27th Annual Broward County
Arts Teacher of the Year Nina Zakrzewski
Proves All the World is a Stage
By Susan D. Rubin
It all began with The Music Man. When 10-year-old Nina Zakrzewski saw the musical on Broadway, she knew that the stage was her destiny. She told her mother that very night that she wanted to do “that.” And “that” is exactly what she has done – from acting, directing and now teaching, Zakrzewski has made the theater her life.
From her education in New England to being named the 2012 Broward County Arts Teacher of the Year, Zakrewski has literally done it all. After receiving her BFA in drama from the Boston Conservatory, she went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Theatre Education from Emerson College and an additional Master’s Degree from Eastern Nazarene College in Educational Leadership. During these years, she was an actor, a performer, a teacher and ultimately the co-producer and artistic director of the Mystery Du Jour Dinner Theater, which she ran at four locations in New England. “I just felt the need to be doing something – something artistic, something theatrical - all the time,” she acknowledges.
“The arts have to be an active outlet for these students.”
The need to be artistically and theatrically active best explains her most recent adventure, which allowed her to spend two weeks teaching Shakespeare Through Performance at London’s Globe Theatre. “Amazing!” exclaims Zakrezewski. “Simply amazing!” When she shares her experiences at the Globe, her enthusiasm is simply endless. “I got to perform there; to act – to walk across that very stage! I am so extremely lucky to have been able to experience this, and to ultimately share it with my students here at home!”
Sharing with her students is both her greatest gift and greatest pleasure. She is the Theatre Arts Director at Nova High School, as well as an acting teacher and English teacher. Her day at Nova High School is full; her classes include musical theater, acting, stagecraft and English Honors. “A hands-on approach is the only way to go,” she says. “The arts have to be an active outlet for these students.” She continues, “What education does not recognize is that we have all been acting for years. From the time we were born until our now, we act - whether it is by copying those around us, pretending or simply using acting as an outlet for creative expression or dealing with issues.”
Dealing with social issues is what Zakrzewski and her students do best. Through an association with the Lovewell Institute for the Creative Arts, Zakrewski and her advanced acting students have written and performed an anti-bullying musical called Weight of Words. This timely and provocative piece has been touring Broward County Schools and it has been showcased by the Broward Center for the Performing Arts’ Student Enrichment in the Arts (SEAS) Program. More than 20,000 audience members, both students and adults alike, have shared this 35-minute presentation performed by Zakrewski’s students.
Following the show, there is a “talk-back” complete with audience questions and further input from the student performers. The Broward County Public Schools Office of Prevention has referred to this group of performers as “agents of change” as they do their part to end bullying. “The kids have felt so empowered,” Zakrewski explains. “They have learned for themselves, and they know the value of sharing that knowledge.”
These students call her “Mom.” Her day is filled with them - from regular class schedules and related activities to after-school rehearsals and Saturday school. She travels with them and she spends additional time with them. Her theatrical activities become a family affair, as well; her husband generously helps with sets and keeps their home running when she is at her busiest. Zakrzewski has two daughters and one son of her own. Now she has two “precious grandchildren who are just amazing!”
Finding balance in her world is often difficult, but she does it – every single day. “I understood a long time ago that reaching students through their creative natures was the only way to do so!” Nina Zakrzewski does exactly this, as she teaches, guides, explains and mentors – earning well-deserved applause at every step of her journey.
The Annual Arts Teacher of the Year Awards recognizes outstanding educators in the arts and showcases the artistic excellence of students and faculty of Broward County schools. The program is presented through a partnership that includes Florida Power & Light – the title sponsor – along with the Broward Cultural Division, Business for the Arts of Broward, the School Board of Broward County, Florida, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and generous private donors.
In 2013, for the first time, the program will present awards to four individual teachers in four disciplines: dance, music, theater and visual arts. The 28th Annual Broward County Arts Teacher of the Year will be celebrated on November 6 at the Broward Center. Applications are available for all public, private and charter school arts teachers. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2013.