Evanston resident receives White House award for connecting Chicago students with Shakespeare


Source: Stephen E. Purcell

Evanston resident Marilyn Halperin, left, receives an award from First Lady Michelle Obama on Monday at a ceremony at the White House. Halperin accepted the award on behalf of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, which was honored for its after-school program that puts on productions of Shakespeare plays featuring students and teachers from Chicago Public Schools.

Paige Leskin, City Editor

An Evanston resident was honored Monday at the White House for her work with a theater company that brings Shakespeare’s plays to Chicago Public Schools.

On behalf of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Evanston resident Marilyn Halperin accepted the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, given out to after-school programs that provide arts and humanities opportunities to youth.

Called CPS Shakespeare!, the program brings together Chicago high school students and teachers to put on original productions of Shakespeare plays.

Halperin, who currently serves as the CST director of education and communications, helped found the program that was recognized.

“She conceived this program and has really been spearheading it over the last nine years,” CST spokeswoman Hannah Kennedy told The Daily on Thursday.

The official awards ceremony took place on Monday, with First Lady Michelle Obama presenting the award to Halperin and Jennifer Gonzalez, a CPS Shakespeare! participant and junior at Prosser Career Academy in Chicago.

The annual program runs in both the summer and fall and puts on a different Shakespeare play with CPS participants each year, Kennedy said. In its ninth year, CPS Shakespeare! chose “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“It’s really just an amazing national recognition for a program that’s so near and dear to our hearts and something that the entire theater works on tirelessly throughout the year,” Kennedy said.

As part of the award, which is the signature program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, CPS Shakespeare! will receive a $10,000 grant. CST plans to keep the money within the CPS program to expand it even more, Kennedy said.

Kennedy emphasized the importance of Shakespeare as part of a student’s education. CPS Shakespeare! helps Chicago students to develop understanding of Shakespearean text and to make friendships with other participants, she said.

“All students across Chicago encounter Shakespeare in school in their English classes and it’s one of the hardest and most challenging texts that those students will encounter in their school careers, especially in high school,” Kennedy said. “We find that in unlocking that difficult text, students not only are developing those literacy skills to be able to read and interpret the text and really connect with it. They’re also gaining confidence.”

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