On February 22, 2018, the third graders at Newton Bateman Elementary School in Albany Park presented the final performance of their Read, Write and Act Residency, based on Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House: Showtime with Shakespeare.
This performance was the culmination of an 11-week residency from Emerald City Theatre, which was awarded to Bateman for its continued administrative leadership, the dedication of its teachers, and enthusiasm of its students for arts programming.
We recently spoke with Mrs. Soto about her experience with Emerald City Theatre.
Emerald City Theatre: How did you first hear about the One Fund program?
Mrs. Soto: I received a newsletter from CPS about the program about four years ago, which was my first year teaching. It sounded great and I sat down and wrote the application. We won, and the following year our Kindergarten – 3rd-grade students got to see Dragons Love Tacos – and the kids are still talking about it three years later! It made a lasting impression on the students – they feel like because they saw real professional actors on stage, that they can do it too. It gave them more motivation to achieve.
ECT: Can you describe how the Read, Write and Act Residency program works?
Mrs. Soto: Our 3rd-grade students worked with Héctor Álvarez and Jamie Macpherson, two teaching artists from Emerald City Theatre. They played theater games for the first few weeks, starting each time with vocal and body warm-ups, and an imagination journey – using their imagination and calming their bodies. In a couple weeks they started using the Magic Tree House book and acting it out. They put students into groups to make their own themes and story: here’s the problem, come up with your solution! They used teamwork to continue the story, acting out the scenes or making a tableau -- how can we use our facial expressions and body to tell the story, even without words? In the last couple weeks, they divided the classes into beginning, middle and end of story, and the kids created the show: how to write the script, create the characters.
ECT: How involved were ECT’s Teaching Artists?
Mrs. Soto: Héctor and Jamie came up with ideas, but the kids guided the action. They’d ask, “If you had a magic tree house, where would you go?” The students said they’d like to visit where their families were from. This was a lot of countries, but the overarching place was Mexico. Then we asked, “What would we do there, and how would we get there?” Jamie and Héctor did a phenomenal job. They really got to know the students and engaged with us all on ways to connect our experiences.
ECT: How has the Read, Write and Act Residency impacted your students?
Mrs. Soto: It’s given them a voice of leadership. One of our 3rd graders is usually quiet and has a hard time creating social connections. But with the residency, she stepped up, and when working in a group became a leader! She found her speaking voice.
Another 3rd grader is a native Spanish speaker. In class, she’s very quiet and very sweet, does her work, but says things only when she needs to. The residency gave her the confidence to speak up in the classroom, even when it comes to raising her hand, and know that her voice is important, too. Even her mom told me she’s never seen her daughter do anything like that.
ECT: As you know, our Outreach programs like the Read, Write and Act Residency are supported primarily by Emerald City Theatre's patrons and supporters. Why do you think people should continue to support these programs?
Mrs. Soto: The biggest reason is that it gives the students an opportunity they normally wouldn’t have, and an approach to learning that’s more than sitting in a classroom. It teaches social-emotional level skills. There was a recent article about Google, and how Google realized that while STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teaching is good, soft skills are more important to learning than pushing hard science and math -- because if people aren’t emotionally able to approach subjects, they won’t learn them as well. Giving students the opportunity to be on stage and create gives them the opportunity to learn soft skills and become more compassionate human beings. These programs provide that opportunity.
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