This story was originally published in the December 2019 edition of The Match.
This year, the new “Third Grade Showcase,” a performance both constructed and performed by third-grade students, will mark the start of a new tradition for elementary school at Pine View.
In past years, “Third Grade Rocks,” inspired by the hit educational television series “Schoolhouse Rock!,” occupied this space as an annual performance conducted by the third grade.
However, third-grade teacher Freda Williams had an idea. No stranger to the arts as a Fine Arts and Interior Design major, the Ringling College alumnae works part time at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall as a teaching artist, an artist educator who implements their craft into an educational setting.
Surfing EdExploreSRQ, an online platform designed to connect Sarasota County teachers with learning opportunities in the classroom, Williams came across fellow teaching artist Laura Courter. Courter visits classrooms and instructs students through drama and writing, showing them to create their own stories and folktales, as well as how to perform them.
Both teaching artists, Williams happened to know Courter personally, and because folktales are emphasized in third-grade education standards, she explained that this enrichment experience was the perfect fit for her students.
“That’s what we need!” Williams said, reflecting on the moment she discovered the program. “The stars just aligned.”
Subsequently, Williams approached the Pine View Association (PVA), which funds teaching artists. She recalled initial questions, as the proposed “Third Grade Showcase” would effectively replace the long-standing “Third Grade Rocks” production. However, PVA accepted the change upon the realization that the new production will be “in the same vein” as “Third Grade Rocks,” according to Williams.
“There are a lot of similarities, it’s just 100 percent student centered,” Williams said, as “Third Grade Rocks” was not inspired by student ideas, unlike the “Third Grade Showcase.”
During the weeks of Dec. 9 and Dec. 16, Courter visited with all third-grade classes for an hour lesson daily. Throughout the course of her instruction, students learned about foundational ideas in theater, such as stage direction, how to be directors, as well as the rise and fall of action. Students were also taught how to implement these lessons into their own plays, which will be weaved into a fully-formed, original folktale-inspired story idea per classroom.
“She’s teaching the tools, the things she knows about theater, plus she’s worked with educators so she knows what our standards are. So she brings all these things into the classroom to get the kids super creative, for them to come up with their own plays,” Williams said.
Ultimately, Courter herself will produce one script, using elements from each classroom’s story. After casting, she will rehearse the play with students briefly in February, leading up to a performance the same month.