Putting kids at center stage

Drama instructor Mark Dressler was named Teacher of the Year for 2010-11, and honored recently at the annual Laguna Beach Unified School District Welcome Back breakfast. Dressler teaches at Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School,

Dressler has directed young theater students at Laguna's schools since 1990, and he and his team have won numerous awards for their performances of musicals such as "Beauty and the Beast," "Bye Bye Birdie," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Oklahoma."

He was also selected as an Orange County Department of Education 2010-11 Teacher of the Year semi-finalist.

Although many of his students have gone on to have successful careers in acting or filmmaking, Dresser said what he values most is how students in other areas of study benefit from their performing arts background.

"In my program, students learn to work as a group, listen to others and take direction, take chances and practice their individual skills," he said. "This helps them to be successful in whatever career they choose down the road."

In addition to having his own children attend Laguna schools and be a part of his drama club, he said another major highlight has been to have so many students come back as adults and assist him with productions.

Alumna and actress Amanda Saunders, who graduated in 1996 and returned to the high school six years ago to work as Dressler's assistant, said she has fond memories of him as both a teacher and colleague.

"Mark has a lot of qualities that make him a great teacher," she said. "He cares deeply for his students, which is reflected in the spirit of collaboration he creates with them, and how he always finds a place for each student that suits their best talents and abilities.

"He doesn't try to fit his students into his own vision of a production, but works with them to develop the vision together, and that's a real gift. He really inspires the kids."

Thurston Principal Joanne Culverhouse expressed her appreciation for Dressler's commitment to excellence, which she said is evident in every aspect of his teaching.

"He is a passionate and dedicated educator, who is gifted and has the ability to recognize the individual talents of all kids," she said. "He gives kids the opportunity to shine on stage or behind the curtain in the tech room. When kids shine on stage, their self-esteem and confidence shine. He is a gift to our schools and community."

Dressler said he is most thankful to be part of a district and community that is so supportive of the arts, and has helped him to be successful in his career.

"It is most gratifying to be part of this excellent educational community with all four schools fielding caring teaching staffs who want nothing less than the best for their students, administration and school board that has been fantastically supportive, and a community that understands the importance of the performing arts in public schools," he said.

Dressler's department is working on productions of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown," which will be performed in the fall.

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