By Susan Gallagher
Dr. Janet Brown spent her career integrating drama into education and showing classroom teachers how the arts can help children develop critical skills. It’s not surprising that after joining the Red Cross volunteer ranks in September 2020, Brown quickly distinguished herself. Over a few weeks, she conducted 30 virtual sessions to give 342 St. Louis area pre-kindergarteners and first and second graders important fire safety information.
The American Red Cross’ Youth Preparedness Program is normally taught in classrooms with each child receiving a book. This 30- to 45-minute program teaches children how to prepare and take action in the case of home fires or local hazards. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, many St. Louis area schools were only offering remote learning, and schools weren’t open to visitors.
Still, Janet, who holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s and Ph.D. in speech and drama, managed to get books into the hands of hundreds of children. She also was able to enliven virtual sessions through a dramatic reading of “Prepare with Pedro” and by involving children in creative activities.
Her four years’ service as a Ready Reader in several classrooms gave Janet a way to introduce the Red Cross program.
“I was lucky to have worked with some of the teachers in Premier Charter School in South St. Louis,” she recalls. “The pre-kindergarten teacher I worked with welcomed the Red Cross program and encouraged first and second grade teachers at the school to bring Pedro into their classrooms.”
Reaching many children in St. Louis and throughout the Missouri-Arkansas region is the goal of the program and Janet went above and beyond the objectives given as she pushed to educate as many students as possible.
The Red Cross can thank Janet’s daughter for enlisting her. Mollie Tinnin, once Environmental Health & Safety Program Manager for four Red Cross regions, is now based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as a Red Cross Disaster Program Manager.
“Mollie realized that her parents were being very careful not to be exposed to COVID 19, but she is always looking for opportunities to keep us involved in her causes,” says Janet, laughing.
Not that Janet has been particularly idle. Still devoted to arts education and the integration of performing arts with core subjects, Janet continues to coach teachers and children at St. Louis’ Center of Creative Arts -- COCA, where she was one of the first directors of education. Each week, she brings books alive for preschoolers at three schools through the Ready Reader program. Recently, she wore a clear vinyl mask to teach at the Central Institute for the Deaf.
The author of two books on theatre criticism and several plays for children and adults, Janet brings the Red Cross decades of teaching experience at all levels from the University of Hartford, where she chaired the Theatre Arts Department, to experience teaching in middle and high schools. She has spent her summers offering arts integration workshops for teachers and has been an administrator, planning director and artistic director of several arts institutions.
In 2021, the Red Cross of Missouri and Arkansas recognized Janet’s efforts and impact as a new volunteer. She was presented with a NOVA or New and Outstanding Volunteer Award in August at the Annual Volunteer Recognition Event and was one of only five volunteers in the region to receive this recognition.