Joanie Ambrosini is the drama teacher at Martinez Junior High School; Jamie Hallowell teaches emotionally disturbed kids at Marchus School, a special K-12 public school that has several campuses in our county, including one that is a satellite campus of Martinez Junior High. Splitting the award between Joanie and Jamie wasn’t our idea – they were nominated together by the Principal of the Martinez Junior High School to honor the way they collaborate to help kids.
Many of the students at Marchus School suffer extreme emotional problems. Some of them will eventually be mainstreamed with other kids, others never will. But like all kids, especially of that age, they all need to find a way to express themselves, develop self-confidence and feel a sense of accomplishment. And they need to be exposed to other kids under circumstances that will give them the greatest chance of succeeding in a non-sheltered environment. Jamie took her special kids on field trips and encouraged them to go to junior high dances and education camp. However, she was looking for another positive outlet and she found it with the drama program at Martinez Junior High.
Joanie and Jamie decided to put the Marchus School kids in the Martinez Junior High School plays – and not just as spear-carriers. These kids were given big roles. And they loved it. And equally importantly, the kids from the Martinez Junior High accepted them and liked them. To keep an eye on them and encourage them, Jamie became the assistant director, and began staying after school to help with the productions – at no extra compensation, naturally. And Joanie got involved in the lives of the special kids.
Inevitably, there are risks and problems. Some time after they selected one of Jamie’s students for the main part in the play, the girl experienced some psychological problems and actually made an attempt on her own life that caused her to have to be hospitalized. Joanie and Jamie handled this situation in an extraordinary way. They visited the girl in the hospital, and they told her that they were not under any circumstances going to re-cast her part. They said that they were relying on her to get better and come back and be in the play, and that without her participation, the play would not go on. She did get better, and she did go on and star in the play, and, of course, she felt just terrific about herself and what she had accomplished. And maybe, just maybe, that sense that others were relying on her, that she was responsible for the success or failure of the play, was something that drew her back from the brink and gave her the incentive to overcome her problems and do herself proud.