Third-graders at Sheep-Harney Elementary School are acting out. They’re dancing too and it’s all part of the schools’ new cirriculum.
These students are learning everything from critical thinking to teamwork through activities such as drama and dance. That’s the strategy of the school’s “A-plus” curriculum, which incorporates creative arts into the school day in a variety of ways.
Last week, Tawana Hart’s third-grade class learned those lessons by acting out the story “Mushroom in the Rain” and then worked off some energy doing Zumba moves.
Bobbie Jo Tate, drama and dance teacher at Sheep-Harney, explained that the third-grade will present a class play later in the school year, as will the other classes.
“This is preliminary work to get them ready for that,” Tate said.
Classes are learning technical aspects of theater, one of which is setting.
“This is a story that they could act out and actually become the setting of the story,” Tate said.
You don’t always need a set, she explained. “They can become the set.”
Speaking to the students, Tate explained how three Ws of theater — where? when? And who? — correspond to the theatrical terms setting, time and characters.
“If you’re going to put on a class play, guess what?” Tate asked. “I’m going to put you in charge of these things.”
Tate selected Tamara Spellman to direct the play since she had been in the school’s “Yes, Virginia” play before the Christmas break.
Tate told the students they needed to listen to Spellman, since she was the director for the day’s activity.
Tate told Spellman that as the director she needed to cast her fellow students as characters in the story. Spellman set about casting the kids, picking a pink-clad girl for the role of butterfly and tapping a boy in a gray shirt for the role of frog “because frogs are gray.”
“I love your reasoning,” Tate said to Spellman.
Then the teacher addressed the rest of the class.
“This is logic,” Tate said. “She’s picking people because they look the part.”
Tate explained to the class that students would be portraying weather — someone would play the rain, someone else would play the sun — as well as animals such as the ant, butterflies, mouse, sparrow, rabbit, fox and frog. She told the kids they would have to listen for their part: Is it rainy in the story? Is it sunny?
As part of her role as director, Spellman also was the narrator.
“Remember, you are acting,” Tate said to the students. “You need to think about the words and how your expressions would look if you were saying the words that she is telling you to say.”
Principal Andrea Adams said the A-plus school program includes an element of community support. The Zumba lesson reflects community support because the instructor, Michele Maillet, is a community volunteer.
The kids shuffled and twisted through Zumba routines to the tunes “Party Rockers” and “Gangnam Style.”
Adams noted the drama lesson taught not just theater and story, but skills such as leadership, teamwork and problem-solving.
Spellman said her favorite subject is math, which has centered lately on working division problems.
But drama is a nice diversion.
“Really, I learned how to act,” Spellman said. “I also learned how to direct.”
Being in the “Yes, Virginia” presentation last month and watching Tate in the role of director helped prepare Spellman for her own directorial debut with “Mushroom in the Rain.”
“It wasn’t hard for me because I knew what Ms. Tate would like,” Spellman said.
Charlotte Jones, who portrayed a butterfly, drew a moral lesson from another character in the play, the ant.
“I learned that the ant was nice because it was sharing with all the other animals, which I thought was pretty nice,” Jones said.
The activity also taught her about teamwork, she said.
“We do that a lot,” Jones said, explaining that all her classes emphasize teamwork.
Jones said her favorite subject is art. She enjoys drawing and design and would like to become an architect, she said.
Possibly for that reason, Jones said she would rather work on designing and building props for the upcoming play than act in it.
“I have a fun time playing with Legos,” she said.
Tate said after the drama exercise that Spellman demonstrated strong reasoning skills in casting the short play.
“She was not just assigning parts, she was really thinking it through,” Tate said. “You don’t have to teach them everything word for word. They’re going to get it through your activities as well.”