Jo Beth Gonzalez

BGHS drama teacher returns from India with lessons & insights

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Drama teacher Jo Beth Gonzalez got a change of scene this summer, and found happiness, or more precisely happiness curriculum Gonzalez, who teaches at Bowling Green High School, traveled to India through the State Department’s Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship. She spent three weeks in the country where she observed, taught, and learned, and established connections she hopes to foster back in Bowling Green. She’d liked “to maintain connection with students and teachers at the high school and engage a couple of my colleagues in that as well. That’s one of my goals.” “With my kids I think what I’ll share with them is that, in my opinion, from my experience, is that drama is a way to connect kids with each other and with other people, that drama continues to be a way to share insights and feelings and help people think no matter where we are.” She hopes her Bowling Green students and those she met in India can become digital pen pals, using email, Skype, and other social media. Gonzalez said the trip was just a taste. Citing the tale of the blind men and the elephant she said “I’d need to go back to India 17 more times before I had a fuller picture. “I’m so grateful for these three weeks,” she said. Gonzalez was traveling with a group of a dozen middle school and high school teachers, part of the larger 70 in the international program. She was the only arts teacher among those going to India, and one of a very few involved in the program. Most were science and social studies teachers. The trip started Delhi to “acclimate ourselves to the culture.” While there they visited government schools, a two-year training program for teachers, a juvenile detention center, and a child welfare organization. They also met with Delhi’s minister of education, Mahish Sisodia, who is promoting a happiness curriculum. “It’s based on Gandhi’s concept that we should become centered within ourselves before we become educated,” Gonzalez said. “That concept seems to permeate Indian education.” The school day, she said, begins with an assembly devoted to various meditation practices, different mindfulness activities, and yoga.” All students practiced some yoga. The idea is to connect with themselves and with each other, Gonzalez said. “Drama by its very nature does some of that,” she said. “Students already, through drama, develop empathy. … I’d like to infuse more mindfulness practice into my teaching.” From Delhi, she and another teacher were scheduled to go to Mumbai. But the monsoons were particularly fierce, and the U.S. Embassy advised it was not safe for them to travel there. So Gonzalez joined other teachers heading to Kolkote (formerly Calcutta). There she worked at Mount Carmel, a Catholic high school for young women. Serendipitously she found out that one teacher was addressing the topic of human trafficking, which drama students at BGHS have been exploring for several years. Another teacher was engaging students in learning about water conservation, another issue Gonzalez’ students have tackled. She was also able to teach the techniques of devised theater, were actors create their own script. Gonzalez was impressed by the Indian students. She found they listened intently and absorbed what they heard. “Those students are brilliant. … Given the technological resources, India’s young people can change the world.” As a Third World country, India faces many challenges. “The infrastructure is very, very weak, water, buildings, the economy. Yet despite that education is a priority.” Teachers who went to rural areas were more acutely aware of this than those, like herself,…


College of Education honors Dr. G for her student-centered theater education

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Matt Webb knew of Jo Beth Gonzalez’s teaching mostly through his daughters’ experience in theater at Bowling Green High School. Katie is a high school junior who is in the improv troupe and in one acts, and the other, Liz, is a college junior who danced in the musicals. As students involved in theater they worked closely with Dr. G, who has taught theater at the school for 22 years. Neither girl, their father said, is a star, but both felt the drama teacher had a positive influence on them. His younger daughter told him that Dr. G was always preparing them for life. So when, in his role as the director of student and academic services in the Bowling Green State University College of Education and Human Development, Webb received an email asking for nominations for the college’s Educator of the Year award, he decided to submit her name. First he reached out to Gonzalez and asked for her curriculum vitae.  He learned the details, about the ground-breaking productions, the award-winning shows, two books. “I realized how stellar she is.” This week Gonzalez received the honor given to outstanding alumni and gave the keynote address to about 350 graduates of the college during their Capstone Day activities. As nominee, Gonzalez had to go through an interview process, almost like getting hired for a job. “It was a little nerve wracking,” she said in a recent interview. And she had to respond to a question, she hadn’t prepared for: What is the greatest challenge facing the nation and how does she address it in her work? The problem: The disparity in the quality of education people receive depending on where people live. Her solution: “We need to teach or social equity and social justice… that there’s injustice in all facets of our country.” She continued: “I teach in a way that alters the power structure. So I’m not the power center.” She makes her classes student centered in order “to teach students to collaboratively make decisions.” In productions, she said, that means bucking the star system and making “the ensemble completely integral to the work,” even in musicals. It also means, Gonzalez said, making sure students understand that some people have more privilege than others. She starts with herself. Being up front that being a white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual gives her an advantage in life. “I feel students who are marginalized appreciate somebody recognizing their own privilege,” she said. “Other kids, it makes them think. … We don’t do that enough.” Not that there isn’t resistance. In a public speaking class, one student argued against the concept of white privilege and said that society is too concerned with matters of social justice. “I think it’s important,” Gonzalez said, “for kids to be able to express their opinions. … I’m not going to censor them.” They do need to support them and express them well, she said. That makes them examine what they believe more closely. After being named the BGSU Educator of the Year, she had homework, preparing the Capstone Day keynote address. In that talk, she reflected on her own path. She attended BGSU as an undergraduate because it was a distance from her home in northeast Ohio. She didn’t set out to be a teacher, indeed that prospect was “an anathema to me.” But “practicality overruled my passion for the life of a starving artist” and she became an education major. Al Gonzalez, the man who she met here and would become her husband, helped guide her to that decision, she…