Celebrating our differences with Getting To Know You
Posted Feb 20, 2018
Inspired by Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, the Fox Cities P.A.C. recently worked with together 25 English language learning (ELL) students and 25 theater students from Appleton North High School to embrace their unique cultures and identities and find friendship through a new program called “Getting To Know You.” Over a three month period, students enjoyed a live theater experience with The King and I and participated in arts integration based learning experiences. Together they celebrated, recognized and shared their cultures of origin with each other as they explored the power the arts have to unite us all.
The program started with the students being paired together as they studied The King and I, including activities such as watching the classic movie, talking about theater principles and doing preliminary activities including games to learn more about themselves and other members of the class.
Together, the group visited the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for a tour, learning about the history of building, what it takes to bring in a Broadway production and about some of the performances that have taken place here, returning to their classroom and working in teams to recall what they had learned.
The cornerstone of the project was seeing The King and I come to life on stage. Prior to the performance, three cast members, two of whom were ELL students themselves growing up, sat down with the students to talk about how they got to where they are today and what it was like having the arts as a forum to connect with other students from different backgrounds.
The group emphasized the importance of finding something you are passionate about and putting in the hard work to pursue that passion. Each of the cast members also spoke fondly about finding and surrounding yourself with people who accept you, support you and encourage you to do great things.
After the cast Q&A, the students had dinner together before enjoying the live Lincoln Center Theater Production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I at the Fox Cities P.A.C. Students marveled at the talent of performers, the beauty of live art happening in front of them and of course, enjoyed hearing “Getting to Know You,” a song the group had become familiar with.
Shortly after attending the show in January, students came together once again with Kennedy Center Teaching Artist Kim McCormack, who led the group through a 3D Shadow Box workshop. Each theater student was paired with an ELL student and together they discussed their similarities and differences, ultimately creating a box that represented them as individuals and as a team.
For example, Aleksandra and Eduardo were a student team who worked together, creating a beautiful shadow box and an artist statement that in part read:
“…We learned that our cultures are in some ways very different, but also sometimes the same. Learning each other’s cultures is very interesting and we liked doing this shadow box together.”
Appleton North High School has continued the work started in “Getting to Know You.” Acting students have interviewed ELL students and created monologues based on their experiences. The monologues will be performed for the school and the public on Wednesday, May 30. The public performance will take place in the Large Group Instruction Room at Appleton North High School at 7 p.m. that evening and it is free to attend. Afterward, the cast and teachers will lead a talkback with the audience.
"We hope that the English Learners learn that they are valued at North, and that all students go through struggles in high school no matter where they are from. We want them to realize that they have a lot more in common with non-EL's than it first may seem," said Hilary Haskell, an ELL Educator at North, "We hope that the theater students learn to be more inclusive and inviting, and also to not shy away from experiences or people who may appear different. There are a lot more commonalities between people once you get through the surface."
As for what she hopes to see in the monologues?
"Smiles!! Lots of smiles, and a sense of pride in being part of something bigger than oneself that had an impact and changed a life."