January 2015 Student Spotlight

Our January Spotlight shines a different direction, as we highlight a group of students who used theatre performance as a vehicle to raise awareness about an important social issue – the realities of public school students who are living in poverty across the state.

This group of nine students (Cierra Austin, Rose Gaffner, Tiauna Lewis, Aden Marshall, Seth Marshall, Arthur McWilliams IV, Rachele Merliss, Samantha Payant, and Paul Schack) volunteered their time and talents to take on a special performance project outside of their high school and college theater productions. The students wrote and performed monologues and slam poetry pieces about growing up in poverty.

The performances were filmed by Nebraska Loves Public Schools with the intention of raising awareness about how poverty impacts education in Nebraska. The final product, Poverty: Not a Choice, explores the day-to-day realities faced by public school kids; from food and housing insecurity to opportunity gaps in school and extracurricular activities. The video is a deep and honest collection of monologues and slam poetry pieces, all written and performed by these students.

This talented group of students put in a tremendous amount of their time and energy to ensure that the performances would be a success. “Dozens of hours were spent researching, writing, and rehearsing – often late into the evening and on weekends,” said Patsy Koch Johns, Director of Poverty: Not a Choice. “On performance day, the entire film crew was blown away by the depth and honesty of the students’ pieces, and moved to tears by several of the students’ emotional deliveries.” 

Nebraska Loves Public Schools is dedicated to supporting public education through films and was inspired to document how these students use slam poetry to share their true stories of facing poverty in Nebraska. “Raising awareness of the impact poverty has on public school students can help us learn about the issue and work together to help these students succeed,” said Amanda Irvine, producer for Nebraska Loves Public Schools.

Poverty: Not a Choice will air in its entirety on NET1 at 10 p.m. CT Tuesday, Feb. 2 on NET 1. Poverty: Not a Choice is also currently available for viewing at the Nebraska Loves Public Schools website (nelovesps.org/story/poverty-not-a-choice/).  Viewers are encouraged to click and share segments or the entire 30-minute documentary. The film is also available for public screenings and Nebraska Loves Public Schools staff are available to present the films to groups by contacting them at (877) 521-3786 or nelovesps.org/take-action/.