Bonita elementary students “acting out” thanks to a grant

— Among 7-year-olds, there are few inhibitions.

When their minds are malleable and their desire to please strong, they are at the perfect age to learn to love theater, says Irene Horowitz, director of education for Gulfshore Playhouse.

Thanks to a grant awarded by the National Education Association to Bonita Springs Elementary School, Art Smart, The Gulfshore Playhouse Theatre Education Project is bringing the performing arts to 100 Bonita Springs second- and fourth-graders.

Bonita Elementary dramatic arts teacher Jeanne Snedeker said she could teach her students everything she knows, but there would still be no substitute for different artistic perspectives.

“It’s wonderful for them to learn from performers — people who have actually done it and understand what it requires,” said Snedeker. “I think it’s helped our arts community here at the school to grow tremendously.”

The fourth-grade classes benefitting from the grant are crafting their own monologues to explore social studies, while the second-graders are learning about recycling as they use recycled items from home to build props used in improvisational skits.

Brought to Bonita Elementary through the grant, arts teacher Kristin Teschke is taking the second-grade classes through a process that begins with educating the children about recycling, reusing and reducing the materials they consume. Under the theme “Prop it before you pitch it,” the class has transformed water bottles strung together with ribbon into snakes, and snack-box cut-outs have become butterflies preserved in toilet paper roll cocoons.

“It once was a caterpillar,” said Kate Inskic, 8. “And it ate lots of leaves and went inside the cocoon and became a butterfly. It’s cool because I like coloring and making projects. The two things I want to do is be an artist and be a cook.”

She is well on her way as she decorates her butterfly, learning about giving new life to an object that could easily have found its way to the trash, before it became a caterpillar finding new life as a butterfly.

“We’re going to put on a theater and show everyone else our props,” said Divinity Bruland, 7.

Divinity will work with her fellow students to write plays that employ their creations, culminating with a show at the end of the seven-week workshop.

“They’re gaining self-confidence, they’re learning teamwork, they’re learning what a prop is,” said Horowitz. “And, it complements the Sunshine State Standards for science in the second grade, as well as theater.”

The workshops harness the creativity already in the minds of these children, giving them an outlet to release it before their peers as they learn about a wide range of subjects.

“We get to try new things and just have fun with it,” said Brett Lopez, 7.

Brett and his classmates clearly love acting out improvisational plays, radiating the emotions assigned to them by Teschke as they pretend to order a pizza: one child is sad as she asks for cheese and onions. Another is happy as he ecstatically requests extra cheese and pineapple, while the class tries to guess what emotion each child was acting out.

“I continue to be amazed at their courage,” said Snedeker. “They are willing to get up and try anything.”

A grant from the Suncoast for Kids Foundation brought a similar round of workshops to Golden Terrace Elementary School in Collier County in January, also through Gulfshore Playhouse.

For Horowitz, the line between theater and practical knowledge could not be more clear: “I think teaching content through the lively art of theater puts learning on its feet.”

To learn more, e-mail Horowitz at

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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