Last Updated: September 01, 2001
This student performance produced by the Rural Trust Policy Program raises many troubling topics teens face — abuse, discrimination, suicide, pregnancy, school violence — all while trying to make sense of a standardized system of schooling. Recommended as a powerful conversation/meeting starter for education and youth advocacy groups, faculty, administrators, students and policymakers.
Joe Hiney wrote Echoes in the Hallway as a response to what he witnessed as a young teacher at Turner Ashby High School in rural Rockingham County, Virginia. The "Standards of Learning" (SOLs) and associated high-stakes testing reforms swept the state system during Hiney's tenure in the 1990s. Like many of his fellow teachers, Hiney saw how the SOLs were changing what learning meant for young people. A central theme of the play is standardization and the impact it can have on teachers and students, but we also see the other faces of students' lives as they struggle to reconcile the chaos of their personal realities with the lockstep of their schooling experience.
In the original program for the show, Hiney wrote:
Echoes In The Hallway serves as a reminder that while standardized test scores and national and state standards are useful in some ways, many students have needs that must be addressed before academic standards can be considered. The stories and reflections in the play are real and come from the direct experiences of the playwright and the actors. The intent of the play is to fill the void of noise before the "clang" of the education pendulum echoes through our schools and we find ourselves with a generation of young adults who can systematically choose "a" from "c" on a multiple choice test but lack the ability or intrinsic interest to see how literature reflects life, how math and science are practical and how the fine arts are key in developing well-rounded learners. Random voices and songs are combined to remind us that students are human beings first and test takers second. In a culture that encourages so much sex and violence on TV, apathy in politics and real fear within our schools, sadly, the loud, vigilant voices of our teachers and the exuberant voices and the awesome potential of our young have been reduced to echoes in our schools' hallways.
After its debut, Echoes in the Hallway played to audiences around Virginia and in West Virginia. It has been staged before meetings of hundreds of people as an opening act for discussions about standards, testing, and other education issues.
Mickey Vanderwerker, an education advocate in Virginia, recalls her experience with the play:
As "Echoes in the Hallway" was being finalized for performance, Joe Hiney, the show's director and a teacher at Turner Ashby High School, contacted me several times to urge me to come see what he and his students had put together. He was certain that the message in the play would be helpful to our parent group, Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs (www.solreform.com). Already stretched thin with meetings and planning sessions, I reluctantly agreed to visit the school and watch the students during one of their final dress rehearsals.
I was tremendously moved by the students' stories, both in narrative and in song. Their portrayals of what today's students deal with regularly reminded me very powerfully of why we, as parents, community members, and teachers, must work even more diligently to end the use of high stakes tests. Having seen the play on numerous occasions, I see something new in the vignettes each time and I have still not been able to watch it without becoming re-energized about our fight to end high stakes testing in Virginia.
"Echoes in the Hallway" was performed at several parent meetings on high stakes testing. The students were tremendously effective at showing the audience what matters most in their lives and in their education. Their portrayal of the effects of one-size-fits-all testing in the context of their lives was incredibly moving. At the play's conclusion, there was not a dry eye in the audience and the audience was moved to action.
I would strongly recommend "Echoes in the Hallway" for teacher, parent and community member gatherings. You won't be able to more powerfully show student lives and how their lives are affected by the current high stakes testing environment.
In June of 2001, with support from the Rural School and Community Trust, the original cast gathered again to create a video of the show for use by education activists looking for a powerful and provocative way to start their own local conversations about schooling. See photos from the video shoot.
Hiney wrote Echoes to let students know that "somebody at least has a clue as to what they are going through, because if we look back at what we went through, and our earlier years, I'm sure there was somebody there that listened. . . and if they didn't listen, then we had to deal with that too."
He also hoped Echoes in the Hallway would get us thinking about what works in schools and what needs to be changed. To host your own discussion about education reform, consider using the video and the free discussion guide available from the Rural School and Community Trust.
While we hope many people will order the video, use it, share it, and have it spark their own ideas, the larger goal is to encourage further productions of the play. Groups will be encouraged to add locally and personally relevant material to the core of the show, making it appropriate to the issues facing students in their place.
Hiney's own students found that performing Echoes was a remarkable experience.
Annie Mishler, one of the original TAHS actors, recently reflected on what performing the show has meant for her:
Although I was involved in sports and other fine arts groups, nothing can compare to the experience I had performing Echoes. Not only did I learn a lot about defeat and victory, but I learned what it is like to touch peoples lives. Not just make them feel emotions, but to have them change, and make the education system better, if only for one person. I remember the times Mr. Hiney read aloud some letters from students and teachers concerning our show. One teacher admitted that he or she had been acting like the teachers we portrayed, and this show opened his/her eyes to see that students needs go beyond learning algebra and history, and that their individual lives should always come before a state-mandated standardized test. He received a statement from a foreign student in his English class, following a viewing of the show, that said he had never felt like a part of the school, but the performance made him realized that there are other students like him, and that he finally felt like he fit in. I have never been so proud to be part of something as I am for my involvement in Echoes. The fact that our performances have opened the eyes of teachers and students alike, let them know they aren't alone and that there is hope, is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am very excited that many other people will be viewing this performance, and may even be performing in it. I just hope that the message of this show continues to show people what teenagers these days are suffering through, and continues to be a catalyst for change in the education system, both on a local and more wide-spread scale.
Available in VHS format only.
RSIN Members: US $45
Non-RSIN Members: US $45