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Arts and Culture:
Rafe Esquith and The Hobart Shakespeareans
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Imagine the sight and sound of American nine- and 11- year-old children performing Shakespeare's "Hamlet" or "Henry V" - and understanding every word they recite. Imagine them performing well enough to elicit praise from such accomplished Shakespearean actors as Ian McKellen and Michael York, and to be invited to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. Such a spectacle would be highly impressive in the toniest of America's private schools. But what if the kids were recent Mexican and Korean immigrants attending a large Los Angeles inner-city public school in one of America's toughest neighborhoods?

That is the astonishing story told by the new documentary THE HOBART SHAKESPEAREANS on PBS' POV, which discovers how one man's uncommon commitment and resourcefulness have opened up worlds of opportunity for his "disadvantaged" students - and perhaps have demonstrated a way forward for America's beleaguered public education system.

David Brancaccio talks with Rafe Esquith, the teacher behind the extraordinary program.

Rafe Esquith

Rafe Esquith grew up in Los Angeles and attended the city's public schools. A 1981 graduate of UCLA, Esquith has taught fifth grade at Hobart Boulevard Elementary in L. A. for over 20 years. His efforts to give disadvantaged kids a better chance at the American dream have earned him the Walt Disney American Teacher Award for National Teacher of the Year, Parents magazine's As You Grow Award, and Oprah Winfrey's Use Your Life Award. He has donated his award money to the nonprofit fund he has established to support the work of the Hobart Shakespeareans. In 2003, he received the National Medal of Arts. He is the author of THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS: CHANGING THE WORLD ONE KID AT A TIME, and is currently working with the NEA to help put Shakespeare in 10,000 American classrooms.

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