Meet Ms. Viv!
American Sign Language, Middle School Drama, The Power of Rhetoric
Performing Arts Department Chair
Where did you grow up? What was it like to grow up there? Where did you go to school and what was that like? Did it have an impact on your choice of career?
I grew up the first grandchild surrounded by the adults of my mother’s family in very small towns in the hill country of southwest Texas. The land is brushy with rolling hills and beautiful clean water, and sand, and limestone – it resembles parts of the country of Israel very much – think Bethlehem but with a twang. My aunts, uncles, and grandparents were musicians, painters, writers, horse whisperers, pilots, tanners, rodeo riders, activists, social workers, and farmers. They grew things. This was an education all on its own. My first school was a one-room schoolhouse in Texas. I always knew I would be an artist, teaching came only by accident. I spent several years as a professional dancer, actress and casting director. Along the way, I found myself falling into “teaching” situations where it always felt as though it was seeking me rather than something I was actively trying to obtain. After the events of 9/11, I found my industry feeling battered and turning commercially arrogant, so I decided to actively seek out teaching and I have never looked back.
What attracted you to work for The Hudson School? What is the story of how you came to work here?
The Hudson School’s enthusiastic, unique students, the caring and incredibly talented faculty and staff, and the school’s mission and faith that students and faculty collectively hold up every day in an effort to grow, really struck me as a place I wanted to contribute to. Ms. Newman called me one very warm May afternoon and asked if I would come and demonstrate a lesson in American Sign Language, with the hope of launching ASL as a full track language at The Hudson School. She wanted ASL to be included in the foreign language department because a few of her rising freshman had requested it. She had seen several of the productions I had directed at the Hoboken Charter School, and had found out through a Hudson School parent that I also taught ASL there. I was extremely nervous to demo a lesson for Ms. Newman, an educator I respected and revered, and slightly idolized as a pioneer in her field, not to mention her standing in the community. She was gracious, unassuming, and by the end of the class, was manually trying everything the kids were attempting. We were all giggling and I thought – ” Oh yes, I could work here!” Imagine my joy, when a year later, I was asked to co- teach 5th and 6th grade drama with my most favorite of mentors! Getting to teach with Catharine Baldwin sealed the deal for me, I learn from her every single day!
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do? What are you most excited or passionate about?
I love being in the room when a student discovers something new in their learning process, grasps a concept they never considered until that moment, and especially when they see how to solve a problem and embrace it and make it their own – their eyes light up – they glow- their face just beams! I also am grateful that I get to be the one that guides and participates in the sometimes long and difficult process they climbed through to get to those moments. Theater, like teaching, is about the journey not a finish line. It is a marathon, not a horse race.
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your work — not so much the goals that are in your job description, but the goals you hold personally?
Healthy, happy, open-minded, forward-moving, thoughtful, kind, problem-solving, hard-working, humor-loving students is my biggest goal in teaching. That, and becoming better at recognizing how to help them get to those things. In the end, don’t we all just want to be able to live in those ideals? When people ask me; “What do you teach?” Rather than giving the normal answer of theater, dance, and American Sign Language…. lately, I find my answer more in the line of: life skills – with my medium as theater and sign language!
Date of Interview: October 2017