Creating classroom connections

For so many students, back to school also means back to the theater for our Bemis Company Education Series. Since its inception, ticket prices have remained $5-7 dollars with scholarship tickets available to ensure students can see their classroom lessons come to life on stage without financial barrier. For one entire school, however, it was a private grant from the Appleton Education Foundation that brought them to the Center.

Badger Elementary School was working on a school-wide unit on Africa and saw the opportunity to enhance their classroom experiences with Dallas Children’s Theater’s production of John Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. The performance was adapted by Karen Abbott and music and lyrics added by S-Ankh Rasa. The show included authentic African drumming and the powerful story of Mufaro and his daughters who demonstrate courage, kindness and strength of spirit.

“We are working towards becoming an arts integrated school and we saw the performance as the perfect capstone experience at the end of a school-wide arts integration unit focused on southern Africa,” said Sarah Phelps, who is part of the music education team at Badger Elementary. “The performance and talk back with the acting troupe was the highlight of the unit! The performance really tied together a lot of our learning about folk tales, dancing and music-making.  The students were able to see a lot of elements that they learned about coming to life on stage.”

In addition to the performance, students had been learning about African folk tales in their music classes, had been exploring the traditional dances of Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe in their classrooms and had worked on various classroom projects including creating and playing their own drums, studying African animals and creating math board games. Teachers used the provided resource guides from the Center along with supplemental material from Neenah and Appleton Public Libraries to prepare their students for the show.

“We really took the classroom connections and ran with it further than we ever have before,” Phelps said. “Often, students will read the book the Education Series performance is based on, or perhaps study a little more widely about the topic, but we really tried to immerse our entire school in various cultural connections from southern African countries.”

Phelps explained that by being able to add the live performing arts into the unit, they were able to reach students in a new way.

“Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has long been proven to show that all people learn in a variety of ways.  We are so used to sitting in desks and receiving information in a lecture style that we forget that many of us learn best by being immersed in an experience.  Our goal as an arts-integrated school is to give our students many paths to understanding, including aural, visual and kinesthetic,” Phelps said. “This performance was an excellent way to bring our school together before, during and after the performance in some powerful community building.”

“We capped off the morning (after the performance) by returning to school to have a fancy all school luncheon complete with twinkle lights, a special dessert and table tents with conversation starters about the performance,” Phelps explained. “The students loved having the chance to go to "dinner and a show" and talked about nothing else for the rest of the week.”
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