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StoriesVictoria Burnett ’12

An educator puts storytelling at the heart of her teaching

Victoria Burnett uses the gift of music and storytelling to bring lesser-known tales to life

Victoria Burnett grew up with stories.

“I come from a family of storytellers,” she recalls. “Everyone who loved me told me stories to teach me life lessons and how to live. From a young age I began telling stories back to them.”

Her father was a pastor and educator and her mother was a church musician. Together they inspired Victoria as she grew up and became a teacher, musician, and professional storyteller. She found that incorporating music, movement, and stories into her teaching came naturally.

“From the very first moment I started teaching, I saw how powerful storytelling was,” Victoria says. “I didn’t have the classroom management problems that other teachers had.”

Her music has taken her around the world as a lyric soprano touring with the renowned Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers choral ensemble. As a storyteller, she represented the state of California at the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee and looks forward to returning when people can gather again.

Victoria Burnett still portrait
Victoria Burnett telling the story of Juneteenth. Photo: Saddleback Church

In the spring of 2020, as political protests and racial unrest unfolded across the U.S., Victoria used her skills to amplify a lesser-known civil rights story. Juneteenth, a holiday long celebrated by Black Americans to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in Texas in 1865, was suddenly in the news but many people were unfamiliar with it.

“My church is very racially integrated—in my small group I’ve got people who are Persian and Japanese and Black and white and I absolutely love that. Someone said ‘What is this Juneteenth thing?’ and basically asked me to create this story to enlighten people as to what Juneteenth was. A holiday that I’ve been celebrating my whole life!”

She recorded a story based on the narratives of eight different people who actually lived through Juneteenth.

“It was a compilation of slave narratives that I combined and integrated historical information that would segue well.”

The result is a compelling and informative cultural tale, bringing to life this lesser-known historical moment.

“Every year for Black History Month, the focus is primarily about Dr. Martin Luther King or a few other notable African Americans from the past,” Victoria says. “I’m not negating that, but there are so many other wonderful African Americans since the ’60s who have impacted our history in significant ways. I am shocked at how many people of color don’t know about or celebrate Juneteenth.”

Growing her career as an artist educator

A decade ago, Victoria was teaching at an arts-based independent high school and searching for a degree program that would encompass her passions and help her advance her work.

“I had been actively searching for something or somewhere I fit. I had started a master’s degree in library science, and after one semester I realized ‘This is not for me!’” she recalls. A conversation with a colleague at school lit a spark. “I mentioned to someone there, ‘I really wish I could get a degree that actually supports what I’m doing now.’ And she said ‘Have you heard of Lesley?’”

Victoria enrolled in the master’s degree program for Integrated Teaching through the Arts. It was a perfect fit.

“It was exactly what I wanted. It should’ve said “Victoria’s master’s program!’ It was the best use of my time, my money…I don’t regret one minute and the lovely people that I met…It was work, but it felt like family as well.”

Her time at Lesley left her feeling better prepared to speak with administrators about the importance of arts education.

“It helped me know how to advocate for what we do,” she explains. “Some administrators don’t necessarily understand the power of the arts and how effective it can be when it’s integrated seamlessly. They don’t understand that…and they don’t value what we do until they understand.”

“It’s important that you keep sharing stories from people that have positively impacted your life for good and pass those stories on to the world.”
Victoria Burnett ’12, Integrated Teaching Through the Arts

Now Victoria also teaches at Lesley, imbuing a new generation of students with the skills they need to craft and teach a good story. She’s also working with the ArtsTeach Program as a master teacher for the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center in Orange County California.

“I’ve done many one-woman shows and I’m working on others. I’m very interested in stories about powerful women of color because their lives are fascinating and I believe so very significant to the world.”

Victoria is also interested in exploring stories around death and dying. As a cancer survivor, she has found solace and even joy in collecting and sharing the stories of people in their final days.

“Some may think it’s morbid, weird even, however, I really see it as a service...as a ministry.

“It’s important that you keep sharing stories from people that have positively impacted your life for good and pass those stories on to the world.”

Learn more about Integrated Teaching Through the Arts

Explore the Integrated Teaching Through the Arts master's degree program to see how you can put your artistic passions to work in the classroom.

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