Baltimore City Public Schools did a really cool thing this summer. It offered a five-week summer program to keep kids engaged in math and reading skills. It wasn’t remedial effort or to catch up, it was to stay on track. What a great deal for parents, too: all-day child supervision, including food and field trips, for any City Schools middle grade student. Every one of the program sites were in schools with air conditioning which meant no closures during the heat advisory days of July. Buses brought kids from their home schools to the program sites.
The thing that brought me was that each site had two hours of enrichment each day. Well, almost. What brought me in was a surprise overflow of enrollment. Each site was bulging with students so more teachers needed to be hired the Thursday before the program started. I was available and I agreed to start that Monday. I was to be at a struggling middle school in the morning from 9-11am and at a more successful elementary-middle school from 12:30-2:30pm doing theatre with kids that had chosen it from among many enrichment programs (including robotics, African dance, Michael Phelps swim school, Fit Families, hip-hop poetry, media, etc.).
I quickly put together ideas on what I would do with self-selected theatre kids two hours a day for five weeks. I decided this would be a great place to try out my nineteen-page edit of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I got my description in a little late. The coordinators at the struggling middle school printed out an earlier version of the enrichment choices that didn’t include theatre. They didn’t get the update. I wasn’t on the list. On Tuesday, I walked into a classroom of students that decidedly did not want to be there. My in-class survey showed that theatre would have been their last choice, if they had been given a choice. These kids, however, were all absent on the first day so had been put in the room with the most openings: mine. They didn’t want to be there. I was daunted. Midsummer went out the window.
I learned so much from these kids over the next five weeks. And, they learned a lot about themselves and each other. Over the next few postings, I will recount stories from the experience, including the good, the bad, and the really ugly. It culminated in a five-minute play, written by the students, called The Lost Bird of the Rain Forest, which was really a combination of 4 different improv games.
The Monday after the final performance, I received the following email. This is why I do what I do:
hey mrs weber how are you , do you know i miss you already i just want to see you again and my class play them games everyday see your smile on your face and when me and A. be making you laugh when we do our plays . i woke up monday morning bright and early waiting to see you my mother came in the room and said where you goin i said to camp i want to go to theater today and see mrs weber . my mother said well you are goin to be the only one there rember camp is over with , i sat there with my eyes getting waterteree saying oh yheea i forgot then i went back to sleep crying my eyes out . mrs weber i miss you soo much cant wait to see you again i love you.