Playwriting Curriculum Now In Select Chicago-area High Schools

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November 30, 2016

Four Chicago-area high schools will soon get to experience a taste of Northwestern’s groundbreaking arts curriculum.

The School of Communication announced that it has launched a partnership with Senn High School, Evanston Township, New Trier and The Chicago High School for the Arts to lend our innovative playwriting tradition to a younger, broader audience.


Students at The Chicago High School for the Arts take part in a new School of Communication initiative to bring our playwriting tradition to area high schools.

“We saw this opportunity to collaborate with high schools as a way to not only introduce younger students to Northwestern-caliber writing classes, but widen our recruitment base for our summer programs,” said Adam Joyce, the School of Communication’s assistant dean for planning and engagement. “And the more strategically we recruit for these programs, the better it is for the University.”

The partnership is run through the School’s National High School Institute, also known as NHSI or the Cherubs program, which is an immersive, on-campus summertime educational experience for high school students pursuing interests in debate, theatre arts, or film and video. The new playwriting initiative will be year-round, and include in-school courses and out-of-class mentoring by seasoned playwright and NHSI instructor John Corwine. Participating high schoolers will write the first draft of a 10-minute play, and select students will be invited to Northwestern in the summer to produce their work.

"NHSI is thrilled to be embarking on this new initiative with a diverse range of schools and students,” said Jennifer Avery, NHSI’s director. “We hope this is just the beginning of our efforts to engage high school students in expressing themselves through the written word and giving them the opportunity to see and hear those words on stage."

The first in-high school classes began in Fall 2016.

“The School of Communication has one of, if not, the best undergraduate playwriting programs in the country,” Joyce said. “The ability to soundly craft a story for the stage or screen is an extremely valuable skill for future leaders in the creative economy.”

“And frankly, for future leaders of our campus community,” he added. “We wanted to get more students interested in this, and us, earlier.”

NHSI was founded in 1931 and welcomes approximately 1,800 highly qualified high school students on Northwestern’s campus each summer. The program serves as an effective recruitment tool for the University, and Cherubs are accepted at a rate of approximately 35 percent each year; Northwestern’s overall acceptance rate is closer to 9 percent. Nearly three-quarters of the Cherubs who gain admission choose to matriculate to the University.

The goal of the partnerships is both to increase high schooler’s engagement with Northwestern through our unparalleled curriculum, but also to attract a wider, more diverse pool of students.

“We are committed to creating a program and school that is reflective and representative of society and our University values,” Joyce said. “This means bringing more voices to the table to further enhance our incredible performance and media arts and debate traditions.”

NHSI has strong relationships with Chicago Scholars and the Urban Debate League, programs that serve under-resourced communities with access to and advocacy for educational opportunities. Students involved in these programs are frequent participants in NHSI and have unique scholarship funding.

Avery said that even small changes to how NHSI reaches students — such as being in regular contact with diversity directors at high schools nationwide or capitalizing on donor and University scholarship opportunities — have been prioritized to widen recruitment.

NHSI is the single most effective School of Communication recruitment tool for talented and enthusiastic students in debate, theatre, and film, and a singular force behind creating a more representative student body. The School of Communication’s undergraduate playwriting program, housed in the Department of Theatre, is a rigorous and rewarding in- and out-of-class experience that includes the creation of new works, character and genre development, workshops and festivals, and the opportunity for close mentorship with professional playwrights and acclaimed regional theaters. The playwriting modular curriculum is popular with students both inside and outside of the School of Communication.