Ji-Yun Kim, one of our stellar ensemble members, wears many hats in life. In addition to performing on-stage, she has worked off-stage in roles such as props manager and dresser. It is her role as a biology teacher in Oakland, however, that impresses and excites me the most. Ji-Yun was able to invite several of her students, present and past, to see the preview of The Song of the Nightingale, and I was thrilled that many students were able to watch the show for free that evening. I've asked Ji-Yun to bring us into her world of teaching by sharing her insights.
MIN: Describe your day job for me. What draws you to work in your current position?
JI-YUN: During the day, I teach high school Biology and AP Biology at Fremont High School in Oakland, CA. Originally, I was thrown into teaching when I elected to join Teach For America, a program that recruits recent college graduates and trains them to teach in low-income neighborhoods. After one summer and five weeks of training on my resume, I entered the classroom thinking it would be a temporary placement, but ended up staying for the love of the job and the kids. When I first started, I had no idea I would stay at Fremont for the six years that I have, but something about the tireless work, the constant personal and professional growth, and the relationships I build with the students and faculty keeps bringing me back. I am grateful to be able to work with the resilient youth of Oakland and support them toward creating their own opportunities for their futures. I find the work I do absolutely exhausting yet completely fulfilling, for truly, there is never a dull day.
M: You were able to invite quite a crowd of your students, current and former, to our free preview night. What was that experience like for you?
JY: I have always invited my students to come watch any productions I'm involved in, but this was by far the largest turn out. Given that the performing arts have become such an important part of my life over the last few years, it was incredible to see so many of my students' faces in the audience. For most of them, the option of watching a stage production is one that is not often presented, and if the opportunity does happen to arise, the location and cost often deter them from attending. The free preview was the perfect chance for them to experience a night at the theater, especially since Altarena Playhouse is less than two miles from where I teach. It warmed my heart to see them in the audience, reacting and responding to everything they were witnessing on stage; I was smiling for hours after they left. It would be wonderful if I could continue to perform more locally so that they have better access to the shows I am a part of.
M: What responses have you gotten from your students?
JY: The kids LOVED the show!! For the majority of them, Song of the Nightingale was the first stage production they had ever seen. They were completely enthralled by it - the costumes, the music, the story-telling - it was all so novel to them. One actually texted me during intermission to tell me how much he was enjoying the performance, having cried before even the end of Act I. By the end of Act II, all my students wanted to meet, get autographs from, and take photos with as many of the cast members as possible. Even a week after the fact, students were coming up to me to tell me how much they had enjoyed the show and how glad they were that they had watched us perform.
M: Your students have also begun to post their responses on Youth Voices. Can you explain a little about what Youth Voices is?
JY: Youth Voices is an online blogging platform designed and managed by a group of teachers who believe in creating space for students to read and write about their passions. The site is designed to encourage discussion between students both nationally and globally, allowing individuals to post blogs online where readers are welcome to respond, and thus create dialogues with each other. Our English teacher requires her students to post blogs as assignments to push for feedback on their ideas. In fact, she is having the students who attended The Song of the Nightingale post about their reactions to the show, and for extra credit, analyze it through a critical literary lens of their choice. One of our seniors, Maria Ramos, wrote of her favorite part of the show and analyzed it through the Marxist theory. This is what she had to say:
"One of my favorite parts, would have to be when the main character who was the son of the fish worker and a fish worker himself, decided to lead a revolt against the Emperor. It was one of my favorite scenes because it showed the realism of the Marxist theory, in where, the working class will eventually seek a change in power for the common good when provoked by harsh inequality that is being experienced. I also liked it because there will always be that leader, who stands up for what he believes and knows how to attract people’s attention and help them understand that there are rights that people have that should be respected and that there is an obvious violation of those rights."
The rest of her post can be found at http://youthvoices.net/discussion/song-nightingale-1.
M: Any other insights/thoughts you'd like to share?
JY: I'd just like to take the time to say that being a part of The Song of the Nightingale has been a truly phenomenal experience. I only have the utmost gratitude for being a member of this exceptional cast and am humbled by the loads of talent I am surrounded by. So, thank you, Min, for writing such a beautiful show. Thank you to Christina Lazo for directing it with such grace. And, thank you to Fred Chacon and Altarena Playhouse for allowing me to share this experience with my students. It is one thing to be able to impart Biology knowledge to my kids, but to be able to share performance art with them has brought me a completely new level of fulfillment and joy. I can only hope that having seen this show opens my students' minds to the creative, and inspires them to seek out opportunities that allow them to exercise their imaginations.