The fortuitous partnership between Dunham and Brazil, like the plot of many Broadway musicals, unfolded as the result of a seemingly unremarkable occurrence: Brazil’s older son, Joseph, was a student in Dunham’s civics class. “Joseph didn’t love civics, but Dawn was his favorite teacher,” Brazil says. “I think she’s always looking for new and different ways to engage the kids.” With all the curriculum standards imposed on teachers these days, Brazil notes, “it’s tempting just to stay in your lane. But Dawn isn’t that person.” Neither is Brazil. Both women are outsidethe-box thinkers who are passionate about what they do. Former Michigan residents, they share a philosophy of incorporating the arts into every aspect of education, making what Dunham calls “cross-curricular connections.” Dunham, a former banker, waited until age 45 to fulfill a long-deferred dream of teaching social studies. She first worked as a substitute teacher, and was eventually certified through a program that offered credit for her classroom experience and her business degree from Western Michigan University. “I try to make it fun and hands-on as much as possible,” says Dunham, now in her 12th year of teaching full-time, who sprinkles visual art, skits and other role-playing into civics instruction. “I really try to make students own their learning.” For example, she brings in local attorneys and judges for mock trials of historic cases such as Tinker v. Des Moines from 1969. That's the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students who protested the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to class were engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment. Dunham was an ideal partner for Brazil, an arts-education advocate whose innovative initiatives have earned national acclaim. A Michigan State University graduate, Brazil was formerly associate director of an arts institute at that school’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts. With Brazil at the helm, the Dr. Phillips Center Florida Hospital School of the Arts began offering a broad array of classes in dance, music and theater for kids and adults in January 2015, followed by intensive summer camps in the arts. This past spring, the school enrolled more than 200 students. Brazil’s efforts in creating and expanding the arts center’s education program won 12
artsLife | WINTER 2016
Newsies explores the real-life events surrounding the newsboys' strike of 1899, which ensnared rival press magnates Joseph Pulitzer (above left) and William Randolph Hearst (above right).
her the Broadway League’s award for Outstanding Achievement in Education and Engagement last year. In addition, Brazil organizes the judging of increasingly sophisticated high school musicals across Central Florida, and serves as an adjudicator herself. The process culminates in the arts center’s annual Applause Awards, the centerpiece of which is a Tony Awards-style showcase of the year’s best performances. For the first time this past summer, the arts center nominated two top Applause Award winners for Jimmy Awards, the Broadway League’s national recognition program for high school performers. It was during June’s Jimmy Awards ceremony in New York City that Dunham received her own honor. The allegiance between the two women began when Brazil decided to apply for a Broadway League grant to integrate theater into schools. She immediately contacted Dunham, in whom she found an eager collaborator and a kindred spirit. Over a two-year period, the league awarded their project $7,500. Brazil and Dunham initially focused on Newsies, part of the FAIRWINDS Broadway in Orlando™ 2014-15 season. In the “yellow journalism” style of the time, students wrote articles about rival press lords William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer and the events leading up to the strike. Students' stories were assembled into a sepia-tone tabloid called Our Voice — The Young Press, with printing donated by the Orlando Sentinel. “If this strike were to happen, we have heard that the Newsies would march up and down the Brooklyn Bridge, halting traffic for hours,” one Young Press article warned. In the winter of 2015, 140 students and chaperones were bused to the arts center