade. This school year, the district introduced an eighth-grade drama class instructed by Carolyn Jepsen, a new teacher with several years of experience at the town’s schools.
“It’s a nice through-line up to high school,” Jepsen noted. “The students’ performances are much stronger right now because they have the skills that Jennifer gave them. It’s helpful in terms of practicing those skills and keeping them fresh.”
Jepsen studied at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., with a double major in theater and dance, and minored in music. After working with Northborough’s Extended Day Program for two years, she decided to do the same in Shrewsbury.
“I came to Shrewsbury in part because I knew about their Summer Enrichment Program, which is very strong in the arts,” she said. “I thought if I was working here during the school year, then I’d have a better chance to be able to teach here in the summers.”
In addition to teaching summers, she instructed theater and dance in Shrewsbury’s Extended Day Program from 2006 through 2013, mostly at Floral Street Elementary and Sherwood Middle schools. In the 2012-2013 school year, she also worked as a transitional aide at Parker Road Preschool.
With several years’ experience in the before- and after-school program, she wanted to share her passion for the arts within the curriculum. She became inspired after attending the memorial service for her beloved drama teacher, Doug Ingalls, at Wachusett Regional High School in Holden.
“I went to the memorial at a 1,500-seat auditorium and it was standing room only,” she relayed. “It didn’t click until that moment that teaching drama was an amazing job, and I was kind of already doing it. That’s when I got my certification to teach.”
While her class covers acting and improvisation, it incorporates playwriting and audition technique. Learning these skills can also be valuable life lessons, she noted.
“The drama class has a heavy playwriting component to it, so they are challenged to come up with different characters and scenarios, and solve problems within their script,” she explained. “Being able to understand the dynamics of a script and have the characters relate has so many real world applications. It’s helpful whether you want to be on Broadway or you want to open a chain of fast food restaurants.”
She has observed students benefit from studying the characters they write and portray.
“They become much more empathetic to their classmates,” she said.
Working as an ensemble is another significant component she teaches.
“They have to support and challenge each other,” she said. “You get that ‘give and take’ in sports all the time. This is a different way to channel that teamwork.”
She encourages middle school students to use the drama class as a way to explore.
“Play around and have fun, but keep that under control and channel it into something productive,” she advised. “Step outside of your comfort zone and figure out what you can do when you push yourself. The world is not going to come to an end if you have to get up and talk to a bunch of people.”
Jepsen is pleased with the direction in which the eighth-grade drama class is going in its first year.
“Ideally, you’re going to come out of my class with a better sense of what you can bring to the table in terms of teamwork, as well as yourself and what you’re capable of doing,” she said.