Jessica Froehlich leaves behind a legacy of fighting and resilience in Edina’s Theater for All program


Malak Alkhatib

Jessica Froehlich co-directs her last show for EHS, Pure Imagination.

Olivia Brinkman, staff writer

After 23 years of grit, determination, and advocacy, Jessica Froehlich is retiring from Edina Public Schools. As a founder of Edina High School’s Theater for All program, Froehlich’s work at Edina will remain remarkably influential. By promoting equity through her program, Froehlich significantly contributed to the culture of “equity and inclusion” marketed on the EPS webpage. However, starting and continuing the program has been extensively challenging. “We had to fight so hard to make it happen, and now they consider it a jewel in the crown of Edina Public Schools,” she said.

In her early years as an educator, teaching a special education dance class inspired the foundation of the Theater for All program. “I started to challenge myself to adapt my curriculum to every student who walked in my door regardless of my preconceived notions of what they could or couldn’t do,” she said. Though Froehlich found the dance class fulfilling, when her co-founder suggested they take it a step further and put on an entire show, she was all in. 

Unfortunately, Froehlich was met with considerable resistance from the district. “To get it to be an academic course took a fight with administration and the district. They kept arguing that it couldn’t happen because it was too expensive.” However, when another special education teacher walked into the administrative office with a checkbook and offered to pay, the district gave in. “She basically shamed them into doing the course. There wouldn’t have been a course without that,” she said.

Froehlich and her co-founders’ persistence marked the beginning of a truly special program. “By the end of the class, the [labels] of general education and special education drop,” she said. Froehlich structured the Theater for All program carefully to achieve such an effect. “It’s really about learning how to work with another person and trusting that person implicitly to do something together,” she said. 

For students, Theater for All has served as a way to grow theatrically and personally. “[Students have said] ‘This has made me a better performer, and this made me a better human being,’” Froehlich said. The main reason for their growth is the confrontation of personal prejudices inherent to the program. “You have to overcome your own biases…we are trained by society not to expect much from certain people. [Theater for All] get[s] rid of the barriers so that talents can shine through,” she said.

Despite the success of the program, Froehlich continues to face resistance within the EPS district. “There are some teachers who even wanted to cut the program, and half [of teachers] said ‘You should only run it once a semester so that we have more room in the theater for other classes,’” she said. Despite having 65 to 70 kids registering for Theater for All every semester, the battle for equal representation in the EPS district carries on. “We’re still fighting every single semester to overcome that barrier of seeing everyone equally,” she said.

Walking away from the program was challenging for Froehlich as she felt the course had changed her life. “It’s not easy to let go of teaching theater, and it’s not easy to walk away from these kids because [Theater for All] has been my favorite part of my day. This has been the course that has truly given me meaning and purpose.” 

Froelich is leaving the program in the qualified hands of her co-founder Lisa Hansen. “Lisa Hansen is phenomenal. We started the program together, so one of the co-founders is still going to be here working hard,” she said. As for advice for future leaders, Froehlich mentioned the importance of a fighting spirit. “You have to be a strong advocate. You have to be willing to speak the truth to power and that can be difficult,” she said. For future improvements within the EPS district, she hoped to see more unified programming classes similar to Theater for All.

Froehlich hopes her efforts towards equity will persist in the EPS district following her departure. “What I really want my legacy to be is that there’s finally a day where people don’t have to fight for these kids. Where we don’t have to fight and make a case that they deserve to be seen. They deserve to be heard. They deserve equal access to all programming, but we’re still fighting for it,” she said.

This piece was originally published in Zephyrus’ print edition on May 18, 2023.