Theater project leads to special education degree

Meagan Williams

Meagan Williams and PHAME students

“When is your ride coming?” asks Meagan Williams, GSE master’s student. He doesn’t know. Meagan hands the student, Robert, her phone to call the TriMet Lift Service. The room begins to fill with the chatter of students arriving, greeting friends and getting organized for an afternoon of classes. Meagan is working part-time at PHAME Academy in NE Portland. She teaches theater class on Monday afternoons, and also serves as teaching lead/closer on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturday afternoons her students rehearse for the big spring musical production, Bye Bye Birdie.

Like many PSU graduate students, her schedule is busy, attending classes at PSU, working on her practicum in the Beaverton School District Community Transition Program, and leading classes at PHAME Academy. Ms. Williams has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and earned a PSU master’s in educational leadership in 2010. But she wasn’t finished with her education yet. A part-time job teaching theater at PHAME Academy led to an important career decision—she realized she wanted to work with adults with disabilities. Last year she entered the Special Education master’s program in the GSE and will earn a second master’s this spring. “If I hadn’t come to PHAME as a theater teacher I never would have found my love for special education,” she says.

At PHAME Academy, all students are welcome from age 17 to 70+. There is a fee for classes, but scholarships are available. And, “age has no barrier,” Meagan observes. “Students at PHAME tend to socialize across age and other boundaries.”

Phame studentsThe students gather in the church sanctuary, which works effectively as a theater setting. Meagan’s theater class today is reading a scene from Waiting for Godot using a variety of different emotions they’ve been assigned. They take turns reading and critiquing each other’s performances. Some will be involved in the academy’s yearly musical production in June, where all students who audition get to participate in the final production. All are having the time of their lives.

Meagan loves her work teaching drama to her PHAME Academy students and is really energized by their ability and enthusiasm. “At PHAME Academy, students have a place to go to try new things and socialize.” For adults with disabilities, this can be important. Meagan points out that they are too often told what they cannot do.

“I just love my students at PHAME so much, I don’t want to leave,” she says. “After students with disabilities graduate [from high school], there’s isolation. I love helping them find something they like to do and how it gives them confidence, joy, and a sense of peace—just doing something that makes them happy.” Students at the school take classes in artwork, dance, music, movement, and drama, often trying  art and music for the first time since they did not always have access to these activities in their K-12 school years.

“I like getting to know them as people first,” she says, before she learns what their disability might be. “What we get to do is know our students as individuals.”

Her work has not gone unnoticed. “Ever since coming to PHAME as a volunteer in 2011, then joining our teaching staff shortly thereafter, Meagan has absolutely shined,” says Stephen Marc Beaudoin, PHAME Academy executive director. “As a teacher, mentor, and advocate, Meagan is such a gift to the student artists and performers of PHAME. It means so much to us that she found her passion for supporting individuals in living full, creative lives by teaching at PHAME, and we know she’s an emerging leader in the special education and arts fields worth keeping your eyes on.”

Meagan will finish her master’s this year and has accepted a job at South Salem HS for next fall as their new Developmental Learning Center teacher. No doubt she will be a leader and future asset to the district.

About PHAME Academy

PHAME Academy in SE Portland is 28 years old this year. It convenes every afternoon at 1pm in Grace Church on Weidler Street. It is a locally-funded nonprofit offering classes to adults with disabilities. Previous PHAME Academy musical productions have included “Grease” and “Willy Wonka,” and last year PHAME Academy students completed a four-county performance tour of the Portland metro region, offering a dozen free performances from Vancouver to Hillsboro to Estacada, and culminating in a major showcase at Portland’s historic Aladdin Theater. PHAME has also collaborated with the likes of Pink Martini, the Portland Cello Project and actors Amy Beth Frankel and Isaac Lamb.

Buy your “Birdie” tickets online at http://store.phameacademy.org 

Saturday, June 22, 7 pm and Sunday, June 23, 2 pm 2013, at Mt. Hood Community College mainstage theater, 26000 SE Stark Street in Gresham.

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