A ripple of hope makes the difference


Jason Turner

Karen Sklaire onstage in “Ripple of Hope”

What gives people hope? For some, it is the idea of a better life. For others, it is raising a family.

In his 1988 Cape Town speech, Robert F. Kennedy said, “Each time a man stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy a daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Karen Sklaireused Kennedy’s idea of a ripple of hope to create her play, “Ripple of Hope: One Teacher’s Journey to Make an Impact.” After graduating college, Sklaire began teaching in New York City, where she drew her inspiration for “Ripple of Hope.”

The play tells the story of a young woman who starts teaching drama at PS 48 in Hunts Point, a neighborhood in the South Bronx. She had seen the movie, “Freedom Writers,” and knows she, too, can make an impact on the students. The three rules she takes with her are:

  1. Don’t yell
  2. Don’t take things personally
  3. Don’t touch the children

Throughout her career, she breaks all three rules, but she still has the passion for teaching and making a difference in the lives of students.

One of the students at her first school is known as LeJean. He is a bigger child who does not get along with other students or teachers. One day, Sklaire plays a Michael Jackson song, and LeJean transforms. He loves Jackson and gets the opportunity to portray him in a school production. He says it is one of the greatest things ever.

The drama program at PS 48 get shut down, so Sklaire moves on to PS 173 in Manhattan. While there, she never really gets to teach anything, but is paid.

[Ed. note: In New York, teachers with contracts but no available classes are assigned to what they call a “rubber room.” Teachers under disciplinary action are also assigned to rubber rooms. They collect pay to just go sit there all day.]

Sklaire feels useless there and manages to get a job back in the Bronx at Discovery High School. The principal there has his own ideas and thinks the class (boys included) should perform “The Vagina Monologues.” Sklaire realizes her relationship with the principal fits all the criteria of an abusive relationship and she leaves the school. She does, however, become Facebook friends with many of the students.

Sklaire does not immediately find another teaching job, so she works at coffee shops and a fitness center. Her passion is teaching, and she finds a job at an elementary school in Chinatown. The principal there, Mr. G, is featured in three of her productions. He then leaves to go to Connecticut. Even though her productions are featured in three national papers and are featured in news stories, her program is once again cut.

This upsets Sklaire because one of the stories is about how theater helps English-as-a-Second-Language students. The (attribution) arts bring up test scores, and they support the common core.

On Feb. 16, Sklaire brought her play to The Mainstage Theatre on the Ybor City campus. HCC students and people from the community came to watch Sklaire show her autobiographical play. Teachers in the audience say they relate to everything Sklaire presents, from budget cuts to being bullied by principals to unruly students.

Sklaire says that her former students who have seen the play like it and approve of her characterizations of them.

She says, “There’s a big war on teachers.” She uses her play to show that teachers and the arts are important to society.

At first, she saw the ripple of hope referring more to teachers, Sklairenow believes her students have been her “ripple of hope.”

Follow Sklaire at www.karensklaire.comor on Twitter at @karensklaire and @ripplehopeshow.