Changing the Game: How Julia Magnasco Has Redefined What Teaching Looks Like Outside of the Classroom

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Julia Magnasco, Education Director for First Stage

In March 2017, Marquette University’s College of Education launched its new undergraduate major and minor, Educational Studies. To highlight professionals working in the field, the college profiled Community Advisory Board Member Julia Magnasco of First Stage. For 30 years, First Stage has been transforming lives through theater. As one of the nation’s most acclaimed children’s theaters and the second-largest company in Milwaukee, First Stage runs academies for children and schools while also producing plays and musicals for the city’s entertainment.

Julia Magnasco serves as First Stage’s Education Director and is a member of the College of Education’s Educational Studies Community Advisory Board. A program for students interested in education but not the traditional licensure of a classroom teacher, Educational Studies will prepare graduates to work in non-profit organizations or informal learning institutions such as First Stage. We sat down with Julia to learn more about her day-to-day life both on and off the stage along with her insight into what this new program could mean for our students and Milwaukee.

I’m very excited for this new major. There is a great need for educators outside the normal realm, whether it be an artist in schools or in community centers.


College of Education (COED): Thank you, Julia, for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about First Stage, your role in the organization, and what your day looks like?

Julia Magnasco (JM): I feel very lucky because my world is play! I’m the Education Director for First Stage. We are a professional theater for young audiences in Milwaukee. We are the second-largest theater company in the state and one of the largest theaters for young audiences in the nation. We have this incredible commitment to our community, but also to the field of theater for young people and families.

At First Stage we say we have three pillars. We have our productions where we put on shows for young people and families from three years old all the way through high school. Something we do that is really unique is “age-appropriate” casting. We use young performers side by with professional actors. It’s important to us that when young people are watching a show that they see themselves and their stories. They’re able to do some social bridging and social bonding from the experience of seeing productions. Young people have to see themselves on stage. Part of that is the need to see someone their age playing that character.

JM5The second pillar is theater academy. Our motto is teaching life skills through stage skills. The real goal of all of our programming in the academy is to nurture those socio-emotional abilities, EQ skills.

Our third pillar is education. We go into schools and community centers throughout the Milwaukee area with different workshops and opportunities right within that setting. We primarily use a method of teaching called “arts integration.” The idea of arts integration — and in our case, it’s drama — is looking at the process and actually teaching the standards that go along with it. The arts, like every other curricular subject, has its own set of standards and skills that need to be learned, and they need to be taught appropriately with that. We’re teaching the drama process while simultaneously teaching another curricular or social subject.

COED: How many students do you interact with in the course of a year? How do you work with schools and with community organizations?

JM: We end up facilitating over 2500 workshops every school year in over 750 classrooms, so we reach about 20,000 students. We want our students and community to have three touchpoints and come into the First Stage family. You might enter from coming to see a show, you might enter from First Stage coming to your classroom, you might enter by taking an academy class, but the idea is the connection with all these different levels in First Stage.

COED: How do you think our new program can be effective for tomorrow’s educational landscape?

JM: How do you look at education in a nontraditional setting? We’re looking at what the educational mandates are, what the new, exciting initiatives are — how we connect with those and how we can be game-changers both in the local community and on a national level. I think now more than ever our classrooms are so diverse, and it is important as educators to acknowledge that. We need to be responsive in our teaching and use the proper tools, giving opportunities to acknowledge and embrace that diversity — and to take the next generation to that level.

I’m very excited for this new major. There is a great need for educators outside the normal realm, whether it be an artist in schools or in community centers. This opportunity for engaged conversations and art has great power; art has the power to change. K-12 education for me looks different from what I experienced to what my daughter is experiencing now. There’s not a lot of art specialization right now in education, but that does not mean art is not present. We’re looking at it from a different lens. There is an opportunity to partner with school, teachers, and other organizations to bring these experiences to our community.

Want to learn more about the College of Education and its undergraduate educator preparation programs? Visit us online today!

 

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