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by Stacy Raphael (@raphaelstacy)
I remember so clearly the first time I met Lida Winfield in November 2011. This was before I directed school programs at the Flynn, and I had been invited to be a guest at their Engaging Active Learners Conference—a day long immersion into arts integration with Vermont educators and Flynn teaching artists. Lida was one of those artists, but that morning, she was also the keynote. And this was no ordinary keynote speech; Lida was presenting her one-woman solo dance and theater performance, “In Search of Air” based on her experiences growing up in Vermont with a learning disability.
In one brief hour, the audience and I experienced the entire range of emotions—poignant heartache, laughter, concern, rage, compassion, and redemptive joy. We experienced it first as fellow humans, together in this journey but second as educators—as people committed to helping children learn and grow and develop. Lida’s painful experiences as a learner with dyslexia and the cast of characters who alternately helped and hindered her growth were all too personal for us. This was our field, our love. Her pain was our own students’ pain.
I practically sprinted to Lida after her performance. This show. It has the power to be a call to action for educators, a reminder of why we got into this field to begin with. I told Lida that I had a number of audiences that I’d like to put her in front of. And that’s exactly what I proceeded to do.
After presenting Lida to the education cohort in my graduate program and then again in the Vermont State House for legislators and other statewide organizations and subsequently when I came to work at the Flynn, I strove to share her performance with as many audiences as I was able. And although I have seen it more times that I can count, it gets me every time.
You see, one of the most potent elements of the arts is their power to convert data and information into a palpable human story. By engaging the heart and the mind, we are transported to seeing our universal oneness, our belongingness beyond the categories that separate us. As stated on her website, “Lida’s presence on stage expresses her life so clearly that it brings us closer to our own.”
It also paints such a vivid picture justifying the arts and their place in the academic curriculum through arts integration. During the Q&A session following each performance, people often ask Lida what would have made a difference in her education. In the show, Lida says, “this is the story of the transformative power of art,” and she re-asserts this in her response: if teachers had utilized curricular approaches to teaching reading, writing, and more such as those used in the Flynn Center’s Words Come Alive program, she could have had an avenue to access literacy. If teaching had been differentiated to include kinesthetic and embodied approaches to reading, she might have learned this skill before she was in her 20s.
Lida’s work has inspired me. It has challenged me to push further and design at the margins. When we plant ourselves resolutely at the edges and teach to each child’s strengths, the floodgates of opportunity open for all students. Celebrating difference, creating multiple pathways for students to experience success in schools, unlocking potential—it’s a monumental effort, but worth the stretch, the risk, the growth for those in the teaching profession.
When people experience “In Search of Air,” they are changed. I am changed. And I am grateful.
Learn more about Lida’s performance and how you can bring it to your school or district for a teacher in-service or student performance and workshops by visiting http://www.lidawinfield.com