The Ángeles Espinosa Yglesias Fine Arts Center hosted the highly anticipated Grade 4 Musicals this week; complete stage works conceived, written, produced, directed and performed by each of ASF's eight grade 4 classrooms, a tradition that has been going strong for 19 years!
The musicals are a crucial part of the grade 4 learning experience. It's an August-through-April project that, fun as it may be, both students and their teachers take very seriously. For many students, the musicals are the highlight of their Lower School years. For the teachers, they're a wonderful opportunity for their students to learn in a fun, engaging way.
“It starts at the beginning of the year with identifying who the community is within the classroom, what they value, how they identify themselves. That's where the theme and the logo and the musical company name come from. After that, we choose the topic, the theme and they write the scripts. It's a big community-building event for the students,” shared Martha Lozada, grade 4 teacher and grade level coordinator.
The kind of learning we're talking about here is largely about teamwork, responsibility, openness to new ideas and experiences, self-expression, communicating with peers, tolerance, creativity, tenacity. The kids aren't learning about these things as abstract ideas. They're living them for eight months.
“All the way from ECC up until grade 4, students have followed the learner profile, they've learned all about these personal skills that we're trying to build and this is an opportunity for them to really put them into play within this experience,” shared Tara Munroe, Lower School Academic Dean.
To truly grasp how rich a learning source these projects are, you need to understand that they're entirely student-led. It's not just a question of a half dozen or so students being handed a play and acting it out on stage. Students write the play itself. Students even come up with the idea for the play in the first place.
“This year we had more workshops for the kids to be able to be included in all the jobs. Manuel Fagoaga, FAC Assistant, helped out our students with their theatre skills, he took the writers and guided them through the process of a script, he talked to production managers and stage managers about their roles. He took the electricians and he guided them through the lightning. We also had workshops in the Makerspace for students to create props with lightning and costumes. I feel like this experience them become more united and feel more important.” shared Martha.
“They're learning the background of it too, and we're also opening up to some of our community members. We had an actor who came in and spoke with all the performers and talked about stage presence and how to stand on stage and how to direct your body when you're talking to another performer. We had a makeup professional come in and teach the kids all about shading and how to choose different colors and when you're trying to portray age or different things with makeup. They're really learning a lot with each job, it isn't just them playing around. It's more for them to really understand what that role is within the bigger production,” shared Tara.
The musicals are 100 percent original creations. Students create their own artistic works and are responsible for every aspect. A key point that the students may not have been aware of before is that every one of those roles is necessary for successful stage work.
“Students audition for the role that they would like and they choose three of their interests but sometimes they don't get their first choice. This really challenges them to take ownership of something and dive into it even if it isn't an area they wanted. In working with different students and different community members, they are learning organization and flexibility, time management, responsibility, they're really having to put all of that into place during this process. It’s a nice opportunity for them to really grow and develop in a mature way during this process. Of course, they're really into it and they love it!” shared Tara.
Another crucial aspect of the musicals is working as a team, and we don’t just mean the students. The grade 4 musicals are an event that brings ASF community together as a whole. “We all have to work together as a team to make this successful. We collaborate with the music teachers, the art teachers, the Makerspace, the FAC staff and all kinds of community members. Our homeroom moms have a big part in this too because they're the ones that go out there and hand out the shirts and like they come together to organize the rehearsals and bring in snacks. Everyone plays a part in it,” shared Martha.
The musicals are authorized by the Primary Years Programme, the International Baccalaureate program that guides the curriculum through grade 5. But ASF mostly developed its Lower School Musicals program on its own, starting in 2001.
Beyond learning, however, the work has a tremendous influence on these young lives. “They're so passionate about it. They listen to feedback, they go back and revise. They're constantly trying to grasp more. It's just amazing to watch them take this experience so personally and really just grow so much from it. At the end, you see how much they've grown and how much they accomplish and how much they miss it,” expressed Tara.
Working in different areas also helps bring out talents they didn’t even know they had. “They are tapping into that side maybe that they wouldn't have explored otherwise,” explained Tara. “So, yes, it's a really neat experience for them and for all of us.”
After finishing their presentations, the students are impressed that they achieved so much and completed their jobs and responsibilities in such a professional manner. But probably nobody is more impressed than the parents who come to see the performances and their teachers.
“It's great to see them shine. And at the end of the day, they learned that every job is important, not just the performers that went on stage. That every job has a purpose and they all have to work together as a team to make this production a success,” concluded Martha.