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The Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Awards
Dr. Anne S. Richardson
2018 Arts in Education Award
Dr. Anne S. Richardson attended Point Park College (now University) in Pittsburgh for a bachelor’s in dance performance and graduated in 1978. She danced professionally with the Pittsburgh Opera Ballet and South Carolina Ballet Theatre and apprenticed with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Dance companies at the time weren’t geared to shorter dancers, and it was difficult to get auditions at only five feet tall. She studied jazz dance as well as ballet in college and began to consider teaching, starting off with jazz at Calvert-Brodie School of Dance when she returned to Columbia.
“I was fortunate to have wonderful teachers in Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, and Columbia and will be forever grateful. Because of what so many of my gifted teachers did for me, it is my dearest wish that I inspire at least one student and support that student’s belief in him or herself,” Richardson said.
She started a jazz company, Dansework-Jazz, in 1987 and continued to perform until 1995. At the same time, she began teaching ballet at Hand, and later Crayton, middle schools, and then finally Dreher High School. The demands of being a teacher and performer were tough, and when she added graduate school to her schedule in 1992, she realized she had to stop performing to focus on teaching and pursuit of a master’s in theatre at USC, which she earned in 1997. A master’s in educational administration from USC was added in 2001, and she earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in 2008.
In 2001, Richardson began the dance program with Palmetto Center for the Arts, housed at Richland Northeast High School. Creating a fine arts magnet dance program and working with the faculty and students was gratifying, and it was there that she honed her skills in developing arts-integrated lessons and performances. She found that her varied educational background fit into the arts integration teaching model.
When Richardson arrived at Westwood High School five and a half years ago, she worked with the arts faculty and administration to provide students with extraordinary experiences integrating the arts with their subject classes. Richardson successfully wrote the Distinguished Arts Program grant for Westwood beginning in 2014, and in 2015, Westwood became an Arts In Basic Curriculum (ABC) Site. Also in 2015, under Richardson’s leadership, Westwood became the only arts-integrated high school in Richland 2.
Affecting the lives of regular students has confirmed to Richardson the importance of the arts to all students—not just those who are gifted and talented. She began the Renaissance Faire at Westwood inspired by the castle-like architecture of the school. Working with other teachers, she created this yearly event that involves students in performances, projects, and presentations about the Renaissance that are presented to the school, Richland 2 students, and the community. In addition, her students write an original production each summer to present in the fall. They research the topic and write a play to tell stories and create characters that they themselves portray. Her students have created the following original performances: Mostly Coastal Ghosts, The Cherokee Project, Gullah Gumbo, Strange Warfare: The Christmas Truce of World War 1, The Secret Room: Tales of the Underground Railroad, and 9/11: The Story of US. In all of these performances, students created characters based on real events and came as close to living the characters’ lives as is possible. The insight into these situations will stay with these students for a lifetime. Providing these experiences is important to Richardson as a teacher. “It is not about my success but rather that of my students,” she said.
Richardson believes that her greatest contribution to education is helping students to believe in themselves by first believing in the students.
“I know what it is to have doubt as a young dancer and recognize the wonderful transformation that takes place when a teacher takes the time to encourage and inspire a student. My aspiration is to foster original thinking in my students through arts integration, challenging them to create unique performances so that they have to dig deep within to tell stories and affect their audience. They learn to work with others, bringing disparate ideas and untold stories together to make a new whole and inspire the world around them,” she said.