Sunday, February 26, 2006

Cultural Awareness in a Tiny Country School which was, sadly, part of a Huge Consolidation

For many years, I took my 8th graders to the north side of Indianapolis to Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, for a full day of theatre education, a huge buffet lunch, a fantastic musical, and a stop at the Dairy Queen on the way home to re-fuel and, um, 'de-fuel.' And boy, two bathrooms and 125 kids just doesn't make that last stop a quick one. But I digress.

For most of my students, this excursion was their first glimpse of the theatre. Notice, please, that's THEATRE, not THEATER. They can go to the theater any time. But the THEATRE? Most of my students had never seen anything live except the country-western musicians at the 4-H Fair every summer. Many of my students had never been outside the county limits. A trip to WalMart was the biggest deal of their lives. And now they were getting on a bus and travelling a hundred miles and staying all day and seeing a live performance.

Over the years, we saw My Fair Lady, Godspell, State Fair, Phantom, Fiddler on the Roof, Sound of Music, South Pacific, Brigadoon, The Music Man, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cinderella, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, Guys and Dolls, Grease, West Side Story, Tommy, The Secret Garden, Pippin, Once Upon a Mattress, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Cats. Every one of these performances was superb, and my students sat wide-eyed and, for some of them, with a whole new world they never knew existed suddenly before them and made a definitely possibility. I still have students tell me it was the highlight of their lives. I had students try out for high school and college musicals because of that trip. I see students at the opera and the symphony now, because of that trip.

In the days before the trip, I prepped them as thoroughly as I knew how. We studied the history of the theatre, and stage makeup, and learned how to read a libretto, and learned about lighting and special effects and hair and acoustics.

We also learned about elegant dining. Few of my students had ever eaten at a restaurant other than McDonald's, and the prospect of several forks, candles on the table, and this weird funky unknown called "etiquette" had some of them in a real wad of fright. None of them had ever been to a restaurant that didn't have ketchup.

How provincial were some of them? One year, I had to lean over the table and cut a student's meat for her; she didn't know how to wield the steak knife and fork together. She'd never done it before. She was fourteen years old.

We learned about appropriate behavior in a real theatre. One year the stage manager had to come out and hush a table of my boys because they were shouting "All RIGHT" at the actors whenever they particularly liked something. That's how it's done at country concerts, after all. It wasn't rudeness; it was ignorance. The Sound of Music nuns didn't think much of it, though.

After a couple of other incidents, I added "ethnic and lifestyle diversity" to the list of before-the-trip preps. Sigh. We were a tiny country school and we all looked and acted the same. The north side of Indy isn't like that. Sometimes, I think this was the most important lesson to come out of this trip.

But mostly, the students behaved beautifully and made me proud. It was awesome to see them dressed to the nines. I still love looking at all the pictures of them in the lobby of the theatre, and in the halls of the school. I love remembering the envious stares of the younger students as they watched the older ones board the bus in anticipation of the first elegant outing of their lives. I loved thinking about the anticipation of the younger students; next year, THEY would be dressed like that and getting on a big bus.

Once in the theatre, we usually shared the place with various elderly organizations. We were prepped for that, too. My students were gracious and helpful, and we almost always got a standing ovation from the other patrons and from the waitstaff when it was all over.

This field trip was the crowning jewel of my teaching year. I felt, and I still feel, that almost every lesson and discussion in my classroom somehow led up to this day, and the behavior and attitude and understanding and joy of my students in this theatre was living proof that the Language Arts did indeed exist outside the four walls of a school.

Sadly, after the advent of standardized testing, all field trips were eliminated because the time was needed for prepping for other things besides life experiences. The time was needed to prep for ISTEP. Every available moment was needed to get the students ready to take that all-important test. The school system did away with EVERY field trip from K through 12. Every single field trip was gone.

Except, of course, for athletic events. Duh. And since all those buses were now free during the day, there were more athletic events than EVER, scheduled. Isn't that nice?
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Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 2:25 PM | |


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