Kerry Onxley: Art education is lifelong learning

Published 5:52 am Thursday, March 24, 2022

Kerry Onxley, a 35-year theatre educator at Westlake High School, didn’t initially intend to become a teacher.

“I decided to become a teacher while attending McNeese State University,” he said. “I changed my major from radio/television.”

And he never looked back.

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“I have always enjoyed performing onstage since my days of ventriloquism,” he said. “After participating in Westlake High Theatre and McNeese Theatre programs, I realized I could offer so much more to a wider group of audience, young people, by being a theatre educator.”

Onxley said teaching “influences students and the community on all time levels — past, present and future.”

“I know that being a theatre educator is a wise investment for our school system,” he said. “Art education is lifelong learning and should always have a constant presence in our school system. We should not and would not want to live without this important part of education.”

Calcasieu Parish schools have garnered national attention as strong advocates in art education and Onxley said he is proud to be an art ambassador for the school system.

“Learning and participation in the arts is vital to the development of our children and communities,” he said. “The arts allow students to express themselves like no other core subjects.”

Onxley said not only do art programs allow students to perfect their talents, but art students also develop creative problem-solving skills, motor skills, language skills, social skills and decision-making skills.

“Art education allows students to connect with their own culture, as well as experience other cultures world-wide,” he said. “Studies from Americans for the Arts prove young people who participate regularly in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math and science fair and have outstanding high school attendance rates.”

He said students with an education enriched with theatre have better grade-point averages, score better on standardized tests, and have lower dropout rates.

“These findings cut across all socio-economic categories,” he said.

Onxley said he typically relies on an interactive-participative method of teaching with his theatre students. For first-time students, however, he relies on demonstration methods.

“I personally demonstrate or use technology to illustrate different examples of acting skills,” he said. “I also use peer teaching from our upper classmen to demonstrate. Classroom discussions are incorporated into all lessons.”

He attributes his teaching style to his high school drama teacher, Charlotte Mericle Maxcy, and his college theatre professor, Dr. Susan E. Kelso.

“They had the greatest impact and influence on me regarding my decision to become a theatre educator and the style of teaching I use daily,” he said.