The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Creative outlets support teachers in and out of the high school

Biology and special education teacher Sutikshna Veeravalli combines movement with her lessons to help her students.

Tired and unprepared for class, you walk into the room and settle into your seat. The last thing you’d expect would be your teacher breaking into song or dance. Little do you know, some routinely hit the stage after school or have had a career in the arts.

While the high school has an arts program full of teachers who assist and direct performances, there are also teachers who partake in activities like theater and dance. Although it can be challenging to balance the demands of teaching and attending practices or rehearsals, having a creative release helps both themselves and their teaching.

Math teacher Juan Paniagua began doing theater a year before moving to the United States from Mexico, over 30 years ago. Tired of only working with numbers, Paniagua said he yearned for an artistic outlet.

“I didn’t consider myself a good dancer nor a visual artist, so I started thinking theater could be something in which I can use my body as my own tool,” Paniagua said.

Although Paniagua said that he hadn’t imagined continuing theater once he moved to the United States, he was invited to form a Spanish theater group called “Escena Latina Teatro.”

Now, Paniagua said he finds a balance between the precision of math and the spontaneity of performing.

“I find that it’s a very good balance. One is very methodic, it’s only one correct answer. In theater, anything can happen,” Paniagua said. “It’s spontaneous; you have to react to whatever happens, so it forces you to be flexible. It forces me to explore both ends of the spectrum.”

Paniagua said that, while managing time with the demands of teaching and late rehearsals can be difficult, being involved in theater ultimately brightens his day.

“Even if I attend a rehearsal and I’m tired from the school day, I usually come back from it recharged,” Paniagua said.

Aside from teaching biology and special education, Sutikshna Veeravalli sings and performs a form of South Indian traditional dance called Bharatanatyam. Veeravalli said her parents, one a dance teacher and the other passionate about music, inspired her to start performing when she was young.

“I like to think of music and dance as a gift that I never chose for myself because when I was four and a half, I didn’t know any better,” Veeravalli said.

Veeravalli said it can be hard to go to practice and dance after being on her feet all day in school, but she makes sure to prioritize her health.

“I’m figuring out the rest of my life, like regulating sleep and eating. I think the main thing I tell myself is to treat my body like it’s a machine or an instrument that you would take good care of,” Veeravalli said.

Veeravalli said she incorporates the elements of empathy and storytelling from her style of dance into her teaching to help her students.

“When I’m teaching, I like to tell things as a story because I feel like you remember them better,” Veeravalli said. “Especially for things like biology, there are many different processes and new words that it’s easier to remember when you know it like a story.”

Social studies teacher Jennifer Barrer-Gall was a professional ballet dancer and part of the Orlando Ballet for two years. After an injury, she began teaching ballet at Columbia while double-majoring in history and English.

“I really loved coaching students. I decided to blend my interests and become a history teacher,” Barrer-Gall said.

While she doesn’t currently instruct ballet, Barrer-Gall said she would like to continue in the future. She said teaching now gives her both a performative and creative outlet.

“Teaching has become a really nice continuation of being a performer. Especially as a history teacher, it’s very similar, telling stories and acting things out, ” Barrer-Gall said.

Now, Barrer-Gall said she is inspired when she sees student art or performances at the school.

“I just know that the teachers who are helping support those students are sharing their love of the arts with them,” Barrer-Gall said. “And I think, in that way, I’m very much inspired by them because I think it’s so important to have a huge arts culture at a school.”

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