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English Alumna Reinvigorates Literature for Colorado High-School Students

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Sara Slingerland Sheiner


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Student studying
Alise Wisniewski
Alise Wisniewski (MA ’19)

Being from the Midwest, Alise Wisniewski (MA ’19) knew she wanted to go to college near the mountains. But what drew her specifically to the University of Denver were the myriad options for study, outside of the traditional canonical works. By learning and working with Associate Professors Donna Beth Ellard and Tayana Hardin in the Department of English & Literary Arts, taking classes centered on rap music and the politics of translation, Wisniewski gained fresh perspectives that she now actively uses teaching high-school students at Elizabeth High School.

For example, Wisniewski plans on teaching Nella Larson’s novel “Passing” alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” just as Hardin did, in order to talk about the concept of social passing, rather than focusing on the flashing green light and what it means, as high-school literature classes usually do when discussing Gatsby. Instead, assigning and discussing Larson’s novel creates the opportunity for Wisniewski to bring students’ attention to customarily marginalized literature, thereby reconfiguring and reinvigorating the conversations around literature and history.

Similarly, Wisniewski’s master’s thesis sought to destabilize and decolonize concepts of bodily performance and identity in literature. By including a discussion of pop culture and film studies, Wisniewski’s project critiqued the archetype of “The Chosen One” by looking at figures such as Darth Vader, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and T’challa, in order to challenge and rectify literature’s preconceived notions of the hero figure.

Soon after she began teaching at Elizabeth High School, Wisniewski had the opportunity to create a concurrent enrollment program for juniors and seniors in a relationship with Arapahoe Community College. The school board needed her expertise in teaching both composition and literature to pilot this program, so Wisniewski was the natural candidate for creating the proposal, which the board approved.

“I noticed while I was assistant teaching at DU that students aren’t reached soon enough. That experience helped me decide to work with younger students to encourage them and their reading and writing. Student/teacher relationships are important, and I love that I get to work with students over several years,” Wisniewski says.

Experiences in DU’s master’s program in English, including presenting at conferences and guest lecturing in her graduate classes, helped prepare Wisniewski to teach high school. Associate Professor Billy J. Stratton encouraged her to write proposals for conferences, which helped her build public-speaking skills. Assistant Professor Kristy Ulibarri gave Wisniewski the opportunity to teach a book during class, which taught her the importance of staying on top of current trends in literature.

“Teaching at Elizabeth High School gives me the freedom to teach the books I want to teach. The school is also really supportive of new ideas in the classroom and trusts their teachers,” Wisniewski says. “I’m thankful to DU for showing me fresh perspectives in pedagogy that I can now pass on to my students.”

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