Rich Howells

NEPA SCENE PODCAST: Protesting Wilkes-Barre Area School District cuts to arts programs

NEPA SCENE PODCAST: Protesting Wilkes-Barre Area School District cuts to arts programs
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Professionally recorded on Mondays at The Stude in TwentyFiveEight Studios in Scranton and released exclusively on on Tuesdays, the NEPA Scene Podcast is a free supplement to the website, expanding on the arts and entertainment stories covered on the site and going beyond them to discuss other news and entertainment topics.

Each week, the unedited and uncensored podcast features Rich Howells, NEPA Scene founder and editor, and Mark Dennebaum, president and owner of TwentyFiveEight Studios. Every episode streams on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and

In Episode 59, we sit down with Desiree Fisher, a 17-year-old senior at James M. Coughlin High School, and Brittany Stephenson, a 19-year-old graduate of G.A.R. Memorial Junior/Senior High School, to talk about why they decided to organize student protests against the Wilkes-Barre Area School District’s recent controversial decision to cut arts, consumer science, and technology programs and lay off 37 teachers while not replacing 12 retiring teachers.

Wilkes-Barre teachers we invited politely declined to go on record, as they could face repercussions, so to give a local educator’s perspective, Tom Borthwick, a teacher in the Riverside School District, the communications director for his union, and an adjunct professor at Marywood University, joins us to discuss how the situation got to this point, the school board’s May 23 meeting that was packed with over 200 people and the board’s lack of response (unless you count falling asleep as a response), how Desiree and Brittany put peaceful protests together and how teachers and administrators reacted, the importance of the arts and how they shape creative thinking, the impact these cuts have on both students and teachers, why sports and other programs are typically spared over the arts, shattering stereotypes about the city of Wilkes-Barre and millennials, how the arts have helped all five of us, finding solutions to budget shortfalls and other issues, and how you can get involved and help the situation.

In The Last Word segment, we talk about the NEPA Scene’s Got Talent open mic and talent contest and explain why it is structured and run the way that it is. After announcing some slight changes to the event next season, we received both positive and negative feedback about rules, voting, and other factors, so we address a few of those concerns and ask people to see things from all sides and recognize that, overall, it’s a win for local artists.

Listen on iTunes.

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Listen on Stitcher.

Photo by Mark Dennebaum/TwentyFiveEight Studios