Tuesday, September 30, 2014

7 Questions with Sheila Arnold, Storyteller and Teaching Artist

Sheila Arnold Jones currently resides in Hampton, VA.   She is a Professional Storyteller, Historic  Character Interpreter and Teaching Artist.   Through her company, History’s Alive!, Sheila has given at schools, churches, professional organizations and museums around the US .   

     Sheila portrays ten different women in history ranging from the 1600's to the 1970's,including, Oney Judge, Madame CJ Walker and Daisy Bates.   She  also presents Professional Development sessions, Storytelling Programs and Character Presentations at educational conferences, including Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, Valley Forge Teacher Institute, Mt. Vernon Teacher Institute, and Social Studies and Reading Association Conferences in New York, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.   The  National Council of Social Studies and many Teaching American History Grant programs around the country have had Sheila present and perform on a variety of topics.   Finally, Sheila is called upon to be a Featured Teller at Storytelling Festivals around the country, including, but not limited to,  the National Storytelling Festival (Jonesborough, TN), Storytelling in the Carolinas (Laurinburg, NC) and Moonshell Storytelling Festival (Omaha, NE). Previously, Sheila worked at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation as a Coordinator with the Teacher Institute, in Public Relations and Event Management , and as a Storyteller and Theatrical Interpreter.  Also, she was a Social Worker with aggressive adolescents having emotional problems, a Hampton City Middle School  Substitute Teacher, Manager with Information Technology Systems (ITS) and a Mary Kay, Inc. Independent Senior Beauty Consultant.   
For more information about Sheila Arnold Jones, or to schedule a presentation or professional development, you can go to www.mssheila.org, or email her at sheilaarnold39@aol.com or call her at 7 57-725-1398.


 1.         How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?

     I became hooked on history when I was a little girl, because my father loved history.  Both of my parents read many, many books, often of an historical nature, and I followed suit in developing that same love of reading and learning.

 2.         What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

     My personal family history has been actively shared by mother and my aunts and the collecting of notes, letters and documents from family members is consistently done.  Also, in my junior year of high school, I was really impacted by "The Black Book", which showed photos, patent engravings, history notes.  When I read this book, it made me angry that I hadn't learned alot about black history in my predominantly white school (we only had 13 AFrican American students out of 800).  I took that anger and the book to my Social Studies Teacher, Mrs. Elliott, and found out that she had been taking Black Studies courses during the summer, but unsure of how to incorporate in the class.  My anger and true desire to learn, gave her an opening, and she changed the curriculum to be able to teach Black History as well.  She was my favorite high school teacher and made me love history more.  She also changed our class and we all became more aware of cultural history.

  3.         How is history a part of your professional life/career?

     So history is now a part of my regular every day life.  I am an Historic Character Presenter, presenting ten different women in history from the 1600's to the 19 70's.  I also present professional Development for Educators with a focus on Teaching African American History to Culturally Diverse Audiences, and using Storytelling in Teaching History.  I also am a historian, or at least, an active history learner.  I have to do research constantly on the women I portray and the time periods they live in.  I am involved in History Education groups on LinkedIn and interact often with other Character Presenter.  Proof:  My most recently read "pleasure" book was "Since Yesterday:  The 1930's in America" by Frederick Lewis Allen; a fantastic read, which sounded a lot like today.  

 4.         Why is studying/knowing history important? 

     Studying/Knowing history is important because when we know history we can see the patterns and maybe see the place to change the pattern.  I find it stunning when people look at a "developing" country and wonder why they aren't where "we" are, thinking we have always been where we are now.  Also, history teaches us to appreciate others outside of ourselves.  When done correctly, it encourages people to be more tolerant and even appreciative of other cultures.  

5.         What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

     My favorite period of history to learn about is the Civil Rights period.  I have always thought I could/would be one of the marchers in the South.  I love how people became involved and they made a change, they made a difference.  This period led to so many other "rights" being fought for.  And even more importantly, people of different races, religious beliefs came together and worked together; kind of my hope for utopia.


6.         What is the process through which you create your characters and presentations?

  First, I decide on which person (or time period) I want to portray or represent.  Then I go to resources, starting with youth and children's books.  I start there because I am presenting mostly to youth and children, because the books take lots of information and compact it, because they have easy timeline and they have photos.  Oh, and they aren't long books.  Based on those books (usually 2 or 3), I then write down the things that I found most interesting and most important.  Next, I make a copy of the timeline in one of the books, and I compare that personal timeline to a much broader timeline to find out what else is going on at that time.  This helps me to know what else I am going to have to know about in the person's time, and what I won't know.  

   Then I write an outline from my memory of what I've read.  These are usually the things I think are more important, have a lesson and just are interesting.  Finally, I start putting together the costume and collecting any props.  

    I wish I could say there was some final thing I do, but after I have the outline I practice what I will say, how I will say, and tighten it up.  Then I practice more, and I continue to research.  Then I practice more and continue to do research. 

7.         Why is storytelling still important in the 21st century?

     At a time in history where media and social networking is so prevalent, storytelling is more relevant than ever.  The need for face to face, ear to ear communication is so much more necessary to fulfill the need to have connection and purpose.  I perform in front of audiences, particularly youth, who are desperate for people to "talk" to them and engage.  People need to share, just see the growth in Massmouth and Story Slams on campuses.  

    Storytelling is also the best way to increase literacy in our youth.  It also enhances critical thinking and creativity in people.  It should be a an active part of STEM; making it STEAM.  (A = ARTS).  Plus, it's fun and entertaining, educational and inspirational, and who couldn't use a great story in their day?

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