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Nadworny: Schools

06/15/10 7:55AM By Rich Nadworny
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(HOST) As the school year comes to a close, commentator Rich Nadworny has been thinking about some of the extracurricular activities that make education come alive for children.

(NADWORNY) A few weeks ago, VPR aired a series of commentaries about the state of education. And it was hard to find someone to say something positive about the state of our education system.

Well, since then I've experienced a ray of hope. Recently I spent three days witnessing what might be the best educational experience my kids will have: a performance at Flynn School in Burlington produced by the local Very Merry Theatre group.

Now, Very Merry Theatre might be a fixture up on the hill at Edmunds School, but out in the New North End of Burlington, it's still pretty new. Last year marked our debut with the musical Peter Pan, and this year the kids performed The Wizard of Oz.

These kids in grades 2 through 5, 50 last year and almost 100 this year, have to work on learning their lines, singing their songs, and dancing or blocking out their movements. They have to learn to work with and rely on each other, in an intense team-building experience where the success of all of the students depends on their combined work. Where else does that happen in school?

They have to prepare for public performances, four this year, in front of lots and lots of people. I bet most of the parents in the audience wouldn't have done half as well. And while this is elementary school, when you think about this type of production in middle and high school, kids are making costumes and helping with lighting and sound. There's a lot of math involved there, while lighting and sound work are pure physics.

While some might pooh-pooh the skills needed in performing, I know from my work experience that the most important consultants we ever had were the public speaking and team-building consultants. These people, rather than the content experts, where the ones who spurred real business growth in our company after their training.

Face it: this is a complete project based experience that not only helps kids learn skills they need to learn in school, it gives them an unprecedented confidence boost they otherwise almost never receive.

Honestly, last year, at the first performance, I sat with tears in my eyes watching those kids perform. The kids in the lead roles had last names like Jusafagic, Bednjevic and Piplica. These were first generation Americans whose parents had come with the hope of a better life for their children. And here were their kids, assimilating in our culture in a proud and tangible way. Seriously, what more can we really ask a great education system to do?

Theater is a fantastic project-based experience that prepares kids for success in so many ways. The model is a good one for schools. And, we should view theater itself as not just an educational luxury, but as a childhood necessity.
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