HARLINGEN — He’s already enjoying a banner year, and he’s just getting started.
Zachary Fryman had never coached a speech, drama and debate team when he began working for the Harlingen school district this year. But already Fryman has shown he has the “right stuff.” His students at Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences took home some big wins at the Southlake Carroll Dragon Faire early this month — and of course he gave the kids all the credit.
“They have taught me more about this competition than I would ever know,” said Fryman, theater arts teacher and speech, drama, debate coach for the Harlingen school district.
Fryman, 25, hails from Kentucky with an impressive resume.
“I was working at Lexington Children’s Theatre for awhile as their resident teaching artist,” he said. “I was off and on for about four years. It was contract based so I first started at the children’s theatre as a summer education intern.”
Fryman spent several summers at the children’s theatre because he “loved it so much.”
Once he earned his bachelor of arts in theater with a minor in dance from Morehead State University, he worked at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for six months. He then seemed to have moved back and forth between the famed theme park and different positions at the Lexington Children’s Theatre. All the while he accrued valuable experience working with kids.
And then …
“My best friend showed me this post in a Facebook group about a teaching position,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to teach. I’ve known since I was five years old that I wanted to teach. And I love theater so I’m like, ‘Why don’t I just put this together?’”
The one thing he’d missed so far was the classroom environment. He was looking for a chance to work with the same group of students for an extended period of time.
“I wanted to see that growth in them,” he said. “At the children’s theatre I would go into a classroom at one school for a week. The next week I would be at a different school, and I wouldn’t continually see their growth. I would see their growth in a week but not within a whole year, and that’s what I wanted.”
And that’s what he got when he came to Harlingen in July.
Immediately, though, he faced the additional challenge of teaching the performing arts in virtual time. But, he was quick to meet his students through Zoom and they immediately went to work, discussing matters of drama, performance, and speaking to a virtual audience.
Specifically, he reviewed the different categories of speech, drama and debate with the students, such as humorous interpretation, dramatic interpretation and prose.
“I’d ask, ‘Who wants to do dramatic interpretation?’ and they would say, ‘Oh, I would,’” he explained. “And then we would find a dramatic interpretation piece that we thought they would like.”
He and other instructors sent students a selected piece and the students made the decision to accept it or request another.
“The most important thing is that they love that piece,” he said. “If they don’t like that piece then they are not going to do a good job with it.”
Additionally, he worked to ensure students were practicing vigorously on their own to, well, take ownership of their pieces and gain mastery. They would then practice for him or another coach and receive critiques. Coaching sessions included walking students through activities to improve their performances.
“We’re like, ‘OK, this character is having this emotion so let’s do this activity and let’s see where that takes us and let’s see how you feel,’” he said. “Then they’ll remember that and when they redo that piece on their own. They can go back to that place and really bring it to life.”
If not for COVID-19, he would also have been working on an October musical.
“We’re still waiting for it to be safe to be able to do that,” he said. “But there are all these other exciting avenues, like I can really focus on speech and debate. I’m learning so much because of that. It’s been an exciting experience.”
He’s looking forward to working with one-act play in the spring.