Learning for Real


As a teacher with 29 years of experience, Mary Ruth McGinn has always sought innovative ways to meet the needs of each of her students. She has spent her entire career in schools where a majority of students speak English as a second language and where poverty significantly impacts the learning experiences and opportunities of students and their families.

Sixteen years ago she had an experience that changed her life and altered her professional path in a profound way. She attended training sessions at The Metropolitan Opera Guild in New York City, spent nine intense days living the process of creating an original opera and learned how to replicate the experience with her students. She then began creating opera with her students and using the process of creating the opera as a vehicle through which to teach curriculum and life skills. The authentic purpose for learning coupled with the arts provided the perfect stage on which to construct a love for life-long learning.

The profundity of the work, the transformation of the kids and a desire to “bring to light” new ideas in education, inspired Mary Ruth to share this way of thinking and learning. She was granted a Fulbright Scholarship, sponsored and funded by Teatro Real and Fundación SaludArte in Madrid, and a sabbatical from Montgomery County, to travel to Spain to develop and implement a similar program there.  She lived there two years training teachers and working side by side with teachers and students in their classrooms. The reception of the project was overwhelming. Mary Ruth returns to Madrid every summer to train a new team of educators and artists in the process. She currently teaches at Stedwick Elementary School in Montgomery Village, Maryland where she is creating another original opera with her third grade students.

Partner Blog for Learning for Real

If I Had Done My Part (VIDEO)

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Though lining up in birthday order may seem like a fairly straightforward assignment, with twenty-six third graders and no adult intervention, it becomes quite the challenge. A host of emotions surface as company members attempt to collaborate to achieve their common goal. With limited time, minimal direction and students tuning in and out of the […]

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Inspired by Aida (VIDEO)

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There’s no better way to start the year than to be inspired by our professional counterparts from The Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center. From lighting, to set design and construction, to costume and makeup, singing and dancing, conducting the orchestra and being in the grand venue of the opera house, we were on […]

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Ready to Learn New Things About Life

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We begin the academic year with renewed energy and determination to discover our hidden gifts and talents and to use them in pursuit of something bigger than ourselves. On the final day of school in June, I met my incoming class. As always, I asked the students to write what they were thinking and feeling […]

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The Maze (VIDEO)

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On a beautiful, sunny morning while on a retreat in Buckeystown, Maryland, I happened upon a magnificent labyrinth. Its circular stone path called to me. I had no choice but to enter. As I took my first step into the maze, I thought about my students and their challenging journey this school year. I decided […]

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The Art of Collaboration (VIDEO)

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Merriam Webster defines collaboration as “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” When stated as such, the act itself sounds relatively simple to achieve, yet most of us struggle in situations where we are expected to work together to accomplish a common goal. We see this everywhere . . . in […]

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On the Rink (VIDEO)

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Though almost half of the class had never roller skated before, the company decided that the best setting for our opera story would be a skating rink. So, last week we went on a field trip to Wheels Skating Center in Odenton, Maryland. Owner and professional skater, Pam Muegge, welcomed us and opened her rink […]

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What Really Matters? (VIDEO)

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The goal is that each day will be purpose driven and meaningful in a way that engages and excites all students in the learning process. When we notice that much of our space is filled with the “silly, stupid things” that get in the way of learning, it’s time to step back and ask ourselves, […]

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A Letter to America (VIDEO)

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The day after the election, my students wanted to talk. They wanted to tell me how they were feeling and what they were thinking. I listened. Then I encouraged them to write their thoughts in a letter to America. Below are excerpts from their writing. I am hopeful as I think about the future of […]

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The Island of Judgment and Criticism (VIDEO)

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In education today, play and improvisation are often regarded as frivolous, fluff, a waste of time. In reality, they hold the key to learning and understanding the world around us. By creating an environment and simulating a situation to explore our opera theme of judgment, students bring to life an imaginary world by improvising a […]

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Lyric Writing: A Collaborative Effort (VIDEO)

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We are now in the process of introducing all jobs in the opera company. As a writer, a chief responsibility is composing song lyrics. Given a familiar story about fishermen from The Congo, small groups set to work crafting lyrics for an aria to be sung by one of the main characters, Benguela. Generally speaking, […]

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