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EVERETT

Students protest drama cutbacks

Schools chief says other priorities must be met first

EVERETT — A lesbian character contemplated suicide in “Letters From Home,” a play written and performed by Everett High students in this year’s state high school drama festival.

In another drama club play, a male student dropped his pants, revealing a long pair of shorts, before an audience in the school auditorium. A female student spoke the word sex in a one-act play set in a bar, where a man invites a woman to have a drink.

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The scenes are the backdrop for a real-school drama playing out at Everett High School. Drama classes at the school have been eliminated for the next school year, and the school’s drama teacher has been reassigned to teach eighth-grade science.

“The plays bothered a lot of us,” said Frederick Foresteire, the school superintendent. “The plays had references to sex and drinking. And I don’t think its appropriate for a boy to drop his pants on the stage at Everett High School.”

But drama students say the plays they perform send a powerful message.

“These plays have to do with real life” said Melissa Osias, 17, a drama club board member, who met with Foresteire last week to discuss the cuts. “They’re not promoting sex or drinking. . . . They teach you how to cope.”

The drama club will remain an after-school activity, but students have no plans to let their drama classes fade away.

They have collected 228 signatures on a petition seeking to restore the courses and save other art electives from possible elimination. They have posted messages on Twitter and Facebook to drum up support from the community and from other high school drama programs.

“Liberal arts are so important to our education,” said Sabine Jacques, 17, a drama student and president of the school’s National Honor Society. “I felt so much pressure for MCAS. When I walked into acting class, I fell in love with it. It was so lively and different than what I was used to.”

Jackie Strom, 17, an aspiring artist who joined the drama program last year, said, “It’s a cool concept to be able to walk into a classroom and learn how to be another person.”

On June 26, after school let out, a group of 20 students, including students not enrolled in drama, walked to the school administration building to present Foresteire with their petition. They plan next to attend a School Committee meeting this summer.

“I think what they’re doing is really important,” said Ricky Phan, 17, who is not in drama. “School administrators have to listen more to students.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that they’re taking their classes away,” said Doumick Adolphe, 17, who said he attended a play last year. “They work really hard.”

But Foresteire said the school can no longer afford to offer the classes as enrollment grows. As many as 550 freshmen could enter Everett High in the fall, and the school must offer enough sections of English, math, science, and other classes in the core curriculum.

“We’re one of the fastest-growing school districts around,” said Foresteire, superintendent for 25 years. “With so many youngsters, we have to make sure we have enough teachers and appropriate class sizes.”

The decision comes as Everett’s star has been rising on the high school drama circuit. Last year, the club made it to the semifinal rounds. This year it was knocked out in the first round, but Everett was a host site for the festival.

“They’ve gotten better and better each year,” said Michael McGarty, executive director of the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild, the Chelmsford-based organization that runs the statewide drama festival each spring. “Their kids seemed very excited about theater.”

McGarty said theater classes are an important element to a successful drama program. “In an after-school club, you really can’t focus on the necessary skills in any depth,” That can’t be done in an hour after school,” he said.

Raymond Albright, hired as a biology teacher in 2007, taught drama classes. But the school needed him to teach more science than drama classes, Foresteire said. Albright declined to comment.

Foresteire said he is impressed with the students’ arguments to restore drama classes. In August, when the school has a better handle on enrollment figures, it is possible that an acting class could be added, he said. “But there will not be four or five sections taught by one teacher.”

Foresteire said the decision to reassign Albright to the Parlin School, a kindergarten to eighth-grade school, was made by Everett High principal Erick Naumann, who started at the school in January.

“He’s a new principal, and he’s evaluating the needs of his school,” Foresteire said. “I know we are not in a financial position to hire a new biology teacher, so that Mr. Albright could continue to teach drama.”

In the fall, Naumann will have more authority over the drama club. The principal has always had to approve scripts, but now the drama coach will have to submit a description of props and, if possible, stage directions, at least two months in advance.

“That will also give us more time to help promote the shows, “ Foresteire said. “Drama was always meant to be an extracurricular, after school and on weekends.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com or on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.
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