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School Incorporates Theater in Education E-mail
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Sunday, 12 August 2007
School Incorporates Theater in Education


St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, MO)

By Nancy Hull

Fourth-graders Desiree Barrymore and Gabbriella Deweese said in unison, "Last question. Name two decomposers and their job in an ecosystem."

Classmate Madison Sollars responded, acting out the script line she'd memorized: "Fungus and earthworms break up dead plants and animals to give nutrients to the soil?"

In overly enthusiastic game-show host style, Skylar Flaska thrust his body toward Madison, pointed at her and said, "Yooou've got it!"

The guest of honor in the Lindbergh Elementary School classroom Tuesday morning approved.

Stacey Coates, an educational drama consultant from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., watched the class's food chain-themed skit then rapidly clapped her hands high in the air.

Ms. Coates' Tuesday Lindbergh visit is part of a weeklong visit in the St. Joseph School District, thanks to a $55,000 arts integration grant awarded to the local Kennedy Center Partners in Education.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Arts Council funded the grant. Other state sites receiving similar funding include University City and Springfield.

For the St. Joseph district, the grant first translated to teachers attending a conference this spring in Florida. There, they were trained in Reader's Theatre -- a project that aims to improve student literacy by using the arts in all subject areas.

They returned to St. Joseph and brought the project to their classrooms. An example of the classroom implementation is the Lindbergh fourth-grade class's food chain script, which teacher Mandy Smith oversaw.

Tuesday's visit from Ms. Coates was the project's grand finale.

Educators in the Lindbergh classroom Tuesday felt the efforts had paid off.

Fourth-grade teacher Ms. Smith said that writing and practicing the script has done wonders for the students' sentence fluency skills. The repetition of practicing the script like a play helped them memorize numerous science facts in a fun way, she said.

"If they had just been reading this information out of a textbook, it would have been so boring. But now, 100 percent of my students can tell me what a decomposer is," Ms. Smith said of the Reader's Theatre benefits.

She and other district teachers plan to make the project a regular part of their classrooms.

Darren Verbick, a fine arts coordinator for the school district, said the project's benefits could stretch into student achievement.

"Kids can retain information so much easier with this, and ultimately, they could do better on the MAP tests," Mr. Verbick said of the Missouri Assessment Program exams.

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