Burges teacher Keith Townsend speaks eloquently and passionately about his 30-year career in drama, forensics and debate – grinning with pride about his students’ accomplishments.
After only a few minutes of his time, it’s evident why New York’s Hofstra University selected him in its inaugural tradition of honoring forensic coaches regionally and nationally. He will be honored in March at the university’s Pi Kappa Delta National Speech and Debate Association Championship Tournament.
“At the tournament, we will present you with a certificate recognizing your leadership in and service to the debate and forensic community, a few little gifts from our Hofstra gift shop symbolizing our hope that you will be proud of your Hofstra connection, and a modest honorarium as a token of our recognition,” wrote Benjamin Rifkin, Dean of Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in his letter to Townsend.
The award also recognizes his role in supporting speech and debate in El Paso.
“It’s sort of neat to get that kind of a recognition. But it’s like, okay, this is absolutely the last coaching award. There are no more that exist,” he chuckled. “It’s when they start giving you awards like this, it’s like ‘wow, okay, I guess my career is over.’”
But the Burges teacher still has too much fire to retire – committed to coming to work before the sun rises every day to prepare for class and his students, as well as getting that ideal parking space.
“I’m having a good time with this and I can’t even tell you how great the students are,” he said. “I’m just really impressed with these kids. I have a job that I look forward to coming to everyday. That’s what makes this so good.”
Townsend’s career took a 360 turn from being a first-year teacher at Burges in the 1980s to spending seven years at Bowie High, moving on to Bel Air High during its reconstitution days, teaching at El Paso Community College for 17 years and then returning in 2017 to teach more generations of Mustangs.
Townsend lights up reminiscing about his Bowie student who won a state and national championship in persuasive speaking. Then there’s Jacob Rodriguez, Bowie’s current theater teacher, who sat in his class in the 1990s and won second place in nationals in poetry.
“I begged to go to Bowie because they didn’t have a program,” Townsend said. “I said ‘I can get a speech and a theater program there.’ What we had for seven years was the top program in the city.”
In his second stint at Burges, Townsend teaches dual credit speech, technical theater & design and musical theater. He comfortably walks through the multipurpose room – cans of paints, saws and other power tools strategically set throughout the room – watching his advanced students build sets in preparation for Burges’ upcoming show “All Hallow’s Eve Dream.” The dark 2075 adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be staged beginning next week.
He and fellow theater teacher Fernie Arana challenged students to think outside the box during the development of their upcoming production. It took the students a couple weeks to transform their traditional mindset and go deeper into a more creative realm.
“I’d tell them ‘you’re on the right track but now take it further. Go as far as you can. I can pull you back, but I can’t pull you up. They had the most wild, outrageous ideas. Once I could get them to start doing that and trusting themselves, they came up with awesome ideas. We want to take the Burges program, get them to really think outside of the box and be really be over the top creative.”
Chloe Curtis, Burges senior, first met Townsend with his sister at EPCC shows and eventually performed under his direction there and with Viva El Paso. She’s currently taking his musical theater class.
“You can tell he has such a deep passion for what he does,” she said. “He cares about the kids and getting the story across.