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Person First, Product Second

As students develop confidence through involvement in the arts at Mercersburg, Matt Maurer P '18, '20, '22, '23 and his colleagues feel like a significant part of their mission is accomplished.

"We hope they gain confidence, feel camaraderie, a sense of purpose, a sense of safety and support," says Maurer, director of arts programming. "Skills matter, obviously. But we count on our expertise and the nature of the work to make that happen."

"Of course we want to produce quality shows, concerts, and exhibits, but that's not the be-all and end-all. We want it to be solid. We want the kids to be proud of their work. But we also want them to care more about each other than if they get everything exactly right."

Maurer's approach to learning focuses on the person first and the product second. He knows students have increased opportunities to reach their potential if they feel safe and accepted.

He shares author, poet, and activist Maya Angelou's insight, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

"One of the things we try to teach kids is that it doesn't matter whether you have a line or a solo in a given moment or not," says Maurer, who teaches English and theatre, and advises the Irving and Marshall declaimers. "What you do is seen, and it matters."

As a play is cast, for example, the players enter the experience with varied backgrounds, all of which contribute to the final product. "They may or may not know each other well. They may or may not know anything about the material, about that particular script, and they're all coming from different places, starting at different points on their journey."

One measure of success in the arts is how students feel about what they've created, Maurer says. "We want them to be proud of what they've done together. In the moments between all the work, it's a really cool thing to see the kids goofing around, talking and laughing. It's then that we know they're taking care of each other. To see that fun and that spirit happen and know that they feel safe, that they're OK, that's a sign they've bonded, they've grown together, they've formed a team."

Maurer would love to see more students try their hand at the arts before they graduate. "Even if it's just a toe dip, they'll always remember that one time they were on stage."

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