Theater has a big role in our elementary schools. Kids love to prepare for and participate in dramatic productions both large and small. Here is a snippet of what’s going on these days.
This is the second year that first and second graders at Calais Elementary have been one of seven Vermont schools invited to collaborate with the ECHO Leahy Center and the Very Merry Theatre Company as part of the Waterways Stage Production. This project based learning experience combines science with drama in a hands-on, student led format. School groups pick an organism to study, and create a play to teach others about their species. This year the theme is threatened /endangered aquatic organisms and students are studying the Eastern Pearlshell Mussel which is the only threatened species in the Calais area. Sarah Adelaide, from the Very Merry Theatre Company is helping students develop, write and practice the play, while ECHO biologist, Nina Ridhibhinyo, teaches them about the greater Lake Champlain Watershed. Calais parent, VT Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Mike Wichrowski first introduced the Calais kids to the Eastern Pearlshell Mussel.
Calais Elementary’s First and Second grade teaching team, Lisa Levangie and Cheryl Ecklund create and teach standards-based science curriculum to enhance the project. Students learn about the water cycle, ecosystems, the food web, and how human impacts affect these systems. A large part of the focus is on sustainability and personal responsibility that empower students to make positive choices. These students have gained broad perspectives about the world around them. They see all life as being important and display their sustainable outlook in everyday ways in the classroom by making sure resources like water, paper, and energy are never wasted, as well as composting, recycling, and reusing everything they can. They have become not only more creative thinkers, but also more compassionate ones. Two second graders sum it up: Lyric says, “This is a great project! We get to learn about science while acting it out and teaching others how to care for our planet.” Sylvia adds, “It’s so fun! We create and practice the play but we don’t have to memorize lines. We just have to remember the science and our story!”
Doty Memorial School
At Doty Memorial School, the theme is homemade musicals. This year’s play, “Into the Books,” is about books changing their storylines and three students who work to bring them back to their original storyline. The songs are created by the children in each classroom.
The musical is scheduled for May 25th at 6 pm with a matinee/dress rehearsal at 2 pm on May 24th.
Producer and director Charlene McManis says, “it is always a joy to work with the community.” Parent volunteers build sets, send props and costumes and work on lighting.
About 18 years ago teachers, Sandy Cathy and Sharon Newcomb began writing and producing homegrown shows, with help from Martha Fitch. Around five years ago McManis, who previously was a theater teacher at Main Street School and worked with Lost Nation Theater and the Barre Opera House, produced “Groovy” and “Schoolhouse Rock.” After that, McManis recalls, “We decided to create our own shows beginning with “A Place I Call Home” which Martha Fitch wrote with music by Chad Hollister and Kris Guen, and then “Back to Worcester,” another Martha Fitch play with music by Chad and Kris, using a back-to-the-future style about the history of Worcester.”
Rumney Memorial School
Welcome to the wonderful world of Dorothy and “the Wizard of Oz!” Rumney Memorial School students performed the trip down the yellow brick road featuring dancing, singing, and colorful munchkins Friday, April 7th, and Saturday, April 8th. Rumney has a rich tradition of drama and we will have more in a future issue of Bus Stop.
East Montpelier Elementary School
is bringing theater back. The public is invited to join us on June 8th at 6 pm for “Peter Pan!”
This production is possible thanks to the support of EMES principal Alicia Lyford, parent volunteers, director Alex Brown, stage managers and assistants Juna Nagle, Marissa Mattogno, and Grace Lane, and music teacher Samantha Gelfon. Volunteer Flor Diaz Smith says, “Most importantly, thank you Jack Thompson for inspiring us all to bring theater back to EMES.”
Volunteer Linda Urban says, “This play is giving kids a chance to shine in ways they haven’t before. There are kids learning about set design, about movement, about the way that sound works, about what it means to stand in someone else’s shoes. It’s a gift to them, and a gift to learn from them.”
Director Alex Brown says, “The kids are helping me see theater with fresh eyes, and it’s amazing to realize what they’re starting to see.”
And volunteer Holly Lane concludes, “I am excited to be part of theater coming back to EMES because doing a play gives students a chance to explore teamwork and collaboration toward a collective creative goal.”
Berlin Elementary music teacher Marcia Clark remembers working in theater at the school from 1994 to 2015. She says, “Drama productions at Berlin were one of the best teaching experiences of my career.” She says art teacher Lynn Spencer’s incredible work on costumes and set design with the students brought Berlin’s productions to a new level about 12 years ago.
Clark reminisces, “All rehearsals took place within the school day and integrated into the 5/6 curriculum to ensure that every child was able to participate.” Many of the plays were written or adapted by Clark from books students were studying in literacy or social studies classes. As test scores created a greater need for classroom time and focus, and behavioral issues required more attention and structure, it became unsustainable to continue to provide the theater learning opportunity during the school day. Clark says she will never forget the energy, excitement, and life skills learned over the years as students put on productions including: “Kids from Camelot,” “Johnny Appleseed,” “Lewis and Clark” (one Clark researched and wrote), “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Robin Hood,” “Peter Pan,” “Oliver!,” “The Wizard of Oz” (twice), “Annie,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Music Man,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Mary Poppins,” “Folktales On Stage” and “The Incredible Westward Movement.” Clark concludes, “The impact of these productions on the students was, from my perspective, huge. Many of our Berlin kids went on to perform in theater at U-32 and beyond, and many have expressed that it was their best memory of their years at Berlin Elementary School.”