by Brian Lamar, Assignment Editor
Little Carrie Ferguson-Bellew had big dreams. She couldn’t decide between being a world-class Olympian athlete or a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Little did she know at the time that those were just dreams to tide her over until her true passion, the theater, came calling.
Bellew got her first taste of performing for a crowd and fell in love with theatre when she worked at Disney World at a young age. After she moved back to Long Beach, she completed a Bachelor in Fine Arts with William-Carey University and moved away from Coastal Mississippi with her family to Indiana. A theatre professor at a community college more than an hour away from home offered her a job to be a lighting technician.
“When I moved to Indiana, I got a call from a former professor at Blue Grass Technical College in Lexington, Kentucky 1 and 1/2 hours away to do work in the drama department to do lighting,” Ferguson-Bellew said.
She worked happily in this career until life threw her back-hand serve and Carrie had to shift on her feet on the fly when her daughter started playing tennis. Bellew needed to be closer to home to help get her daughter safely to and from matches and practices. Knowing that she couldn’t keep up both, she resigned.
Luckily Bellew met educators on the sidelines while attending her daughter’s extracurriculars.
Once she began attending tennis events, Bellew got to know the school staff and they offered her a permanent sub position at the school.
Bellew started teaching to make extra money to pay for her daughter’s tennis and bounced around filling in where she was needed until she landed a permanent substitute teaching job in credit recovery helping students catch up in their studies.
Credit recovery is a computer-based program that is offered all year for students falling behind.
Bellew’s husband was from Long Beach and the family relocated back to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and she got a job working for Center Stage theater.
In 2014, her life took another turn. She felt the draw to continue sharing knowledge and wanted to pass on her love for theater to others. Bellew started substituting again in 2014 and then came on full time at the tail end of 2015 in the drama department.
She received her teaching certificate in 2016 and never looked back.
Although Bellew is teaching what she loves, she takes it a step further and uses her platform for instruction as a way to boost her student’s education in many ways that are a force multiplier in the arsenal of educational tools Long Beach High School already has.
“I love collaborating with fellow teachers and incorporate their other studies in whatever we do. No matter what I am teaching them whether it is drafting or building sets or working on shows with historical aspects, I take what we are doing in theatre and relate it to real hands-on and the real world,” said Bellew.
In a demonstration of the power of collaboration, Bellew is planning to test her students in math.
“I am getting ready to do a collaboration with one of the algebra teachers. We crafted a lesson to integrate theatre and math. The students will be charged with calculating fabric, drafting, and lighting. They will be using angles and trigonometry in lighting. Lighting is the most math-intensive part of theater.
Bellew also uses her teaching platform to incorporate lessons that otherwise wouldn’t normally be learned.
“One project I had my students work on was “The Trojan Women”, which is a play that follows the families left behind after the Trojan War,” said Bellew. Bellew morphed the script with her students to have the play’s setting take place in the aftermath of the Bosnian War Crisis and used the lessons from both to correlate the similarities of ancient and modern conflict on society. The project not only taught two separate aspects of history not commonly covered in high school history but also involved the students in intensive research.
According to Bellew, although she is teaching valuable skills to the students, like critical thinking and being able to use tools to build sets, her biggest gift to the students is teamwork, and self-motivation.
“The beauty of me being able to teach what I teach is a reflection of life. We have some pretty crazy in-depth discussions. We talk about academics and other life stuff. I teach them the importance of reliability. Nobody is going to be knocking down their doors in college if they aren’t doing well. If we are doing a design project, we have to do a budget for costuming or scenic. We are going I am going to throw a dollar amount at them and see if they are going to be able to pull off the show or not. It is on them to produce results. It is a team. Everybody has a role, everybody has a part. My students are required to do a little bit of everything. I even make them write their monologues.
Of all the dreams Bellew has accomplished for herself in life, one dream remains.
“One day I would love one day to fly to Europe and Go to the Royal Shakespeare Company and take a summer intensive workshop at the Globe and continue to keep doing what I am doing and launch a very successful opening at the new Long Beach Fine Arts Facility that was backed by a bond from the community,” Bellew said.