[image-1] School of the Arts English and theater teacher Alea McKinley knows that kids learn best when they have the chance for what she calls “authentic engagement.” For English and theater students, especially those in the academically rigorous programs at SOA, that kind of engagement often looks like bringing in the kinds of people they’d like to be one day — playwrights, actors, musicians.

Next week, Thurs. Nov. 1 and Fri. Nov. 2, McKinley brings College of Charleston alum and playwright Evan Linder to SOA to lead a multi-day playwriting workshop, strategically scheduled mid-way through the students’ playwriting thesis project. Linder, who teaches playwriting at the University of Chicago, is also the former co-artistic director of Chicago’s The New Colony, a theater company founded in 2008 (and perhaps best known for the play 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche).

“Who better to help them with notes on their scripts?” says McKinley of Linder’s workshop with her students. “They get to meet someone living their dream.”

This is not the first time McKinley has brought in a creative professional to lead workshops for her students. Using the platform DonorsChoose — a crowdfunding site specifically for teachers — McKinley has funded multiple projects for SOA students. In the past McKinley has hosted The Hungry Monks, a local music collective; Erin Osmon, a professional writer based in Chicago; and J. Ryan Stradal and George Ducker, two professional writers based in Los Angeles.

“I have a long background teaching in Title 1 schools,” says McKinley of her 11 years teaching at various high schools. In addition to teaching at SOA and Charleston’s Academic Magnet, McKinley has taught at North Charleston High School and schools in Louisville, KY.

In Kentucky, McKinley realized that she needed some kind of hook to get her students’ attention. “I needed to bring in people that would inspire,” she says. During her stint in Louisville, McKinley brought together her students, with the help of Actors Theatre Louisville (who showed her how to use DonorsChoose to raise money), with another group of non-English speaking students from a different high school. A group of actors created a performance based on the students’ collective memoirs.

“I said, ‘I have to keep doing this,'” says McKinley. So she did. After Linder’s talk next week, McKinley has more projects lined up. The one she’s most excited about, though, may ring a bell with some people. Actress Janie Haddad Tompkins — best known to many for her voice role in the TV show, Regular Show — heads to SOA on Thurs. Nov. 15 and Fri. Nov. 16.

Tompkins, who has also acted in shows like Blackish, Modern Family, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, will lead students through a series of auditioning workshops and teach them what they will encounter in the ‘real world’ of auditioning and performing.

Learn about more of McKinley’s upcoming projects online.